By Brayden McNeill, October 13th, 2014
I spoke with Oscar Cole-Arnal on October 8th following a meet and greet at the University of Waterloo. I had learned a lot about Oz and his campaign, and I wanted to learn more. Oz is an anti-poverty activist and former Lutheran Minister who is bringing a real sense of compassion to this years municipal election. He’s running for the position of chair, challenging 29-year veteran Ken Seiling. His decision to run came out of failed meetings he and other anti-poverty activists held with the Region concerning the cancellation of bus route 18, the only route which served a local emergency food bank program. Simple suggestions for preserving access to this essential program fell on deaf ears, and that’s when he knew the Regional Council was more interested in “efficiencies” than the neediest people in Waterloo Region.
And so Oz decided to run for Council on behalf of the Alliance Against Poverty, a local anti-poverty advocacy group. His platform is without a doubt the most progressive on offer in this election; at its core it’s a wealth redistribution and anti-austerity campaign. “We’ve got to take this obscene wealth gap in our society and we need to close that wealth gap. We need to share the wealth that’s out there. And austerity is a dodge. It’s austerity for poor people, not austerity for the rich. So we’re anti-austerity, but we’re pro- closing that wealth gap. And the all those [platform items] are just examples of how we can close it.”
The campaign has four main platform pieces; increasing the availability of affordable housing in the Region, making public transit more accessible and affordable for the neediest, promoting a living-wage in the Waterloo Region, and encouraging community democracy.
Affordable housing “is a big issue because it should be. There are 3000 people lining up for affordable housing. That’s an increase of about 4% over one year, and a huge jump over a 10 year period,” explains Oz. “Four churches pulling out of [the Out of the Cold Program] and that causes a publicity incident, it was a crisis, because November is coming…So it’s on the agenda because it’s a crisis and because it should be...It’s probably the highest priority.” Oz hopes to increase the availability of low-income housing by focusing on permanent solutions to this issue, as opposed to temporary solutions like Out of the Cold. “First of all, I would take my entire salary of $158,000 and it would go immediately to anti-poverty causes.” He also suggests salaries of regional employees above $100,000 be slowly cut back and the revenue be used on “brick and mortar. That would give us legitimacy to pressure the province and the feds for more money for public housing.”
Oz’s public transit plan also focuses on making transit more accessible to the Region’s vulnerable residents. “Any transit [fare] raise on poor people, on seniors, and on students is unjust” says Oz. He goes on to outline his plan; “Step one is cut fare increases for five years. The next step is just as immediate; people on disability, people under the poverty line – free transit. Students and seniors – half fare... But the goal is free public transit for all.”
Oz has also pledged to bring a living-wage of about $18.00/hour to all employees of the Region. He explains that the council only has power over wages paid to Regional employees, but “also as a Region [we can] tend to purchase our services at those businesses that exemplify the model. That would put tremendous pressure on things like [Tim] Horton’s, on Walmart, on Target, that thrive on [near] slave wages, and also the whole global system. This puts pressure on them to be more fair.” His campaign flyer also explains that Oz would pursue a council resolution which would pressure the provincial government to adopt a $14.00/hour minimum wage, province wide.
To fulfill his promise of community democracy Oz has plans to promote connections between Regional Council and various community councils, to make his office hours open to all and to make himself more available by operating out of “itinerant” offices across the Region. He also explains that if the question of Cambridge withdrawing from the Region were to come up he would “support it if it were shown to be more democratic and if no front-line worker lost a job over it…This was brought to my attention by some Cambridge people about how undemocratically they’re treated, and they made a good case. I’m going to hear that, and I’m going to be open about it.”
On the LRT Oz has explained that he’s mostly supportive as long as the implementation doesn’t come at the cost of other essential programs that support the needy in the Region. “I would say everything is on the table, from cancellation to full-steam ahead. But we need to do heavy-duty research; what would the cost-factor be if we cancelled it, if we slowed it down, or if we went full steam ahead? What would serve the people better now that this thing has been rushed through? “
All told Oz is the clear choice for progressive voters in the Waterloo Region. Homelessness and poverty in the provinces fastest growing region are serious problems and Oz is the candidate most clearly poised to tackle these issues. Voters can support Oz’s candidacy by visiting www.allianceagainstpoverty.com to get more information or to make a donation.
Don’t forget to vote on October 27th!
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