Letters: February 2017

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Why homelessness exists

Re: “Why Does Homelessness Exist?

Upon reading C.J. Smale’s article “Why Does Homelessness Exist?” I was surprised by the absence of a discussion of capitalism, the economic context in which homelessness exists in Peterborough and beyond. After all, it is capitalism that allows for—and encourages—homelessness to exist alongside an abundance of resources: empty or unsold houses and apartments, swathes of property held by absentee landlords, and large amounts of capital, hoarded by a small few or spent frivolously by governments. This is because the prioritization of private property “rights” over basic necessities such as shelter is an inherent and inextricable feature of capitalism. Smale addresses the question “How is homelessness manifested?” but fails to answer the question promised by the title of their article.

This is not to say that the Warming Room and similar organizations are not doing valuable and necessary work . Nor is it to say that Smale’s article cannot serve as a starting point for these conversations. However, by ignoring the root cause of homelessness, the best we can hope for is the slight mitigation of homelessness and the related problems of precarious and inadequate housing. A serious attempt at eliminating homelessness must involve prefiguring a society in which a safe and comfortable life can be guaranteed for all.

J. Ryan


Fine article on homelessness

Re: “Why Does Homelessness Exist?

C.J. Smale’s article on “Why Does Homelessness Exist?” came at this grim issue in a refreshingly human way, delving into the attitudes that many or even most of have towards homeless individuals that enable us to keep our distance from them, and to remain unmoved by the immense hardships endured by people with no place to call home, or with a home that involves degrading and often dangerous conditions.

I’ve done anti-poverty advocacy work for many years for Anglican Church and interfaith organizations, and have often met with Ontario Cabinet Ministers to urge them to devote more resources for affordable housing and other anti-poverty measures. My colleagues and I would point out, in these meetings, that there are huge costs associated with homelessness and substandard housing, such as higher health costs, criminal justice expenses, shelter costs, etc.

The response from the Minister typically went along these lines: ” Yes, people are really hurting. And I agree, our government should do more. However, we can’t – we’re broke.” Yet as we know, governments always manage to find money for the causes they deem important, and closing even a few tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations could help provide the funding needed to build and repair the housing we need.

Why do our governments continually fail to address this issue, which housing activists in Peterborough and elsewhere will tell you, is only getting worse. Yes, housing is expensive to build. But adequate political will can overcome this issue–and in our society, the people most affected, namely homeless and other low-income people, are generally not organized politically. Those in our society that are politically active haven’t raised their voices loudly enough to call for action. And it all starts with ignoring that homeless person on the street, or blaming them for their plight, as your article indicated.

Please feature more articles on this critical topic.

Murray MacAdam

Advertise with Electric City Magazine

Wait, what?

Re: “Voter Suppression: Eyes on the Prize, People

David Tough’s article, “Eyes on the Prize, People,” is very odd. On the one hand he’s saying that we should worry about voter suppression of the sort the Conservatives legislated in the deceptively named “Fair Election Act”, and then tell us the Liberals have repealed this act. So what’s the article about? The problem he’s concerned about has been addressed. Why warn us about a problem that for now does not exist anymore?

And then Tough goes on to diminish the importance of electoral reform. He says he is concerned with voter suppression, but is fine with our current system, one that gives absolute power to a party that gets less than 40% of the vote. When factored into riding results, this means that over 50% of Canadians’ votes count for nothing! Now that is voter suppression at a much higher level than anything the Tory bill enacted! Yet this kind of voter suppression is ok with Tough!

And why shouldn’t we change our electoral system? Right, because we’re too stupid to check two or three boxes instead of one. Apparently in Tough’s mind Canadians aren’t as intelligent or literate as Europeans who overwhelmingly use proportional systems, and consequently have more voter engagement, more women in government, less inequality, better environmental regulations and significant representation for parties like the Greens who in Canada are now almost entirely excluded from government. Ironically, Tough’s argument proposes we keep our greatest tool for voter suppression, our current system, while focusing on a Tory bill that is now history.

Peter Morgan


Good music

Re:Album Review: The Lonely Parade – No Shade,” “Letters: January 2017

Hello, I’m writing in response to the dialogue surrounding Dave Tough’s review of The Lonely Parade’s “No Shade” album. These comments really caught my attention because I have been thinking about the topic of ‘good’ music for quite some time. I found myself agreeing with comments made by both the author of the letter and Dave Tough…

When a musician is labelled as ‘good’ I believe we have to look at the context in which this takes place. Let’s look at the ways in which a musician could be considered to be ‘good’ at playing music. Take for example the elements of technicality, composition, and emotive delivery. Maybe you could be good at one of these but not good at another. Someone calling something ‘good’ depends on what the listener is looking for and who they are.

Because of who I am, I would not hesitate to say that for example, a simple song, performed in a way I liked is good. But my experience with music is informed by my being a beginner, white, female musician. I am a music fan and I can tell when a musician is well practiced and technically good, but I have to say I believe there is more to being a ‘good’ musician than this. I feel a sense of relief having this opinion because frankly otherwise I would feel a huge barrier to performing at all.

Sometimes it is a basic G C D song that is the most effective in evoking an amazing feeling, and therefore being ‘good’ music. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a beginner guitar player but I’ve had people thank me for playing for them because they liked how it sounded. At this point on the guitar I can sing while I strum basic chords, and play around with rhythm. Sure this is probably seen as “boring” compared to watching say, Bruce Cockburn perform with his complex finger picking, harmonics, and inventive song writing. But does that really mean my music is less interesting or good?

Taking one more step back, it feels appropriate to explain that there were barriers to being a woman in a male-dominated music scene as a teenager. It’s only now at 28 that I am realizing that I lacked a comfortable environment so that I could start playing an instrument in my teens. Now I’m in a place where I feel setback, and I worry that the music I’d like to share would be seen as boring or too simple. But should someone with my background really be compared to say, a man who has been playing continuously since he was 14?

That being said, I appreciate what Dave is saying about being self-critical; in my case just because it’s a big deal to me that I’ve learned to play some songs does not mean it has to be a big deal to everyone else. I do think it’s difficult when people play music a lot but don’t seem to try to evolve, taking up space for those who otherwise would. But then again, if playing their music makes them happy, why should I care? Other people have a right to be happy. Music is wonderful; why not support people in their musical pursuits?

Dave seems to be saying art is good when it is approached in the context of other art that has been made; Dave suggested that there are inherently varying degrees in the quality of art. But I think the author of the letter to EC Magazine was trying to say that art is good when it matters to the person creating it. These are very different approaches to the value of art so how can we really compare? And can’t both be true?

While I agree that there are probably ‘lazy’ performers out there, I also feel the need to point out the complexities of why art is created and that the people making art are on their own journeys. The way people respond to art is complex. And sometimes the folks who are creating art are just doing it because it makes them—and others—feel good. Maybe we should at least support people in their enthusiasm for being involved?

Music reviewers certainly have an interesting role to play in navigating such a subjective landscape. I want to thank Dave and all those who work with Electric City Magazine for providing the opportunity for this discussion to take place; it’s an important one.

Kind regards,

Alisha Embury

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