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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Another Ontario election, another Liberal scandal

The governing Ontario Liberal Party seems to be setting a pattern: one general election, another scandal.

I suppose we should feel lucky this time, since the cost to taxpayers are expected to be just under $500-million rather than the $1.2-billion we faced in the 2011 gas plant scandal.

This time round, Kathleen Wynne’s government plans to rescue the troubled Medical and Related Sciences (MaRS) research centre in downtown Toronto near Queens Park. The Grits intend to buy the MaRS phase 2 tower for $317-million and—one expects—adapt it to office space for government employees who currently work elsewhere.

According to one media report I read, the government is faced with an additional $160-million for renovations and “operating shortfalls.” That’s right, by the time this deal shakes out, taxpayers will have shelled out close to $500-million.

This new scandal was disclosed in cabinet documents that include high-level reports, which were obtained from a whistleblower by Former Tory MPP Frank Klees.

MaRS is a not-for-profit registered charity funded in part by the province. Their aim is to foster innovation and research. Apparently, though, the project stalled and MaRS is unable to fully lease out their phase 2 tower, an up-market 20-storey facility—about 31 per cent of the building is leased. This places MaRS in a position where it lacks the lease revenue to repay a $234-million provincial loan.

So, to save MaRS the embarrassment of defaulting—which could complicate their other business interests—Kathleen Wynne’s government plans, in effect, to wipe out the loan by purchasing the building for $317-million.

Kathleen Wynne, according to a Toronto Star report, “downplayed the documents, saying they are simply the outline of a real estate deal that would consolidate a number of government offices and agencies—and potentially save money in the process. Wynne said that no final deal had been made.”

That’s right, move along, nothing to see here.

But wait, where is the evidence the government was even looking for 20 stories of office space to begin with? Why do the Liberals believe this company, above all, deserves a massive taxpayer bailout? What about the dozens of small Ontario business owners who are struggling in these uncertain economic times?

And why would Kathleen Wynne be even considering this outlay at a time when the province has such serious debt issues?

Earlier this month, the Liberals’ former finance minister Dwight Duncan said, “Ontario is faced with a staggering debt.” He then called for the Government to “fundamentally re-evaluate its role.”

Furthermore, hasn’t Wynne not heard Moody’s Investors Service’s warning that Ontario’s net debt in the 2014-15 fiscal year is 237.7 per cent of revenue, the highest in the country and above even Quebec, which is at only 189.5 per cent.

Moreover, Charles Sousa, Wynne’s current Minister of Finance, said publicly that the province would “over the next year or so” sell the Queens Quay headquarters of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and the University Avenue offices of Ontario Power Generation.

What a mess! Moody’s Investors Service is warning of a down-graded credit rating, while Wynne’s government is going off in all directions without seeming to have a consistent plan for managing the province’s finances. Wynne’s buying fancy office space; Charles Sousa’s selling fancy office space. Go figure.

This latest bailout has the earmarks of another of what the National Post calls “a long list of boondoggles, scandals, bailouts and financial follies.” Lucky us, though, this one’s only half what it cost us to move a couple of gas plants to save the Liberals a few seats in the last general election.

Why don’t I feel lucky?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Satellite party offices: NDP obfuscation not helpful

Eefforts by federal New Democrats to explain and rationalize their scheme to use taxpayer money to fund party operations in Quebec, Toronto and Saskatchewan seem to be failing.

The Dippers—as most readers know by now—have set up a satellite office in Montreal that allegedly violates parliamentary spending rules. The office housed both party workers and government-paid workers who are supposed to work exclusively on non-partisan constituency work. Furthermore, the Montreal office was signed as an NDP office with its party logo, according to reliable media reports from multiple sources.

Moreover, NDP MPs allegedly used their free mailing privileges to distribute partisan messages in four ridings just before by-elections were called. A very definite no-no.

When faced with questions about these practices, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and other New Democrats, have maintained the Speaker approved their schemes.

The Huffington Post reported, for example, that Mr. Mulcair said the following about the bulk mailings, “We checked and double-checked with the Speaker before going that route.” That reportedly was said in March. And in April, deputy leader Megan Leslie reportedly said, “We got approval from the Speaker,” when commenting about the satellite offices.

Now The Canadian Press is reporting that the Speaker of the House of Commons has contradicted these NDP claims. According to CP:

Andrew Scheer said Thursday that no one checked with him about New Democrat MPs using free parliamentary mailing privileges to send partisan missives into four ridings just before byelections [sic] were called.”

Scheer made his remarks in answer to questions he faced at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Again according to CP:

Similarly, he [Scheer] said the NDP did not check with him about pooling the Commons budgets of MPs to pay for staff working in satellite party offices in Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto.”

I’ll simply say nobody checked with me personally or anyone in my office,” Scheer reportedly said.

So, are NDP leaders lying?

If so, this is a serious breach of the trust Canadians are supposed to have in their parliamentarians. Or is such mendacious behaviour now to be considered acceptable?

Readers will, of course, make up their own minds about who is being truthful here, but, personally, I’m accepting House speaker Andrew Scheer’s version. He’s always struck me as being an honourable man.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hudak’s “million jobs plan” is the economic tonic Ontario needs

Tim Hudak says, if elected, his Progressive Conservative government would create one million net new jobs over eight years. Hudak also promises he’d cut 100,000 jobs from the public sector.

This pledge has launched a furious debate over the chances that the PCs could actually create that many new jobs, and the damage critics claim will be done to government services if 100,000 public sector jobs were cut.

Both the Grits and the Dippers are slamming the cuts to public sector jobs, of course, since both parties are heavily supported by public sector unions that supply them with funding, third-party advertising and campaign volunteers. No surprise there.

Hudak’s promise to eliminate 100,000 jobs in the broader civil service would represent about 10 per cent of that sector’s jobs and would leave us with about the same number of public sector workers as we had in 2009.

Considering many of the jobs would be eliminated through attrition as workers retire or move on to the private sector and others reductions would result from outsourcing, the number of actual layoffs will not be anywhere near 100,000. Furthermore, the cuts won’t all come at once, but will be spread over the PCs first term.

Moreover, the hit to the economy will be mitigated by the fact retirees will receive generous government pensions and many of the outsourced jobs will have to be filled. In other words, these jobs will not all be lost to the province’s economy.

Let’s face it, something has to be done to scale back the size of our government. At some point, the leader of the province has to face down the public sector unions, for surely we must eventually balance the province’s books.

Even the normally free-spending federal Liberals learned in the 1990s there is a limit to how much debt we can accumulate. Back then, they had to implement severe austerity measures including the slashing of transfer payments to provinces, which caused extreme distress to Ontario’s health care sector’s budgets.

Hudak promises that doctors, nurses and police would all be spared so essential services should remain intact. Kathleen Wynne, though, has tried to scare Ontarians into believing the PCs’ cuts would impact the quality of our drinking water. Mind you, it is her Liberals who cut funding to the Clean Water Centre at Walkerton. Ontario.

When Wynne used the tragic deaths in 2000 of Walkerton residents for crass political gain, she failed to mention the million-dollar funding cuts her own Liberal government had made to the Walkerton-based research facility in 2011 and 2013: provincial funding went from $5-million in 2010 to $3-million in 2013.

How dangerous was that to Ontarians’ water quality, I wonder? As Kathleen Wynne said during her infamous visit to Walkerton, “Cuts have consequences.”

It does seem, though, that Walkerton residents have Wynne’s number, for they are represented in the Ontario legislature by Lisa Thompson, a Progressive Conservative MPP.

There are those that say 100,000 public sector jobs is too high a price to pay for balancing Ontario’s budget one year earlier— Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa say they’ll do it by 2017-18. The Liberals, though, have increased the deficit two years in a row and have refused to make needed cuts to spending. Instead, their recent budget contains a slew of new spending on infrastructure and social programs.

Charles Sousa insists he can still meet his ultimate goal of balancing the budget by 2017-18, but he’s relying almost entirely on economic growth driven by government spending. There isn’t a credible economist who believes Wynne-Sousa will meet their target on time without harsh austerity measures and/or large tax increases. The longer Sousa waits, the deeper the cuts will be and/or the greater the tax increases will be—and those increases won’t all come from corporations.

As early as February, 2013, Kathleen Wynne’s civil servants told her that she would have to make deep cuts to meet deficit-reduction targets or she’d have to hike taxes. Instead, she’s increased spending a lot and raised taxes a little.

Perhaps, like federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau apparently believes, Wynne and Sousa believe the budget will balance itself.

As to Hudak’s plan to add one million net new jobs over eight years, I think it’ll be a stretch. On the positive side, Sandy Crux explains here why she believes it can be done. Sandy points out statistics for the period between 1995 and 2002/3 show it’s possible. 

Ted Mallett, an economist with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is reported to have said that based on unemployment of 6.2 per cent and standard economic predictions, the economy will produce about 500,000 jobs. Add Hudak’s key promises: cheaper energy, more free trade, less red tape, lower taxes and more skilled trades, and we could very well get there.

Unlike the bitter vetch we’ve been fed by the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals for the past decade, Hudak’s million jobs plan seems like the economic tonic Ontario needs.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Can NDP leopards change their spots or old NDP dogs learn new tricks?

The New Democratic Party of Ontario seems intent on remaking itself or, at least, is trying to convince the province’s voters that it has transformed into Liberal-lite. Recent evidence of this is the NDP’s latest election platform that leader Andrea Horwath unveiled Thursday.

Horwath promised Ontarians “a better government,” one that she said “respects their tax dollars.” Then she went on to announce a platform that could just as well have been prepared for a Liberal party campaign. In fact, the NDP platform resembles the Liberal budget she rejected, begging the question, why we are even having an election if Kathleen Wynne was doing much the same as Horwath would have done had she been premier.

The answer, of course, is—and I’ve said this before—if the NDP leader had said “yes” to the Grit’s budget she’d also have been saying yes to Wynne’s scandal-ridden Liberal government that happens to be currently under criminal investigation by the OPP. And, “yes,” to a $1-billion gas plant boondoggle and, “yes,” to $1-billion squandered on eHealth, et al.

Yet isn’t it curious that, but for a-small-corporate-tax-hike tweak here and a-promise-to-cut-government-waste tweak there, Horwath and her Dippers seem to be channeling the Grits to a tee?

Where are the social reforms one would expect from a social democratic party? Where’s the anti-capitalism rhetoric we used to hear? Oh, I’m sure big oil and big banks will see their tax rates rise, but nothing like the huge four percentage points tax rate hike Horwath promised in 2011.

Horwath, apparently, represents a new New Democratic party. Gone are the wild-eyed socialist who once promised to nationalize banks. Gone, too, is the promise to expand public health care to include dental and universal prescription drug coverage—at least, such is not in the NDP platform.

Hidden agenda?

No, no, of course not. Well, maybe…

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Folly: TVO promotes Green Party of Ontario as one of big four

With all the spin going on in the Ontario general election campaign, it is not at all helpful for the Ontario government-owned television service, TVO, to now be treating the Green Party of Ontario as one of the main parties to be present at every one of its candidates’ debates.

On his The Inside Agenda Blog, Steve Paikin asks in a May 14 post, “When you think of the Green Party of Ontario, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

His answer is, “I suspect it’s the Greens’ decades-long commitment to environmental protection.”

My answer is, frankly, I seldom ever think of the Green Party of Ontario. I infrequently think about Elizabeth May and her federal Greens, but almost never of her provincial cousins.

My guess is that, for the vast majority of Ontarians, the provincial Green party is pretty much irrelevant and has been thus since that party started fielding candidates in 1985.

So under what criteria can the Greens be judged to be one of the “main” parties? I suppose it’s the fact the they run candidates in every riding during general elections. But so what? Many of those candidates are of no consequence to the eventual outcome of the individual races in their ridings.

I’ll give an example of what I mean.

Back in 2007, a provincial by-election was held in my Burlington riding to fill the seat vacated when PC MPP Cam Jackson resigned to run for mayor of Burlington. The Green Party of Ontario was represented by Frank de Jong, the then provincial leader of that party.

During that campaign, no one that I could find could remember seeing de Jong in the riding, nor could they remember seeing any Green party literature of any kind. On election day de Jong received 734 votes out of the 22,748 cast. He was the leader of the Greens yet caused not a ripple of effect in the election.

Too often, this is the what happens with Green party candidates in election after election. It’s as if the candidates are placeholders with no chance whatsoever of being elected.

The Greens’ 2007 experience in Burlington is about what one might expect for a party that, in the 2011 general election, received less than 3 per cent of the votes—and that’s the highest percentage it has achieved in Ontario, except for 2007 when it got a little over 8 per cent.

This does not seem to be the inevitable fate of new political parties under our first-past-the-post system, as many would have us believe. Other parties have been launched since the Greens made their Ontario election debut in 1985 and have had great success at the polls. The Greens, one might say, have been notable by their failure to make themselves more relevant to voters.

Take as an example the Reform Party of Canada, which rose rapidly to absorb a mainstream party and win the last three federal elections as the Conservative Party of Canada. Another example is the Wildrose party in Alberta—it now leads the polls as the party to beat in that province.

I contend that the fact the Greens run a full slate does not mean they are a “main” party. On the contrary, as a political party, they are insignificant—a mere sideshow. If the Greens were to disappear from Ontario’s political scene tomorrow, it would not make an iota of difference. If the Grits, Tories or the NDP disappeared, they’d leave a political vacuum; not so for the Greens.

So what does it matter that TVO has decided the Greens are to be represented at all its candidates’ debates? Well, these debates are an important element of the current campaign and having extraneous voices and messages just wastes time and causes confusion.

TVO viewers end up listening to the likes of Green leader Mike Schreiner as he dares “to go where none of the other parties has” as Paikin put it in a recent blog post. How can it matter to anyone that Schreiner—apparently a very nice man—wants to see a “unified school system” in the province? The Ontario Greens are not likely to be in a position to make this happen, so why even discuss it during the election campaign.

Is it not more productive to debate party platforms that could get implemented by a majority government or be used as bargaining chips in a minority government situation? Why not leave academic discussions to a time when they’ll not act as a distraction?

Fortunately for those who follow campaigns, the Greens will not be included in the upcoming televised Leaders’ debates—at least, not at this point in time. Green party officials are pressing hard to be included, though, so let’s hope the executives and producers at the stations that host the debates stick to their guns on this one.

I admire the fact that Steve Paikin and the other folks at TVO always seem to bend over backwards to be fair to all concerned, but this is political correctness taken to a silly extreme and to the point it becomes unfair to a significant number of viewers.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Is National Post’s Tasha Kheiriddin giving up on conservatism?

There is a quotation from Abraham Lincoln that ends, “… you can never please all of the people all of the time.” I thought of this when I read Tasha Kheiriddin’s column in Tuesday's National Post op-ed page.

Kheiriddin self-describes as “a life-long small-c conservative. I [Kheiriddin] supported the Common Sense Revolution of Mike Harris. I [Kheiriddin] believe in balanced budgets, low taxes and value for money. I [Kheiriddin] like the PCs’ plans for ending corporate welfare and encouraging job creation.”

She then launches into a harangue of why she “can’t vote for Tim Hudak” in the June 12 Ontario general election. Curious that, since Hudak is the leader of the only small-c conservative party running in that election.

Kheiriddin complains that Tim Hudak’s proposed spending cuts will affect her four-year-old daughter, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, because her daughter won’t do well in a class that contains 30 kids, or worse, if classes were increased by the “two or three students” proposed by Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives.

She says it is by sheer luck that her daughter is able to attend a modified program with shorter summer holidays and longer breaks elsewhere in the year, with class sizes of about 20 students and worries that project might disappear under the PCs’ proposal.

So why is she worried? Here’s a summary of Hudak’s plan for education:

Our plan focuses on concrete steps that improve student achievement, especially in the areas we have been falling behind, like math. Simply put: our schools exist to give our children the best possible education and the best shot at a successful life. That principle underlies everything we will do in education.”

Does that sound threatening?

How about the following?

The PCs are promising to protect core education. They say they will “protect the core services that our children rely on by reducing some non-core areas of spending. …[however]we spend $8.5 billion more on education than we did 10 years ago, to teach 250,000 fewer students  … [so] choices have to be made about what approaches offer the best results.”

Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Moreover, for parents like Kheiriddin with kids with special needs, the PCs promise to “Help those who need it most.” For them, Hudak says, his government “will invest in schools and individual students who need the extra help.”

Kheiriddin may be right in part, however. Under a PC government—a small-c conservative government—the government will likely not be all things to all people. Difficult decisions will have to be made, and some of us may have to take financial responsibility for specific programs or services the government does not pay for. (My wife and I complain every time we receive a stiff bill from our dentist.)

The reality is that Ontario has been mismanaged for over a decade with billions of dollars wasted—spent on a failed green energy scheme that’s since been thoroughly discredited, or wasted on the province’s eHealth IT system project or squandered on its Ornge air ambulance services, not to mention the billion-dollar gas plant fiasco.

Once the province’s books have been balanced, perhaps some much needed services can be added to what already is—and will continue to be under the PCs—a very comprehensive social safety net.

As to Kheiriddin’s call for “better teachers,” “bonuses for high-achieving teachers,” teachers helped by “support staff” and “the best and brightest to attend teachers college with incentives, financial or otherwise?” Good luck getting any of that under a Liberal or New Democratic government.

Rewarding excellence and rating high achievement or giving special rewards to the “best and brightest” are the antithesis to how unions operate—their way is to treat everyone equally and reward/promote by seniority. And since the teachers’ unions call the shots in this province, Kheiriddin’s excellent suggestions for our education system are but a pipe dream so long as progressives govern the province.

I don’t question Tasha Kheiriddin’s credentials as “a life-long small-c conservative.” I’m sure she sees herself in those terms. I do wonder, however, just how deep her political convictions go.

If she spoils her ballot on June 12 or does not vote at all, she is not being true to our democracy. And should she vote for any of the other parties, she will have to renounce her conservatives values for she’ll find nothing like them in the other parties, which are all progressive to one degree or the other.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tom Mulcair’s pledge not to hike personal taxes is meaningless—he’ll use a carbon tax

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the federal New Democrats has, reportedly, made a pledge to Canadian voters not to raise their personal taxes if he becomes prime minister. But he wont need to raise personal income taxes, will he? He’ll implement a carbon tax.

Mulcair made the pledge when being  interviewed by the Ottawa Citizen. He was explaining why it’s time for Canadians to elect their first federal NDP government. Granted, Mulcair’s NDP is the official opposition, but it is trailing both the Conservatives and the Liberals so badly in any polls I have seen, his pledge does seem cheeky.

“We’re saying that personal taxes will not be touched. That’s a firm undertaking. That’s a contract with the Canadian voting public on our behalf,” Mulcair said, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Not that he’d miss an increase in personal income taxes. I don’t think it’s any secret that the NDP will implement some form of carbon tax. They may not call it a “tax;” maybe they’ll call it “Cap-and-trade.” But rest assured it’ll serve the same purpose.

That is, it’ll transfer billions of dollars—directly or indirectly—from the pockets of individuals to the federal coffers where they can be used to finance all manner of expensive social programs.

And to compliment the carbon tax, look for an NDP government to raise job-killing corporate taxes, especially for those of oil companies and banks.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, “Mulcair says the legacy of Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government from 1990 to 1995 has cast a ‘shadow’ over the federal [New Democrat] party’s reputation.”

Well, he’s right about that and with good reason. For, given the tax-and-spend policies of the federal NDP, I doubt they’d be any better at running Canada than Rae was at running Ontario.

After all, the provincial New Democrat parties are pretty much the same as the national party and members are automatically members of both the federal and provincial parties. The Liberal and Conservative parties in Canada are different than the NDP in that provincial and federal politics and members are strictly separated—they are separate legal entities.

Moreover, Rae’s provincial Dippers do not stand alone as an example of inept government by an NDP party. One needs only look back at the NDP’s history in British Columbia where words like “fiasco,” “scandal,” “deceit” and “chaos” only go part way in describing that party’s truly horrible record.

Those readers who plan to vote in the next federal election, take heed: beware of Thomas Mulcair’s Irish blarney.

Kathleen Wynne’s uses ad hominem attacks and nasty innuendoes

The Ontario Liberals are running an uber-negative election campaign reminiscent of the nasty one the federal Liberals ran in 2006 when Paul Martin’s Grits lost to the Stephen Harper Conservatives.

Kathleen Wynne recently implied that Tim Hudak would cut the public sector workforce so deeply he would cause deaths in rural Ontario à la the 2000 Walkerton contaminated water tragedy.

“[C]uts have consequences,” she said at a photo-op. Was she implying that the current management of the town’s water supply was not up to the task and needs the province’s oversight to keep Walkerton’s drinking water safe? Probably not.

It is far more likely she wanted us to infer Hudak’s planned austerity program—made necessary by Liberal mismanagement and waste over the past decade—would “slash and burn and children will die,” as Christina Blizzard phrased it in yesterday’s Toronto Sun.

Blizzard also wrote, “In a bizarre announcement Monday at Ontario Place, Wynne said there’d be no condos at Ontario Place.”

Bizarre, yes, for it was the Liberal government who first raised the issue of an alternative use of the Ontario Place lakefront property. And it was a Liberal-appointed panel that recommended 10 to 15 per cent of the park be set aside for residential development.

As Blizzard wrote, “She [Wynne] made it sound as if she’s running against some big bad people who want to turn it into condos. Yet those big bad people were Liberals.”

When Kathleen Wynne is not demonizing Tim Hudak and his election platform, she’s blaming Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government for Ontario’s self-inflicted wounds.

Andrea Horwath has also been a target of Wynne’s negativity and personal attacks. In an on-line ad, Wynne lists various items from her budget that she says Horwath said “no to.” She, of course, avoids the obvious. That is, if the NDP leader had said “yes” to the Grit’s budget she’s also have been saying yes to the scandal-ridden Liberal government that happens to be currently under criminal investigation by the OPP. And, “yes,” to a $1-billion gas plant boondoggle and, “yes,” to $1-billion squandered on eHealth, et al.

It seems that, in this campaign, Wynne is going after individuals, for, like Paul Martin in his 2006 campaign, she cannot run on her government’s scandalous record. Her attack ad on Horwath was ad hominem, with little attempt to attack the NDP leader’s policies or ideas.

Yet Kathleen Wynne has the gall to ask, “Is Andrea Horwath for real?” It seems to me it is the premier who has lost touch with reality and with Ontario taxpayers, with whom she has broken faith.

They say fear has a rancid smell; so does desperation. Sniff, sniff.

We shouldn’t be too surprised, though, that Kathleen Wynne’s campaign has been so nasty for, according to Liberal-insider Warren Kinsella of the QMI Agency, Wynne is advised “by the same inept gang who cooked up [former Liberal prime minister] Paul Martin’s ‘soldiers in our streets’ [election] ads in 2006.”

Readers must remember what a nasty bit of work that 2006 Liberal campaign was—mean-spirited and negative with a strong smell of desperation about it. Martin was dogged by the sponsorship scandal and so could not focus on the Liberal record. With only a few weeks left before the election, Liberals were trailing in polls so Martin resorted to a storm of negative ads, attempting to depict Harper as an extreme right-wing politician.

The ads were excessive and failed to sway many voters.

Kathleen Wynne’s current campaign seems to be unfolding true to that form.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Hypocrisy goeth before the fall?

The hypocrisy of the Dippers seems to know no bounds. Hard on the heals of stories from Ottawa about questionable practices of Thomas Mulcair’s New Democrats, we see a disturbing report on the Sun News Network’s website about Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s practice of charging taxpayers for her snacks and even a 25-cent Oshawa parking tab.

Bear in mind this is the same Andrea Horwath who has made CEOs and consultants working for public agencies targets for her barbs following reports that they charged taxpayers for their snacks such as tea or coffee.

Based on Freedom of Information documents obtained by the Ontario Liberals, Sun News reports that, “In the period from January 2011 to December 2013, Horwath and two assistants made well over 100 food claims as she travelled the province.”

The claims, apparently, include items from Tim Hortons such as lunch combos and snacks like muffins and bagels. Not all the chits reimbursed were trivial, though. Some show these folks ate very well at times. Taxpayers, reportedly, had to cover more than 60 receipts for seafood—calamari, mussels, perch, pickerel, salmon, shrimp, trout, sea scallops and lobster bisque.

Do they eat this well at home, I wonder, or only when it’s other people’s money? Ordinary Canadians, of course, buy their own snacks and lunches or pack a brownbag and thermos when they head off to work.

Not the preachy Dippers, though, their leader and big shot party operatives have their needs met at taxpayers’ expense, and to hell with the average Joe who is struggling to pay government-mandated taxes, hydro bills and all the various tolls and fees that fatten up their paycheques and expense accounts.

Sun News quotes the NDP leader as saying in a published report last September:

We’ve seen the same kind of scandals with eHealth, the exact same kind of scandal with the Ornge air ambulance, where these folks at the very top are expensing not only things like coffee and tea and muffins, but trips all over the world.”

“Just a few days before she made the statement,” says the Sun News report, “Horwath and her assistant expensed a tea and coffee in Windsor, the documents revealed.”

I guess Andrea Horwath’s philosophy is, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Or perhaps it’s, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.”

In either case it’s hypocrisy and its shabby behaviour quite unbecoming of a party who purports to be so high-minded.

Fantino stepping down?

According to a report in the Vancouver Observer yesterday, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino may soon be making a move to municipal politics.

Speculation is that the former Chief of the Toronto Police Service and former Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police could be considering a run at being mayor of Vaughan, Ontario, the city immediately north of Toronto.

Apparently, this speculation was prompted by robocalls that were received on May 15 by residents of the region asking whether they would vote for Fantino, or the incumbent Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua. Interestingly, Bevilacqua had previously held the federal riding of Vaughan as a Liberal MP before resigning to run for mayor.

Although Fantino did not respond to media requests, Nicholas Bergamini, his press secretary said:

I don't know where you got it from. I don’t really care, and it is completely off base—don’t waste your time. This is categorically false. Minister Fantino has every intention to remain as the Member of Parliament for Vaughan, and in his role as the Minister of Veterans Affairs.”

This report has credence. I believe it means Fantino is, at least, testing the waters regarding a challenge to Bevilacqua, Vaughan’s current mayor.

Julian Fantino has not distinguished himself during his time in Ottawa. As an example, in February he was criticized as Veterans Affairs minister—and calls for his resignation were heard—because he showed up over an hour late for a meeting with veterans in Ottawa. That gaffe resulted in a career-limiting press conference during which the minister was lambasted by the veterans he had slighted.

I lost all respect for this minister during his term as head of the OPP and, especially, of his handling of the Caledonia land dispute back in the mid-2000s—an affair I saw as a black-eye for policing in Ontario. Moreover, he seems to be, at best, a mediocre minister of the crown. Should he run for mayor of Vaughan, I doubt he’ll be missed by many in Ottawa.

Read the full Vancouver Observer report here and judge for yourselves.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Should voting be mandatory? I say no

The recent passage of the federal Fair Elections Act has prompted debate about citizens right/obligation to vote for representatives at all three levels of government.

In recent years, we’ve seen a drop-off in voter turnout at all levels. In federal general elections, for example, the turnout has dropped from an average of 75 per cent during the period after World War II to 61 per cent in the 2011 election. At the provincial level, in Ontario for example, the turnout slipped below 50 per cent for the first time in 2011.

Now some, like Andrew Coyne of the National Post, are asking whether voting should be mandatory. Coyne writes, “The argument for compulsory voting is analogous to that for taxation.” Another comparison made is to jury duty. Not bad points and, in more than 30 countries around the world, voting is, apparently, compulsory in some way or other.

While I have sympathy for the wish to increase the number of people voting, especially among youth, I’m not ready to support making the practice compulsory.

We shouldn’t have to use coercion to get citizens to exercise their franchise. Good grief, women of the world were still fighting for the right to vote well into the twentieth century—suffrage was not extended to the women of France until 1944. And the women of Québec had to wait until 1940 for full suffrage.

It seems incredible sad to me that in my lifetime many women fought very hard for the right to vote yet, today, millions of young Canadians choose not to exercise their hard-won franchise.

Oh, they have lots of excuses and rationalizations for avoiding their civic duty, but that’s all they are, excuses. Some claim it’s too hard to vote, takes too much time, makes no difference since all politicians are the same, and others whine on giving excuses in a similar vein.

But there is no good excuse, short of illness, that can justify what looks a lot like apathy—a lack of any sense of duty or obligation to our democracy. Our elections provide many voting stations in convenient places and are preceded by a multi-day advance poll. There is no need for on-line voting or any further dumbing down of the process. It’s as easy to vote as it is to go to a movie and takes considerable less time. Plus it’s the right thing to do.

Perhaps we need to emphasize more our duties and obligations when we inform young citizens about their rights and privileges. And this, I believe, should start before high school.

After that, it’s up to the individual to decide if he or she wants to have a say, or just wants to go along for the ride. That’s also their right. And if some people choose the latter, then tough on them, and they’ll have to live with the consequences of their inaction. At least, that’s the way I see it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mulcair on the hot-seat, NDP not so sanctimonious now

All indications are, at least as reported widely in the news media, that the federal New Democrats have engaged in a scheme to use taxpayer money to help fund their party operations in Quebec and Saskatchewan.

The normally so sanctimonious Dippers have allegedly set up a satellite office in Montreal that violates parliamentary spending rules. The office housed both party workers and government-paid workers who are supposed to work exclusively on non-partisan constituency work. The Montreal office was also, allegedly, signed as an NDP office with its party logo.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, apparently, got all huffy when pressed by reporters. He insisted his party had done nothing wrong, and that duties were separated to ensure parliamentary staff only does parliamentary work and political staff does only political work.

As if to reinforce his case, Mulcair also said staffers who did constituency work and those that did partisan work were unionized and represented by two different bargaining units because of their job descriptions. He seemed to expect that this, of itself, was enough to prove the work was split appropriately between the two staff groups.

While Mulcair maintains his party has done nothing wrong and that the House of Commons approved the arrangement, House of Commons clerk Audrey O’Brien made it clear she was caught by surprise this March when she found out employees hired to work in Ottawa were, in fact, located in Montreal.

According to The Huffington Post, O’Brien wrote:

At no point was the House Administration informed that the employees would be located in Montreal or that their work would be carried out in co-location with a political party’s offices.”

When the Montreal office was set up in August 2011, Mulcair was Jack Layton’s Quebec lieutenant, so he’s very much in the forefront of those involved in this scheme. This is surprising because he’s a lawyer and obviously knows the rules better than most.

Controversy erupted earlier this year because of an NDP proposal to set up another satellite office, this one in Saskatchewan (see more here). Here’s an excerpt from my Apr. 10 blog entry:

The Ottawa Citizen reports that the ‘NDP has been operating a [sic] satellite party offices, staffed by people on the [House of] Commons payroll, in Montreal and Toronto and has been preparing to open another in Saskatchewan.’ And, according to that newspaper:

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has said the offices are designed to help MPs with outreach to their constituents and were approved by the Commons administration.

‘He has not explained why such an office would be necessary in Saskatchewan, where the NDP has no MPs, or why the job posting for that office listed campaign experience as an asset’.”

Yes, really! The NDP has no MPs in the province of Saskatchewan, but they want to have taxpayer-funded staff for “outreach to their constituents.” Saskatchewan constituents are already served by offices run by MPs elected in the various ridings in the province. The MPs are from other parties, but, once elected, they represent all constituents in their respective ridings.

MPs on the Procedure and House Affairs committee are scheduled to question the NDP leader at a hearing on Thursday. At that time, he’ll be expected to explain his party’s position.

Also at issue, according to The Huffington Post, will be the NDP’s use of MPs’ franking privileges, i.e., free letter postage. Apparently the Dippers have sent out for free close to 2 million pieces of mail in a five-month period last year, including some that were delivered during by-elections. Ouch!

Given what I’m reading in  various media reports, the NDP seems engaged in a scheme to get Parliament to pay for partisan staff and activities. And most of the media outlets I’m looking at are not known to be unfriendly to that party. To the contrary, they often report quite favourably regarding Thomas Mulcair and issues related to his party.

I look forward to Mulcair’s testimony before the Procedure and House Affairs committee on Thursday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One week in and Hudak’s looking good

This time around, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak seems to be doing a really good job of articulating his party’s agenda and making the contrast—in his favour—between his PCs and Kathleen Wynne’s Grits.

I especially like the fiscal conservative bias to Hudak’s campaign and its emphasis on jobs, jobs, jobs—one million jobs over eight years, in fact.

I also like that Hudak’s being forthright and clear about his agenda—unlike Wynne who pretends to be running against Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose name wont, of course, be on the June 12 election ballot.

Yes, Tim Hudak has experienced a couple of hiccups: he held photo-ops at the premises of two companies which have received grants from the Liberal government—a practice Hudak calls “corporate welfare.”

Hudak, though, explained that he didn’t blame the companies for trying to get some of their tax money back. And I believe most voters would understand companies—even socially responsible ones—would want to take advantage of any government programs for which they qualify. Don’t they owe that to their shareholders?

If these minor issues are the best a mostly hostile mainstream media can find to criticize the PC campaign for, I think Hudak is off to a good start.

The Tory leader lays his agenda on the line, bitter-sweet medicine though it is, telling voters his government would cut 100,000 public sector jobs and add a million new jobs over eight years. His plan is simple and has five key elements: cheaper energy, more free trade, less red tape, lower taxes and more skilled trades.

Some criticize the plan and doubt its viability, but as Sandy Crux explains here:

“the plan can most definitely work just as it did between 1995 and 2002/3.  In fact, it was towards the end of that period when Ontario was booming, thanks to several years of Mike Harris PC Government business friendly policies.”

Sandy adds:

I can’t help thinking how much better it would have been if union officials had actually worked with the former Tory government in a proactive and productive way, rather than simply fight day in and day out to keep all their entitlements.”

Kathleen Wynne cherry-picks the McGuinty-Wynne record rather than openly embracing it. She tries her best to avoid even mentioning Dalton McGuinty’s name or their record on any of the following:

Broken campaign promise not to raise taxes and then instituting an annual health premium of up to $900 per individual; Caledonia and the Grits’ shameful abandonment of the residents of that Ontario community; eHealth medical records scandal; Ornge air ambulance service’s financial irregularities, cost overruns, huge salaries for managers;  and Cancelled Power Plants.

Need I say more?

While one cannot expect a politician to confess her sins during an election, to so brazenly ignore them while taking credit for anything not tainted by scandal or mismanagement takes a lot of brass, and more disingenuity than I find seemly.

And as to job creation, Wynne proposes the risky strategy of picking winners and losers and subsidizing those companies she favours. She pledged in the recent Liberal budget $2.5-billion in new grants under a 10-year Jobs and Prosperity Fund.

Tim Hudak has said a Tory government would end such grants and, instead, it would cut taxes and red tape to attract investment with job-creation potential.

I see the Tory strategy as being the more effective; subsidizing private companies is not economically smart. Even the business-friendly Fraser Institute has referred to these grants as “corporate welfare” and has claimed they are unfair and inefficient.

Companies with the best chance of success—those with low-risk business models and the highest financial upsides—will have little trouble attracting affordable capital. They don’t need government subsidies to survive. They will happily take a government grant if one is offered, but they would survive nicely without it.

Government handouts too often go to those companies that have trouble attracting private capital because their business models are too risky—too much of a downside. And all too often, these subsidies provide jobs at a very high price, sometimes exceeding six figures per individual job.

For one example of the risk inherent in governments trying to pick (or make) winners consider the Grits’ “green energy” plan. The McGuinty-Wynne government decided to subsidize renewable energy companies. Dalton McGuinty predicted that the subsidies would make Ontario a world-leader in green energy technology, creating thousands of jobs.

Unfortunately for Ontarians, the Liberals’ plan backfired: the province’s manufacturing sector now sees its former electricity-cost advantage transformed into a job-killing competitive disadvantage. Moreover, Ontario household power rates are among the highest in North America, and they will continue to soar because of the Liberal government’s “green energy” plan.

With their track-record on green energy, I’d not trust the Grits to pick winners in the private sector, would you?

It’s still early days, of course, but I feel pretty good about the first week of the PC’s campaign. Here’s hoping they can keep it up.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Abortion: a settled matter or unresolved debate?

The recent decision by Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau to demand that Liberal candidates be pro-choice has generated so much media attention one has to question his assertion that, “it’s [abortion] a debate that has been settled for the vast majority of Canadians and we don’t need to reopen that issue.”  

Far from being settled, he has reopened the debate.

Many pro-choice supporters dismiss attempts to challenge the status quo by claiming women’s absolute right to abortions is guaranteed/protected by sec. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To them, a quick, “It’s the Charter stupid,” is sufficient to put any pro-life miscreant in her/his place, and that’s supposed to put an end to the discussion. After all, who wants to stand against the constitution?

But, of course, sec. 7 of the Charter embodies no such right. Nor can there be found any right to unrestricted abortion in any other Canadian law or tradition except, I suppose, for the provision in the Criminal Code that allowed abortion when the life or health of the mother is at risk.

The notion that such a blanket right to abortion exists and is protected, I suppose, arose from the Supreme Court decision to strike down Canada’s “abortion law”—i.e., sec. 251 of the Criminal Code of Canada—because it violated the security of the person  guarantee in sec. 7 of the Charter. This is the so-called Morgentaler ruling.

If those drafting our Charter had intended to give the unrestricted right to abortion to all Canadian women, why wouldn’t they have done so in plain, unambiguous language? The simple answer is—as I see it—the drafters intended no such right to be entrenched in the document.

In my view, the Court sensed the general mood of the country favoured a more tolerant approach to abortion and decided the existing law was unfair in parts and far too restrictive.

When considering the issue, though, the Court seemed to agree that the state had a legitimate interest in protecting the unborn and seemed to acknowledge our society did not accept the concept of abortion at will. The Court, therefore, struck down the restrictive sec. 251, but invited parliament to create new legislation to replace it.

In so doing, the Court did extend—through its interpretation—the meaning of sec. 7; it did not, however, entrench a right to unrestricted abortion on demand. Clearly, this would have required a reopening of the Charter and amending it accordingly.

Just as the argument that being pro-life makes one anti-Charter is spurious, so too is the contention that opposing the status quo—i.e., no abortion at all—means one wants to ban abortion outright. Here’s an example from The Star’s Chantal Hébert:

The change [Trudeau’s announcement] effectively leaves the Conservatives with a monopoly on the support of the voters for whom having Parliament ban or curtail the access to abortion is a ballot-box issue.” [Emphasis mine]

This is just another tactic designed to scare women and shutdown debate. The arguments for continuing the status quo are so weak, apparently, that open and free debate—perhaps culminating in a national referendum—must be avoided.

Support of the notion that the status quo is not likely acceptable to most Canadians can be found in the fact that—as far as I can determine—of the hundreds of millions of people living in liberal democracies around the world, only the 35-million of us here in Canada have no restrictions whatsoever placed on abortions performed in our country.

It takes quite some level of hubris to believe we are the only ones who have it right on this moral/ethical issue.

Nevertheless, according to the likes of Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, it is better to shutout of the political process any of us who want some level of legal protection for unborn babies than to deal with our concerns.

Only in Canada…pity.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

IPSOS poll: Hudak’s prospects improve

A new Ipsos Reid poll conducted for CTV News and CP24 shows the desire for change in Ontario’s government is strengthening and that Tim Hudak’s image has improved.

This is good news for those who believe the McGuinty-Wynne government has set this province on a path to economic ruin with a free-spending budget and a debt-load that prompted the Liberals’ own former finance minister, Dwight Duncan, to warn Ontario’s interest payments on its debt “are a ticking time bomb.”

Duncan made this assessment in January 2013 and guess what? The deficit for the upcoming year is projected to be higher than last. That’s two years in a row that the budget shortfall has increased and the Grits are without a believable fiscal plan that will see the budget balanced in the foreseeable future.

This week Dwight Duncan continued to warn Kathleen Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa that “Ontario is faced with a staggering debt,” and he called for public services to be contracted out. Government, Duncan said, would have to “fundamentally re-evaluate its role.”

But that isn’t going to happen is it? Under Kathleen Wynne, government services will increasingly be solely within the purview of public service unions. Suggestions to the contrary will be ignored or, worse, ridiculed. Here’s an excerpt from Scott Stinson’s article on the National Posts’ website that will put this in perspective:

The Liberals know all this [necessity of aggressive spending cuts], having been warned repeatedly by bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry that steep reductions are a necessary evil. ‘To make the math work and in order to hit the deficit targets, spending growth going forward has to decrease dramatically,’ officials wrote in a 2013 confidential ‘advice to Cabinet’ document that was released last month by the opposition Progressive Conservatives.”

But better days may be ahead for Ontarians.

According to IPSOS, if the Ontario election were held tomorrow, 37 per cent of decided voters would vote for the PC Party while the Grits under Premier Wynne would receive 31 per cent of the vote and the NDP under Andrea Horwath would receive 28 per cent. Sixteen per cent of Ontarians overall are undecided.

Notable among the poll’s findings, though, is this:

Firstly, Tim Hudak has taken the lead as the person who respondents say would make the best Premier of Ontario (34%), followed by Andrea Horwath (29%) and Kathleen Wynne (28%) who is down 3 points.

Secondly, there is a growing desire for political change in Ontario with 72 per cent (up 4 points) of Ontarians believing it is “time for another party to take over.” Encouragingly, only 28 per cent believe “the Wynne government has done a good job and deserves re-election” (down 4 points). Moreover, the survey shows Tory commitment with  PC voters being most likely to show up and vote, and least likely to change their vote.

Finally, a mere 36 per cent of respondents believe “Ontario is currently on the right track,” (down 6 points), while 64 per cent believe it is “headed in the wrong direction” (up 6 points).

While I’m not going out and celebrating over this, I do find this news encouraging. For my own part, I went to one of party leader Tim Hudak’s “photo ops” here in Burlington and was pleased to see how well he handled himself as he walked around chatting to an agreeable crowd.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Trudeau on abortion: My way or the highway

Justin Trudeau has chosen to close his Liberal party’s nomination process to a significant portion of Canadians—those who are not in favour of a women’s unlimited right to choose an abortion.

CBC’s most recent At Issue segment covered Trudeau’s decision, and I noticed that Chantal Hébert cast the issue in a black-and-white manner. Hébert implied that those opposing abortion all wanted an outright ban. And, unfortunately for those of us who want some level of legal protection for fetuses, this seems to be the prevailing position of many who favour pro-choice.

Trudeau’s stand on the issue plays into the hands of those favouring this extreme position and pretty much excludes large segments of the population who do not want to ban abortion outright, but do want some limits placed on the practice. Canada, of course, has no law covering abortion, leaving unborn children unprotected (except by the ethics or personal morality of attending doctors), even those unborn children who have made it to a few minutes before birth.

The Roman Catholic Church—of which there are some 13-million baptized Canadian adherents—condemns abortion. Certainly a significant sub-set of these must see abortion as morally wrong. Moreover, there are many other Canadians who are not at all religious, but who  want restrictions on late-term abortions and an end the practice of aborting a fetus just because it is a girl. Moreover, most democracies have some kind of legal protection for unborn children, especially those in late stages of pregnancy. For most Canadians, abortion is not simply a yes or no, black and white issue—there are moral implications, shades of gray to consider.

Why Trudeau would want to pretty much shut the door to so many is a mystery, for by doing so he pretty much puts an end to the notion of the Liberal party as a “big tent.”

Trudeau said in a speech a bit over a year ago he was “calling for open nominations for all Liberal candidates in every single riding in the next election.” This was widely taken to mean that selection of Liberal party candidates would be open—that is to say, no special treatment for “star candidates” and the leader would stay out of the nomination process.

Obviously, Trudeau didn’t say what he meant or didn’t mean what he said, for it took only months for him to ignore his own policy.

First, we had Trudeau blocking Christine Innes from seeking the Liberal nomination in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina because her candidacy might have interfered with that of one of his “stars,” Chrystia Freeland. I also learned then that Trudeau had some sort of central “green-light” committee for approving potential candidates—so control is not even at the local riding level, but rather, it is under party headquarters control.

Less than a month later, Trudeau’s selection, Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan, was declared the Liberal candidate in Trinity-Spadina—again, no local control.

What’s more, Maclean’s website tells of “new accusations of favouritism.” That story is about Marc Miller’s—another Trudeau favourite—recent election as the candidate in Montreal’s Ville-Marie riding. The article is worth reading as it indicates there are other problems with the Liberal party’s nomination process.

At the time he made it, I wondered how long Trudeau’s pledge of open nominations would last. Surely political parties want a team of candidates who stand for the same platform. Otherwise, why bother with parties in the first place? I wouldn’t want, for example, to be in a party that had elected officials who did not believe in free enterprise.

On deeply held fundamental issues of personal morality, however, I believe some latitude is needed. Abortion and capital punishment are examples of issues on which a party should not use the whip. Even on a human right as fundamental to our lives as is free speech, our Charter allows some restriction. Why not some boundaries on the absolute right for abortion on demand?

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