Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Resonable Descrimination

A number of weeks ago a Muslim security worker at Pearson airport was suspended for wearing an ankle length skirt instead of the regulation knee length skirt or pants. In another instance, 11 year old girls were kicked out of sporting competitions in Manitoba & Quebec for refusing to remove their hijab. Further clarifications determined the safety concern was the hijab could fall over a competitors eyes or used as a weapon. Most recently a teenage girl was the victim of an "honour" killing by her father for refusing to wear the hijab.

Also in recent events, a University of Toronto cafeteria began carrying halal food. The Muslim student body refused to give their endorsement fearing that it would undermine their desire to open a halal cafeteria that doesn't serve alcohol. This resulted in a tremendous backlash at the idea of a university cafeteria not having a liquor license.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, reelected in October, declared that non-Catholic religious schools posed a threat to society. The Parti Quebecois proposed a law requiring a Quebec citizenship seperate from their Canadian citizenship. Those who did not speak adequate French would be forbidden from petitioning the National Assembly for help or running for public office. In the aftermath NHL Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu came under fire for his language skills.

A few months ago it became public knowledge that Pearson airport had installed a foot washing station in one of the bathrooms on behalf of the Muslim community. A local radio station had multiple callers state they were against this accommodation because it would be vandalized. Does any city in the world take into consideration likelihood of vandalism when requiring or approving building permits for bathrooms?

In other years these incidents would have been seen as isolated events, but coming on the heels of each other I think we need to pay a bit more attention.

Both sets of events serve to separate "us" from "them". Many of them bring out sentiments that immigrants are demanding that the Canadian way of life be altered to make it more like the country they fled from. Everyone should adopt to the 'Canadian' (meaning Christian) way of life or go 'home'. This argument is made in the name of preserving the values Canada was built on. But what are those values and what happens when we stand up for them?

Earlier this year the Quebec town of Herouxville made headlines when they passed a code of conduct for immigrants. Making the headlines were their outlawing practises already protected by Canadian law such as public stoning and equality of women. The result was the Bouchard-Taylor commission designed to address the issue of reasonable accommodation for immigrants and religious minorities.

Representatives from the community testified to the commission. Their rules include:

*Christmas is celebrated in public, in schools, institutions private or public. Christmas is secular and no area will be reserved for prayer or religious manifestations. No one is allowed to be offended by these customs.

*In all public health care institutions, patients eat the traditional food that is served to them.

*In schools, no space is provided for prayer or other forms of religious manifestations.

*In business; no collective labour agreement should authorize employers to assure their employees of special space(s) reserved for praying, or leaves of absence for religious motives.
Working schedules stretch over a daily period of 24 hours; having to work after sundown is frequent.

*No food products may receive any certification after it passes the mandatory government inspection.

*Prisoners relinquish all of their religious liberties. There is to be no accommodation for religious dietary requirements and no areas allocated for prayer.

*"Generally, we believe that different Gods, out of respect for their own creatures and their nourishment, cannot impose nor proscribe certain foods."

*"Our recent history clearly demonstrates that it is possible to be accommodated by God in order to be able to subscribe to modern society. Fifty years ago, when employers asked us to work on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the Catholic God permitted that we break our obligations to assure the welfare of our families. This enabled us to avoid asking our employers to build churches on our working premises. Recently, the National Assembly allowed the opening of retail stores on Sunday. This same God accommodated us once again, sparing Hell to the faithful. After many years of observance of God’s order to fast during Lent, we had to give up this religious practise to have sufficient energy to work and study hard. Then again, by the grace of God and his sense of accommodations, we were able to avoid the promise of roasting in Hell after death."

So we all need to adopt the "Canadian way of life" and that life is secular Christian weather we like it or not.

When France abandoned Quebec the British were left with a tough decision. They took possession of a territory with different language, laws and territory allocation. How would they assimilate these people to become loyal British citizens without having a rebellion? They decided to respect the people of Quebec and allow them to preserve their own identity. While it didn't help reach the goals of assimilation, it established the true Canadian value that everyone can contribute to society in their own unique way. The results will benefit society as a whole.

Over a century later across the ocean in Russia citizens were looking for their own Utopia. They decided that if everyone was treated exactly the same they could live together in perfect harmony. In the Soviet Union under communism the opposite happened. People lived in fear as neighbour would spy upon neighbour for any sign of sinking outside of the accepted norms. Such a crime could result in a trip to Siberia or death. The eventual rejection of communism solidifies that one way of thinking for everyone is not the best foundation for a prosperous society.

Those who trumpet suspending minority rights to protect 'Canadian' identity are causing the erosion of one of the most core Canadian values. Everyone has the ability to contribute. By allowing everyone to contribute to society as they see fit, Canada will continue to set an example of prosperity with true harmony from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds from around the world. Attempts to destroy this harmony will result undermining all that is truly Canadian.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hunting for witches

On Friday the government released a report investigating polling practises of the previous Liberal government. The purpose of the report was to determine if there was grounds for a judicial inquiry. The final results indicated no wrong doing by the Liberals. It also pointed out that spending has increased under the current Conservative government. The increase in spending could be tied directly to the PMO.

The pettiness and instability of the minority government is enticing all sides to conduct partisan witch hunts. Political games only serve to hurt the party throwing the mud. They need to stop. Unfortunately it will probably take a majority government to end these partisan witch hunts.

Mulroney reports to the circus

On Thursday, Brian Mulroney finally had an opportunity to respond to allegations surrounding money he received from Schreiber and connections to the airbus scandal. We now have he said vs he said story, which puts the burden of proof on the accuser.

Mulroney admits to taking a total of $225, 000 in cash vs $300,000 claimed by Schreiber. Mulroney eventually paid income tax on the payments but not the GST. Schreiber justified this by saying that it was for work performed over seas which is GST exempt. Mulroney confirmed that he would only lobby for Schreiber outside of Canada. Both men agree that the money being investigated has no connection to the airbus scandal.

Schreiber has alleged that he was instructed through a third party to send money to a Swiss bank account as a kick back for the air bus scandal. The alleged person died two years. Hard evidence will be required to back up this claim.

At this point, it appears that there will not be sufficient evidence to prove that Mulroney did anything illegal. Harper can easily justify his actions and keep his hands clean of this scandal. Within 2 years Schreiber should be on a plane to Germany to spend the rest of his life behind bars. As for the ethics question, people will need to decide if they believe a dishonest business man facing charges for bribery or a former unpopular Prime Minister. This may be seen as a tough decision but the lack of supporting evidence tips the scale in Mulroney's favour.

It looks like this scandal will not carry the political weight to be a factor in a spring election. There are far more important issues that have relevance to Canadians.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Smoking in cars

Previously, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has rejected the idea of banning smoking in cars with children due to the slippery slope argument. A private members bill calling for a fine between $200 - $1000 for those caught smoking in a care with children is gaining support. McGuinty has changed his position to 'neutral' and he is willing to listen to what Ontarians have to say.

The current stigma against smokers is well deserved for all of the negative side effects both social and medical. The government should be commended for most of the steps taken to protect the general public from second hand smoke. Most responsible smokers are aware of the dangers and take steps to avoid exposing their children to second hand smoke.

The problem with this proposed legislation is it expands the powers of the state to control parenting decisions. The Ontario Medical Association states that second hand smoke is 23 times more concentrated then in a small room. The Ontario Lung Association says that enforcing such a law is no different than mandatory seat belt or car seat laws.

There is one major difference. Seat belts only protect motorists while they are in their vehicle. Smoking can take place anywhere and poses a danger to children even if they are not in a car. If a parent is subjecting a child to second hand smoke in a car, they are probably doing the same in the home. A car ban will not protect these children unless the state enforces non-smoking around children in the home. The slippery slope begins.

Where does the government draw the line for protecting children? Due to the health risks trans fats have started being banned from public schools. Will there eventually be legislation banning parents from feeding their children food with trans fats? Could parents who smoke or consume trans fats be declared unfit parents and have their children taken away? Once the government starts establishing the standards of 'acceptable risk' for children the possibilities of how far things can get out of hand are endless.

As long as cigarettes sales remain legal the government must limit how far they are willing to act in the interests of public safety. Non-smokers need to be able to be free to avoid the dangers of second hand smoke. Public education needs to continue to reduce smoking. The government choosing to micro manage family dynamics and which risks are acceptable for children is the first step to creating a police state.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Circus moves to the legislature

On the eve of the massacre of 14 women at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique, the timing was right for parliament to debate women's issues. The Liberal National Women's Caucus presented their pink book. Their recommendations should play an important part in the Liberal election platform.

On theme NDP Irene Mathyssen launched accusations against Conservative James Moore was viewing 'scantily clad' women on his laptop in the legislature. Aside from discrediting Moore for acting inappropriately on the job, it was foundation for attacks against the Conservatives lack of respect for women and women's programs.

When the dust settled rookie MP Mathyssen (Vice Chair of the status of women committee) had to own up to an embarrassing mistake. The pictures were of Moore's girlfriend. An apology will be issued in the legislature tomorrow.

May this be a lesson to other MPs that are looking for opportunities to sling mud for short term gain. Make sure your facts are correct. Try to focus on the business of running the country instead of ineffective partisan jabs.

Ministry of Transportation to fix laughable mistake

The Ministry of Transportation rejected an application to have replacement plates for REV JO after 19 years. The original reason sighted was that the term 'REV' could encourage speed racing. An alternative REVRNJO was rejected because it represented religion. The silliness of the decision made big news and the 9 person committee was forced to reconsider the original decision. They once again rejected plates because REV could refer to an alcoholic drink and encourage drunk driving.

Premier Dalton McGuinty stepped to the plate to bring common sense to the issue. All plates that have already been issued will be allowed to be renewed. The government will set new guidelines for license plates next year.

The government thinks very highly of the impact of license plates. Does a license plate really have more impact on fellow drivers than (currently unregulated) bumper stickers? At least bumper stickers offer a clear message instead of plates that are open to various interpretations.

The new guidelines should be simple, easy to apply consistently while keeping in mind the fundamentals of freedom of speech. Plates should be banned if they use foul language or in appropriate sexual references. The system used to put in guidelines for media could be easily transferred. Plates that promote hatred or discrimination should also be banned. Anything more complicated will be difficult to define and apply. This will allow the free expression vanity plates were meant to provide to motorists.

Anyone making decisions on drunk driving, speeding or any other bad driving habits based on someones licence plate, do not deserve to have a drivers license.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ottawa Circus

On Tuesday, Karl Heinz Schreiber had his second day of testimony before the parliamentary ethics committee. Once again while providing enough testimony to keep politicians interested he stated that the $300,000 being investigated had nothing to do with the Airbus scandal. If Schreiber as the key witness sticks to his story, the public inquiry will not throw any dirt on the Conservatives and could be opened to investigate his relationship with the Liberals in 1993/1994.

Liberal chair of the committee, Paul Szabo started Tuesday with a statement apologizing for an incident where Schreiber under police escort to his home to view documents had his pants fall down. Police did not provide him with a belt which is normally taken away in prison. Szabo then went on to chastise those who referred to the hearings as a circus by elaborating the political and legal importance of the committee.

The self righteous attitude of Szabo and co-chair Pat Martin (NDP) speak volumes for why this committee has turned into a circus. They had to apologize over an incident they had no control over. It would not come as a surprise if they launched an inquiry into the events surround Schreiber's pants. Was this an intentional attempt to discredit the star witness?

The committee may have the legal authority to conduct an investigation. There are better mechanisms to deal with this issue including the RCMP and a public inquiry. If Szabo and Martin are not careful they may end up being caught with their own pants down (figuratively of course)

Enviornmentalism and Realty

One of the challenges the environmental movement has faced is connecting to average people in a meaningful way. On Tuesday the Toronto Star published an article on the environmental damage caused by divorce. This is another example of finding blame for the state of the environment without any meaningful practical insight.

The study concludes that divorce hurts the environment because multiple households consume more resources that would otherwise be optimized in a single household unit. The conclusion should be classified in the no brainer department.

Jianguo Liu who co-authored the report offers a solution to the environment impact of divorce, "If people really can't get along and have to get divorced, maybe they could consider getting remarried with somebody else, or staying together with somebody they like – their relatives, or whatever..." "...Separation, prolonged singledom and empty nesters present the same environmental challenges, "

If improving the environment is going to have any hope for success, solutions that incorporate the realities people face are key. Ignoring sociological and economic factors are a recipe for failure.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Liberals finally election ready

As predicted here on October 23, it looks like we can expect a spring election. Stepane Dion has declared the Liberals will be ready in February, March or April.

Dion is suggesting that the Liberals may force an election before the spring budget. Triggering an election would offset support that is bound to come from a popular budget. It would also allow the maximum benefit of the Schreiber/Mulroney inquiry.

Toppoling the government will require support from the Bloc Quebecois. Harper learned under the Martin government that the BQ cannot always be counted on for support. The BQ are willing to vote against the government on confidence motions, while pulling back their own MPs to keep the government alive if it serves their own agenda. The Bourchard Taylor commision is due to submit their report on reasonable accomodation on March 31, 2008. Based on the testimoney that has come before the commision it is likely that the report is going to rekindle seperatist sentament in Quebec. The BQ are going to be willing to wait for this much needed breath of fresh air before going to the polls.

It looks like Dion is going to have to wait topple the government on the budget after all. At least there is a chance that the election will be decided on real issues instead of meaningless partisan rhetoric.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mayor Miller tightens public purse

It would be nice if Toronto street vendors could sell other foods besides hot dogs. Food on the street could be healthier and/or better reflect the multicultural diversity of the city. City council set out to make this dream come true in the most costly inefficient means as possible.

They succeeded. The plan called for borrowing $700,000 in order to buy the carts. They would then be leased out to vendors who would also pay a licensing fee. It was argued the city needed to own the carts to control branding as well as health and safety concerns that current plague the hot dog vendors.

The government does not belong in the food service industry. They should focus on regulations and enforcement officers to make sure street vendors are able to offer the best possible product to the standars of health and safety that are expected from all food establishments.

Mayor Miller has pulled the money for this project. Perhaps he will show the same prudence when it comes time to balance the operating budget.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Looking to be offended

This summer demonstrated just how frustrated residents are with Toronto city council financial management abilities. Time and time again there are more examples of council wanting to increase spending while complaining about lack of funds. On Friday, Toronto Star reporter wrote an article outlining some recent examples of city waste. In an effort to express the frustration of citizens he finished his article with "Councillors should be hanged, one a day, at noon, in Nathan Phillips Square. Charge admission. We'll net enough money to pay off most of our civic bills."

Mayor Miller responded in a letter to the editor. Instead of dealing with the criticism of the article he took offence to James humorous expression of frustration. He choose to take this as a literal call for a revolution and condemn everyone involved with publishing the article. It is amazing that he didn't have the same response to having jokes made during the entire Grey Cup week that Miller was looking for ways to tax participation in the event to help the city finances.

James with the support of those he reports to has defended his right to continue to criticize city council while preserving his sense of humour. Now if only the politicians would listen and take to heart concerns of citizens instead of finding ways to attack them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Justice Partisan Style

When it comes to reconstructing events that have taken place there are three significant versions; what can be proven in a court of law, public perception, the truth. All three of these versions play a significant role in the Schreiber/Mulroney scandal. The handling of this scandal is a time-bomb waiting to go off. The question is who is going to be on the receiving end of the public backlash.

Mulroney and Schreiber had previously been the centre of the Airbus scandal. It was alleged that Mulroney received kickbacks from Schreiber when the government purchased some airplanes. A lengthy RCMP investigation was unable to prove that anything illegal had taken place. The Chretien government agreed to paid $2.1 million to cover Mulroney's legal costs and offer an apology.

The current scandal involves the events surrounding $300,000 Schreiber gave to Mulroney in cash. The question boils down to did anything unethical or illegal take place with this transaction? Is it in violation of the settlement terms of $2.1 million that was paid out?

Schreiber is trying to avoid extradition to Germany. He will probably spend the rest of his life in a German jail cell. These allegations make him valuable to Canadian authorities and could keep him in Canada as long as he is needed for the hearings. If the government does not succumb to his stall tactics he will head back to Germany December 1st. Schreiber has promised to be uncooperative with any investigation if he is sent to Germany.

Harper has called for a full public inquiry with an inquiry currently underway to determine the parameters of the inquiry. Opposition parties are scrambling to have the public associate this with the sponsorship scandal. They are trying to stop extradition of Schreiber accusing the government of a cover up.

The Liberals are trying to have the Justice Minister step down from his post because Mulroney played a positive roll in is life. Mulroney's friendship with Harper is grounds for investigation of the PMO office. They had spent some vacation time together earlier this year where Schreiber claims he asked Mulroney to talk to Harper about the scandal. Harper denies that it was ever a topic of conversation. The Liberals also believe that the parameters are going to be limited to investigating the Schreiber/Mulroney business dealings. They have asked the the ethics commissioner to investigate the PMO role in the scandal.

The NDP are trying to make sure that the Liberals are not left out. They want all of Schreiber's business dealings to be investigated, including a donation to the Liberal party. Pat Martin does not want to wait for a public inquiry and has demanded the government begin recouping the $2.1 million immediately. Martin is trying to have Schreiber and Mulroney testify to the ethics committee before Schreiber has a chance to be deported.

The Conservatives have been put in a no win scenario. Keeping Schreiber in Canada is allowing him to abuse our judicial due process. Not allowing him to stay will be seen as an intentional miscarriage of justice. Such a label could destroy the Conservative brand the way sponsorship scandal continues to tarnish the Liberal party.

This scandal is not about money as any course of action is going to lead to cost millions of dollars. Linking this scandal to the current government is key. If Canadians see this investigation as a chapter in the long forgotten past, and a waste of public funds the opposition parties could be facing a major public backlash. It is also serving as a distraction to the issues they claim are important including environment, poverty and Afghanistan. If the public perception does associate this scandal with the current government (whether it is true or not) it could play a similar role as the sponsorship scandal helped topple the Liberals from power.

In the next 6 weeks more by elections are going to be called. It will be to the benefit of all Canadians if these election are fought over current policy decision instead of the actions of a Prime Minister who has been out of office for 14 years.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Senate: Abolishin or Reform

At the time of Confederation there was a fear among many politicians that the 'rubble rousers' would not choose wisely the path the government should take. An aristocratic elite body of government was needed to review all legislation to prevent society from the dangers of poor legislation. The Senate was created to suit this purpose.

Over time the power of democracy prevailed. Those not engaged enough in the political process to make an educated decision tend not to vote. The Senate became a rubber stamp for parliament. They would occasionally send amended bills back to the legislature but they would eventually make it through. The Senate's main power of delay provide a defence against an outgoing government from trying to establish a long term legacy shortly before facing the electorate and possible defeat. The Senate was generally not used as a tool to stop the will of parliament in it's tracks. When a Liberal dominated Senate blocked the GST, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney went to the Queen to appoint 8 more senators. The Liberals tried their hardest to filibuster the new tax but it eventually passed.

Discontent for the Senate has grown. It became place for political Cronies to be rewarded literally until they died (until mandatory retirement at 75 was implemented in 1965). At one point attendance was so low in the Senate that it was proposed paying them a bonus each day they showed up to work. The Senate plays a minor role in the political process. The provinces have demonstrated their ability to function without an upper house.

In the last session of parliament the Senate held up two key pieces of government legislation. Reforming the Senate and the crime bill (most notably raising the age of sexual consent to 16) were held up in the Senate for more than a year. The Senate has proclaimed protecting the Constitution for holding up the reform bill. The irregular techniques they have used for delay, give the appearance of self protection instead of benefiting Canadians.

Today the government reintroduced their bills for Senate reform. One declares all newly appointed senators can serve a maximum of one 8 year term. The other creates a system where provinces would be consulted for their preference through voting to who should fill Senate vacancies. More Senators than necessary would be elected limiting the frequency that elections would need to be held. Senators would be chosen based on a single transferable ballot. Fundraising limits would be in place but their would be no spending limits or reimbursement. Open consultations with all opposition parties will be welcomed in order to create some level of cross party support. If the support crosses party lines, a hold up in the Senate will place the blame squarely on the shoulders of Stephane Dion.

If these reforms get held up in the Senate again the Conservatives have promised to support a NDP motion calling on a referendum to abolish the Senate. Such a motion would never receive the necessary approval from the Senate. Stephane Dion would be held accountable for having his Senators defy the will of parliament.

Limiting the term a senator can serve, limits the reach a previous government has on future legislation. Without an elected senate this makes the problem the Conservatives are now facing worse. The previous Liberal government were in power for 13 years. When a similar scenario happens in the future an outgoing government could literally cripple a new governments ability to govern as they were elected to do.

Electing senators creates it's own set of problems. The current bill is a clever way to get around constitutional requirements. Not entrenching these changes in the constitution allows them to be easily undone. As representation in the Senate is already regionally based the balance of power is going to be different than in the house of commons. A mechanism will need to be established to deal with situation where there is a stalemate between parliament and the senate. One of the great benefits of the parliamentary system is the ability to have legislation passed in a relatively timely manner. It would be a tragedy if in order to 'improve' our government would result in legislation being grounded to a halt.

The Senate is a relic based on a model that no longer fits into our 21st century democracy. Any changes must be carefully considered so that the system is improved, instead of bringing about change for change sake.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Canadian History

One of the big news stories last week was the release of the Dominion Institutes study on how well Canadians know their history. Some the embarrassing results included:

What year did Confederation occur?
26% Correct

Who was Canada’s first Prime Minister?
46% Correct

Who was Canada’s first francophone Prime Minister?
13% thought Rene Levesque had actually been PM (a separatist dream)
56% Correct

I took the online version of the test. The test is out of 10. The problem is that if you get a question wrong you have to start again. I got to question 7 or 8 on my first two attempts before successfully completing the test on my 3rd try. The questions I got wrong were which car was manufactured in NB and was discontinued with less than 3000 made and the name of the food eaten by Hudson Bay fur traders.

How well do you know your Canadian history?

Take the test

Monday, November 12, 2007

Liberals launch 30-50 plan to fight poverty

On Friday the Liberals unveiled their plans to reduce poverty in Canada. The 30-50 plan calls for the establishment bench marks for measuring poverty in order to reduce the rate by 30% overall and 50% among children in the first 5 years of a 4 year Liberal government mandate.

Plans to reduce poverty include:
*Lowering the welfare wall
*Increase income support for families including increasing the child tax benefit
*Increase guarantee income support for seniors
*Implement the Kelowna Accord to help aboriginals

They would also work with provincial and local government in the areas of affordable housing, universal child care, public transit and labour market training.

The success of a program cannot be evaluated without a standard for measurement. Establishing an official poverty line with reduction targets is the absolute first step in fighting poverty. The Liberals (especially Dion) do not have the best track at meeting targets. It takes more than naming your dog to reach those targets. On the plus side, the proposed time line leaves little room for procrastination.

Under our current social assistance there is a point where it is better to be on welfare than to have a job. Bringing down the welfare wall is something that is something much needed. By the Liberals own admission their plan kicks in at the first dollar earned while the Conservatives plan kick in at $3000. It will be interesting to see how much the real dollar difference is between the two plans.

Giving money directly to children is the simplest way for them to have more money. This was not the Liberal position in the last election. Currently the Ontario government skims money transferred from the federal government for children by reducing welfare payments by an equal amount. Increasing the payments without an agreement from Ontario will just lead to more money being skimmed. The Ontario government did agree not to skim the money from the $100/month for every child under the age of 6. A similar arrangement could be made. On July 1, 2007 the Ontario government began paying out up to $1100/year for children based on income. A government elected in 2008 could take credit some credit for reduction in poverty levels without taking any proactive steps.

The 30-50 plan sets them up well for an election campaign. Not costing out the program now limits the other parties from being able to undercut the program. It also gives the Liberals 3 or 4 opportunities to re-announce the program with further details during an election campaign.

The big question is how much will it cost and how is it going to be paid for. It is unclear if they are going to try to reintroduce universal day care in the next election. Combined with the cost of Kelowna would eat up the entire budget surplus. They have promised a better set of tax cuts. Since the GST cut was announced Dion has been campaigning on the importance corporate tax cuts. Officially abandoning Kyoto would destroy too much credibility. This will also requiring more funding.

Dion has already reminisced about raising the GST back up to 6%. Pulling out of Afghanistan would also free up large amounts of money. The Liberals do not seem as interested as the Conservatives in having a military presence in the Arctic to establish Canadian sovereignty. Environment Critic David McGuinty has been very critical of John Baird in committee for not introducing carbon taxes. Would the Liberals consider taking away the $100/month per child in order to direct the money towards reducing the poverty numbers?

We may have an election where we have a Robin Hood style Liberal platform vs. a stay the course, treat everyone exactly the same Conservative platform. Mayor Miller has claimed that people are willing to pay more taxes for services they want. Could this message have filtered it's way up to the head strategists in the Liberal party?

The Liberals are starting to show signs of life. This can only be a good thing for the overall political process. It looks like 2008 will produce very different party platforms that will result in a majority government. At least then the government could get to work instead of worrying about partisan pandering.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Splitting the silly vote

Seeing the silliness in politics is a long standing Canadian tradition. From 1963-1993 Canadians could depend on the Rhinoceros Party to bring a political voice to their silly views. The Rhinoceros Party ran on such platforms as repealing the law of gravity, paving Manitoba to create the world's largest parking lot, ending crime by abolishing laws, annexing the United States and declaring war on Belgium. Changes to Canada's election laws forced the Rhinos into extinction.

There are now two groups claiming to be the true successor to the Rhinoceros Party. There is The Rhinoceros Party lead by Sa Tan who in August filed a $50 million lawsuit and charter challenge against the government over the change in election laws. The second group is the neorhino.ca party lead by Fran├žois Yo Gourd. They ran two candidates in the three recent Quebec by elections. Like the Liberals, Yo Gourd was unable to win the riding of Outremont. He did manage to get 145 votes coming in 6th.

Today Yo Gourd launched the party platform for the next election. There platform is in accordance with their Marxist-Lennonist (Groucho & John) philosophy. They claim to have 600 supporters.

Their promises include:
*Make Spanish Canada's official language
*Force current Prime Minister Stephen Harper go on a diet
*Create a national gas-barbecue registry
*Replace soldiers' weapons with paintball guns.
*Replace the Defence Department with a Ministry of Laughter
*Marijuana in every pot
*Weekly Orgasms

The goal of the neorhino.ca party is to make politics less boring. They have pointed out that if every Canadian (approx. 40%) who currently doesn't vote decided to vote for them they would be able to form a majority government.

It is great to see that the silly vote once again will have representation. Two questions remain. Will the two parties join forces to avoid splitting the silly vote? Will the Liberals or Green Party agree avoid fielding a candidate in Ourtremoent in order to not have a "silly candidate" run against Stephane Dion or Elizabeth May?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

McGuinty vs Wynn on African (black) schools

Stats have shown that failure rates and drop out rates from school are higher among black students. TDSB is taking under consideration a recommendation to open an elementary school for 'black' students. The school would have more black teachers and a focus on 'black' culture in an attempt to make the educational experience more relevant to the students.

With the rejection of religious school funding, it would seem to be a no-brainer that the provincial government would be quick to come out against this idea.

In an interview Education Minister Kathleen Wynn indicating that she was very concerned about the failure rates among black students and would like to see different solutions. She avoided having an opinion on this solution because it is up to the school board to make the decision and out of her jurisdiction. When asked why her position was different than on the faith based schooling issue she explained that she was concerned about students that are being failed by the system. Based on this answer the reason religious schools should not receive funding is that these communities have stepped up to take care of their own kids. They did not wait for the government to decide that they would benefit from a slightly different learning experience.

Premier Dalton McGuinty was quick on the ball stating that he is not in favour of this idea. He used the same lines from his election campaign that he wants a school system that brings children together. He is in favour of the public education system. It is nice to see that he is being consistent on this point. The problem with his statement is it ignores the fact that if approved this proposal will take place under the umbrella of public education. McGuinty really needs to stop defining his educational policy in terms of who pays for it. A definition based on the student learning experience would be a far better way of defining public policy.

Public consultations will take place next week. If TDSB does go ahead with this plan it is unclear how McGuinty and Wynn will reconcile their differences on this issue.

Conservatives launch more attack ads

With parliament on break this week for Remembrance Day the Conservatives decided to launch another round of attack ads directed towards Stepahane Dion's record during the current session of parliament. They focus on Dion's pledge to consider rescinding the GST cut and continuation of the Stephane Dion is not a leader branding.

Personally I do not like seeing the attack ads especially since an election has not been called. However the phrase "Stephane Dion is not a leader" gets posted a lot in various forums. Clearly the message got through.

To a certain extent the Liberals are getting a taste of their own medicine. Before the Martin government collapsed they lowered personal income tax by 1%. The Conservative government raised it by 0.5% to help pay for the 1% GST cut. The Liberals have been clamouring ever since that the Conservatives raised taxes. Now they are considering reversing the GST cut to provide 'better' tax cuts. They are upset they are being accused of raising taxes.

The real problem with these ads is the current party fundraising laws. They were altered to limit how much influence an individual could have on the government through their ability to contribute financially. They were also designed to limit the fund raising ability of the larger parties to create a more balanced playing field for smaller parties. Government funding based on the number of total votes is paid out by the government to offset some of the lost revenue.

The end result is that all the parties are having major fundraising issues. Currently the Conservatives are the best party at fundraising. The Liberals are having a difficult time paying off the millions spent on the recent leadership campaign. They are not in a financial position to run counter ads that would force the Conservatives to back off.

The new fund raising laws are not producing the results they were supposed to. They need to be reviewed and adjusted to make sure parties have the funding they need in order to have a fair and honest political system.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Who benefits from tax cuts?

Some people have been upset that the GST cut will benefit the rich more than the poor.

How to cut taxes fairly

Monday, November 5, 2007

Chrysler Layoffs, Dion misses golden opputurnity

On Thursday, Chrysler announced they would be laying off 1,100 Canadian employees. The company blamed the move on a drop in car sales. It appears to be just the beginning with the US economy starting to tank and the rapid increase in the Canadian dollar.

CAW National President Buzz Hargrove was quick to place blame on the federal government. He blamed the dollar and free trade agreements with Asian countries as the reason for the job losses. He made it a point that tax cuts would not help the situation. He also blamed the tax incentives on the purchase of fuel efficient cars. On Friday he presented his solution to the federal government. He wants to drastically cut interest rates to bring down the value of the Canadian dollar. He wants Asian countries to guarantee buying as much automotive product from Canada as they sell.

Stephane Dion has been busy defining the Liberal party policies as being against whatever the Conservatives support. This was his opportunity to step out of the shadows and present a Liberal vision to save the auto industry. He could have presented a policy that merges financial requirements of the auto industry (investment, tax incentives) with a plan to make the auto industry fit with the Liberal environmental goals. Instead Dion started off mentioning something about $1 billion (perhaps a reference to money promised to the auto & aerospace industry in the last election). Dion then went on to say that this was an example demonstrating that the GST cut was the wrong tax strategy and income tax cuts would be much better.

Dion completely missed the point. An income tax cut will not help those workers already on the chopping block nor would it do much to cure the problems in the auto sector. The Conservative strategy is to let the free market take it's course. If the Liberals want to bail out the auto sector they need a real plan. Any plan that does not include initiating an environmental program designed to reduce pollution is a missed opportunity from someone who touts himself as champion of the environment.

The reality is the Big 3 automakers have not been successful at manufacturing cars consumers want to buy. Their production costs are higher than foreign cars due to labour costs. They have earned a reputation of not hitting the high standard of quality that some of the other companies have been able to achieve. The job loss of the Big 3 is being offset to some extent by the growth of the foreign manufacturers. It would be nice to see different types strategies to best suit improving an important aspect of the Ontario economy.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Who is afraid of voters?

Earlier this summer Stephan Dion taunted Prime Minister Harper that he was waiting to call by elections because he was afraid to face voters. Losing all the by elections in one night would hurt the Conservatives with the possibility an election looming. Instead it was the Liberals who lost 3 Quebec by elections including (Outremont) the safest Liberal riding in the country.

Today the Liberals had the opportunity to topple the government attempting to cut the GST. They have been vocal that they are against this move and would consider rescinding it as part of their election platform. Once again Dion ordered his caucus to remain seated and abstain from voting. If the Liberals are not going to try to influence the government they should move their seats to the viewing gallery until the next election.

In 2006 Paul Martin refused to go anywhere near Dalton McGuinty due to his unpopularity from creating the health tax. Martin lost the election and McGuinty was given a second term as premier.

After the the Ontario Liberal victory Toronto David Miller stated that it was a green light to impose his new taxes because people are willing to pay for services they want. There was even a pro tax rally before the meeting where the taxes were approved. Miller has been leading the charge that 1% GST should go to municipalities.

The next by election needs to be called by January 2 for the riding of Toronto Centre. Willowdale and Vancouver Quadra need to be called by the end of January. We may see the Liberals agreeing to support the Miller initiative to raise the GST 1% and give the money to the cities.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


The government provided their economic update today. It called for a 1% GST cut on January first as well as some retroactive income tax cuts to the beginning of this year. There are also plans for future income and corporate tax cuts that will be included in the budget next year.

The plan will come to a confidence vote in the house of commons tommorrow. The NDP and Bloc will be voting against the cuts because they are looking for more government spending. The Liberals who oppose the GST cut are not stupid enough to topple the government on a tax cut. They are in favour of the income and corporate tax cuts so they will be able to vote with the government. In the last few days it has been hinted that we may see the Liberals propose undoing the GST cut in their election campaign.

There are many people making the argument that cutting the GST over personal tax cuts is bad because it rewards the rich more than the poor. The GST is a regressive tax and by it's very nature takes a higher percentage from the poor than the rich.

There are seniors that are retired on fixed income that pay no or minimal income tax but they do pay GST. There are working Canadians who's income either is less than the minimum for paying income taxes or are only partway into the lowest tax bracket. There are Canadians who are students or unemployed that are not paying income tax. These groups are most in need of a tax cut and benefit more from a GST cut than an income tax cut.

On the flip side the wealthy are able to save more because they spend more. Some of the members of the first group in theory could be paying GST on 100% of their earnings. The wealthy are able to generate savings and will only pay GST on a fraction on their income. The wealthy are also able to get the maximum benefit from any income tax cuts. This is why regressive consumption taxes hit the poor at a higher rate than they hit the rich.

In the long run eliminating the GST is a sound policy that benefits all Canadians. Combined with other types of tax cuts proposed today will help reduce tax burden on all Canadians and provide a healthy economic future.

Making a difference

In July after the City of Toronto voted to postpone bringing in new taxes (that were approved last week) I sent an e-mail to everyone on city council criticizing their response to the tax revolt and what would need to happen for citizens to accept these new taxes.

Today I received a thank you from councillor Minnan-Wong. He stated that my e-mail along with thousands of others were instrumental in opening the public debate on how the city should be run. These included compromises on the taxes and the independent review board looking into the cities spending.

It is nice to think that expressing my opinions helped to make a difference at least in a small way.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Should dead people be allowed to vote?

Earlier this year a story broke where a woman from Seattle managed to get her dog on the voters list. The dog received ballots in 3 seperate elections before the problem was corrected. She was protesting changes made to electoral law making it vulnerable to electoral fraud.

In the recent federal by elections in Quebec, the issue of electoral fraud took centre stage. Feeding off of growing hatred toward Muslims the issue of women who cover their faces became a controversial issue. There were new requirements in place requiring photo ID instead of just a voter card to vote. The Chief Electoral Officer interpreted the law correctly that if Photo ID was not available other forms of non-photo ID could be used. Therefore it was unnecessary to require these women to uncover their faces. 80,000 people voted in the last federal election by mail where there was no direct contact with the voter and the returning officer. There was still fear that Muslim women could commit electoral fraud. The government insisted that Elections Canada should abide by the spirit of the law and make these women identify themselves in a respectful and appropriate manner. Muslim groups were upset because they never objected to providing proper identification in order to vote.

In the recent Ontario election there were names on the voters list that I knew had died or no longer met the residency requirements. Under the old system a voter card would have been all they needed to vote or have someone illegally vote in their place. The new system of identification adds a much needed level of security. If photo ID is not available the secondary form of identification (ie. Debit Card &Utility Bill) could still be in possession of a spouse and used to gain a ballot illegally.

On Friday the government introduced Bill C-6 that would make visual identification mandatory when casting a ballot. This allows returning officers to be able to identify someone suspected of committing electoral fraud such as posing as someone else or attempting to vote twice.

Opponents of this bill are argue that it is unfair introducing legislation on the backs of 50 Muslim women that did not pose a problem to the electoral system and that those who submit mail in ballots have no contact with the returning officer. It is unfortunate that this legislation comes in response to the veil in Quebec. It really does improve the integrity of the electoral process. The bill also amends section 237 of the Canada Election Act which covers write in ballots. Visual identification will be required before a write in ballot can be obtained.

This legislation makes the electoral process just a little bit better by securing the integrity of the write in ballots. Hopefully this can be the major focus of this legislation instead of being grounds to attack the Muslim community on a very minor issue.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, please stand up

As expected the thrown speech was passed in Parliament by a vote of 126-79. The Liberals showed up and abstained from the vote. Many had expected the Liberal front bench to vote against the speech so that the Liberals objection would go on the public record without forcing an election. This move would have made it a close vote and the Liberals did not want to risk toppling the government by accident. This leaves a parliament that instead of working together will be busy preparing their own agendas in preparation for the government to fall.

Conservatives: This is the first time in history a government does not have to worry about the official opposition standing in their way. Even the Unionist governments of WWI and early 1920s had an opposition that stood up to the government. Dion's fear of an election will allow the Conservatives to push legislation through the house as if they had a majority. Unlike a majority governments they will be unable to add the necessary pressure to have legislation receive Royal Assent.

Liberals: They will be looking to get the legislation they object to over to committee where they will hope it dies before they they need to make tough decisions that could topple the government. If legislation does get through they can rely on their senate majority to prevent it from becoming law. In the last session of parliament the senate has proven to be effective in this manner.

Bloc Quebecois: The flames of hatred towards immigrants are being fanned in Quebec with the Liberal government's 'reasonable accommodation' committee and and the PQ (who sit last in the National Assembly) trying to generate support for banning non-French speaking immigrants from being able to petition the National Assembly or run for public office. Public backlash from outside Quebec will help foster Nationalist sentiments and the push for another referendum on separation.

NDP: They are now referring to themselves as Canada's effective opposition. They will continue to do their best to raise the concerns of Canadians. They seem to be taking a focus on dealing with poverty. With the constant Harper/Dion stand off they risk getting pushed to the sidelines on the public agenda.

The roles have been cast. It is now just a matter of time to see who blinks first and Canadians once again decide which direction the country should be going.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Federal Election must wait until 2008

The thrown speech is set to be passed tomorrow. There are many people who believe Stephan Dion should vote against the speech he disagrees with and topple the government. Others agree with his decision to wait until the Liberals are ready for an election before forcing one to be called.

With the Conservatives making legislation matters of confidence there is another factor to consider before anyone decides to topple the government. Canadians are tired of the instability and petty partisanship of the current government. It is likely they will try to give a majority mandate to either the Liberals or the Conservatives at the expense of the NDP, Green, BQ. Dion and Harper will make sure that this is the most likely outcome before pulling the plug and going to the polls.

If a federal election were to be held before December 31st of this year the next federal election would be scheduled for October 18, 2011. The next Ontario election is scheduled to take place on October 6, 2011. Holding the election 12 days apart in vote rich Ontario will cause problems for all parties. There are less resources in terms of people, finances and a captive audience. In Ontario the faith based funding issue which affected less than 1% of eligible voters completely overshadowed every other election issue. The risk of this happening is even greater when two election campaigns are being run at the same time.

The most likely scenario is that the current government will be toppled on the Spring budget. It gives the Liberals time to prepare and a clear platform for the Liberals and Conservatives to carve out their election platforms.

Canada Elections Act

56.1 (1) Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.

Election dates

(2) Subject to subsection (1), each general election must be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election, with the first general election after this section comes into force being held on Monday, October 19, 2009.

S.C. 2007, c. 10, s. 1.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Only in Toronto

This morning there was a rally in front of city hall before the debate on the cities new taxes. They wore yellow scarves to show their support. Mayor Miller took the time to address the crowd and their concerns. They proceeded to council chambers to visually encourage city council to take up their plight. When Mayor Miller addressed council they had to be silenced when they broke out in applause (which is not permitted in chambers). They were there to support the new taxes.

Taxes are a fundamental aspect of supporting the welfare state. I can understand why some people would (especially with the new concessions) be in favour of the taxes. What other city in the western world would have a rally that their taxes are not high enough?

It is no wonder that the Conservatives are unable to win any seats in Toronto. It is no wonder we keep reelecting politicians that got us into this mess in the first place. There were 8 other taxes that were taken under consideration. Imagine when they start working on next years budget. We will have rallies from different groups in support of their favourite new taxes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More taxes please

City of Toronto City Council is well known for their making sure the cost of city projects is the least important factor when handling bids for city contracts. Untendered contracts and fair wage rules help the city differ from the normal processes followed in the private sector. Councillors make sure they are rewarded for their job and will not sacrifice any perks when times are tough. This attitude combined with downloading costs of Provincial programing to cities has left Toronto in a financial crisis. Reserve accounts have been raided. At one point in desperation all of the hydro poles were sold to the province for extra funds. The reserve funds are now almost empty and drastic action has to be taken.

Last year David Miller won reelection while campaigning on a platform that included keeping property tax increases to 3%. The Province had so generously passed the City of Toronto Act which gave new taxing powers to the city. While not discussed during the election campaign his plan was to use these new powers to balance the budget.

Early this summer two new taxes were introduced. There was a 1% land transfer tax on property sales to be added on to the 1% already charged by the Province. There would be a $60 annual vehicle registration fee to be added on to the $74 already charged by the Province. There was a huge backlash from residents. While planning the budget councillors failed to give up a single one of their many perks. Council decided to push off the issue until after the provincial election to put pressure on the provincial parties.

Mayor Miller responded by claiming immediate cost cutting measures needed to be introduced. The measures introduced seemed to be designed to hurt as many people as possible than to provide real savings. There was talk about shutting down the Sheppard Subway line to save $5 million dollars. This seemed particularly petty considering the TTC wants $2.6 Billion for LRT all over the city. They also have secured funding to extend the subway to York University and other infrastructure projects. The TTC settled for a fare hike to avoid budget cuts which seemed to be the poison of choice for riders.

The city closed community centres on Mondays. The buildings were still operating with all full time employees reporting to work. The only cost savings was from part time workers laid off. The savings were offset by loss in revenue from denying the public access to programs they normally pay for. Some libraries were closed on Sundays. The union just won a grievance that their staff still have to be paid eliminating the savings from that scheme. Outdoor rinks were going to be delayed opening until January. This included the Nathan Phillip Square a popular tourist attraction during the holiday season. Master Card came up with a $130,000 donation to keep the rinks open.

During the provincial election the financial crunch faced by the city was virtually ignored. Miller expressed support for all 3 parties, although he seemed to express a little more support for the Liberals. When McGuinty was reelected Miller said that it was a green light for his taxes to go through. Citizens are willing to pay more to have services they want. McGuinty raised taxes after he promised not to and was reelected. This ignored the fact that McGuinty promised not to raise taxes this time and the major campaign issue was faith based school funding.

Miller has seemed to have learned from his embarrassing summer. Last week he introduced a panel of elite citizens who have experience running multi million dollar organizations. They are to examine the cities books and provide a report before work starts on next year's budget. It appears he has listened to people concerns and has made amendments to the taxes to make them a little more fair. We will find out tomorrow what they are. He has hinted there may be an exemption on the land transfer tax for first time home buyers.

Tomorrow, the taxes should be approved by council. Hopefully the mayor has learned his lessons and we can expect better leadership in the future. Hopefully next year's budget will include measures with councillor willing to make sacrifices for the greater good as they once again ask residents to do the same. I have my doubts. We will have to wait and see.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Is being realistic cowardly?

As expected Stephane Dion announced that while his party opposes the thrown speech it is not a reason to have an election that nobody wants. The Liberals will make sure that it passes final reading. While it has not been announced how this would be done, it is likely that the shadow cabinet will vote against the speech and the backbenchers will either abstain or play hooky.

Dion's decision came under fire from NDP leader Jack Layton for not standing up to the Conservative government. This further illustrates the depth of the no-win situation that Harper has given to Dion. This may seem like a solid stance until reviewing the amendments to the thrown speech introduced by the Liberals.

The Liberal amendments introduced today are, establishing that failure to meet the 2012 Kyoto targets would be the Conservatives fault for not following the Liberal environment initiatives; announce that the Afghan mandate will not be extended past February 2009 in order for NATO to make necessary plans; recognize the Liberals did a good job fighting poverty and the current government has not; they should try to rectify this problem; stop taking the strong economy inherited from the Liberals for granted by reversing position on income trust and bring in corporate tax cuts.

It is obvious why either the NDP or the BQ would vote against most of these amendments. The Bloc immediately introduced motions to take the Liberal credit out of the amendments.

The NDP are expected to vote against the Afghan amendment because they want the mission to end now and not wait until 2009. If Layton really wants Dion to stand up to the Conservatives shouldn't he as well. Isn't committing to withdraw by 2009 still better than 2011? If he really wants Dion to topple the government getting this amendment through would be a good way to do it.

The bottom line is that it looks like the Liberals are going to take over the role from the BQ to prop up this government until they are in election form. The question is how many times can Dion take a knee before it starts to hurt in the polls.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A View from the Throne

There are many who believe that Stephan Harper is itching for an election and will do anything to force one to be called. The best strategy to achieve a majority government is to continue to govern responsibly. The strategy for this session of parliament is to continue to push through their mandate while exposing weaknesses in the Liberal Party. Today's throne speech gives parliament a mandate that the Liberals simply cannot accept. There is nothing significant in it that would make a strong platform for the Liberals to campaign against. The Conservatives have the funding and all hands on deck to effectively fight an election. The Liberals are divided and don't have the funds to run an effective campaign.

The government announced that they would like to finish up operations in Afghanistan by 2011 extending the current mandate from February 2009. The Liberals have been demanding for months a clear message to NATO allies that the mission will not be extended. The Conservatives have appointed former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley to lead the commission to decide what the government should do past the current mandate. It appears the government is creating a clear exit strategy while, the Liberals want a fixed date to just pack up and go home regardless of the consequences. As the Liberals develop their own plan for withdrawal, there may be very little difference between the Liberal and Conservative exit strategy besides the date.

The government has made it clear that the Kyoto targets are unattainable. The thrown speech wiped out the Clean Air Act that had been amended beyond recognition by the opposition parties in order to meet Kyoto targets. The government now has a clean slate to try to introduce environment legislation that is more appealing and realistic than the last two bills that failed to become law. For Stephane Dion to go home to his dog 'Kyoto' after allowing this declaration to be accepted further widdle down Dion's claim to be the champion of the environment. Combined with his agreement to let Green Party leader Elizabeth May to run unopposed will shift the environmental vote to shift to the Green Party and the NDP.

Law & Order
Canadians are looking for the government to do more about crime. The Conservatives are going to bring an Omnibus bill to bring back all of the legislation that did not pass (including raising age of sexual consent) because it was tied up in the senate. This will be a confidence motion. Bringing down the government for trying to reduce crime is just not going to be a popular move. If the Senate chooses once again to hold up this legislation, it will reflect poorly on the rest of the Liberal party.

Tax cuts are on the way. Most of the details will be unveiled in the coming months. The government will move forward in reducing the GST by and additional 1%. This was originally promised to be done by 2010. This give the Conservatives credit for fulfilling a major election promise. In 1993 the Liberal red book promised to scrap the GST. Just as in the last election, the Liberals will look silly trying to defend the GST .

Limit spending on new programs in areas of Provincial jurisdiction
This is a symbolic law as it can be overturned by any future government that this law would interfere with. This is a law that mostly appeals in Quebec. Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale expressed concerns about this idea. This is building on a law already on the books brought in by Stephane Dion in 1999. A flip flop on this law from Dion will not help in building his image as someone who should be Prime Minister.

Harper has set in motion a plan to fulfill his mandate without the need for another election. Any attempts to stop him will result in an election where Harper will seek a mandate directly from Canadians. There are still a lot of risks in this game of chicken. Harper appears to have placed himself in the best possible position no matter what the outcome is.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ontario Election Behind the Scenes

Last week was the first time I had ever scrutineered an election. I was working for Conservative candidate Bernie Tanz who was looking to unseed long time MPP Michael Colle in Eglinton-Lawerence. Colle had been forced to resign from cabinet earlier this year for giving out millions of dollars without proper accounting procedures.

I went at lunch time to the polling station to vote and register at the 5 polls that I would be monitoring. They could not figure out if I needed to keep the registration authorization certificate from the candidate. At each poll they changed their answer and I would have collect or return the forms to/from the polls I had already been to. It gave me an opportunity to get to know all of the DRO (District Returning Officer) making the job easier later on.

At 6:00 I returned to the polling station. I spent the evening going from poll to poll matching up our known supporters with who voters on the master voting list. I would report the no shows to HQ and they would make sure they didn't forget to vote. I then started the process over again. The polling hours had been extended by an hour to 9:00 in the hopes it would boost voter turnout. While we did get a trickle voters coming in until 8:40 I don't think it made a huge difference to the overall turnout.

As poll closing time was approaching I was worried how I was going to be in 5 places at once. The Liberals had sent two scrutineers to make their job easier. I had nothing to worry about. Each poll had a different technique for counting their ballots. Some worked better than others. This combined with the fact the referendum ballots were slowing down the count made monitoring easier. There were no scrutineers for the referendum and quite a number of blank referendum ballots. There was one ballot where the person voted for both electoral systems. There were not very many spoiled candidate ballots. One person had trouble deciding and voted for every candidate. This was not the same person with the spoiled referendum ballot because they were from different polls. There was one poll that was having a ton of problems because they were unable to locate (1) missing ballot. After about an hour the count was finished and I called in my results and returned to HQ.

Getting the vote results was quite interesting. Eglinton-Lawerence has two distinct districts. The west side of Marlee tends to be Italians that tend to support their local Italian member of parliament and the east side of Marlee there is a large Jewish population. Our scrutineers on the west side ran into problems with the scrutineers. In one case we were turned away because they were carrying blue binders. We were really excited when we found out that we won that polling station.

We were getting lots of votes along the Bathurst corridor which is where support for the faith based funding issue was expected to be highest. The biggest problem was Elections Ontario website was not working and the news was reporting we were down by about 1000 votes. Our reporting indicated that we were down at one point by only 50 votes and we had counted 5 times as many ballots. We did not have scrutineers at every polling station so we were having a hard time reconciling the discrepancy. Around midnight Bernie conceded defeat and went to Colle campaign office to offer congratulations. Colle went from winning by 12,000 votes in 2003 to winning by only 2,000 this time around.

I have run into many people who said that it does not matter if they vote. Their vote will not change the outcome of an election and nobody knows how or if they voted. This is simply not true. Each party collects information on who voted. They can also break down individual polls to determine if policies actually transform into votes. Every vote really does count.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Game Over

This election was looking very hopeful for the Jewish Community who send their kids to Day Schools. The sitting Liberal government was very unpopular after a string of broken promises. The Conservatives new leader John Tory did not seem to fit the mold of the scary George Bush neo-con with a hidden agenda that Conservatives are often accused of. They decided to address ending the current system of discrimination of funding Catholic schools and no other religions. They would allow all faith based schools to join the public schools system under similar criteria that are already applied to the Catholic Schools.

The Liberals had said they were going to run this election on their record. Instead McGuinty took this opportunity to divert the entire election focus on the plan that was allocated less than 9% of the Conservatives new proposed spending and less than 0.05% of the total government budget. McGuinty declared himself the champion of public education. They ran their campaign on the slogan "Stand Up for our Schools Public Catholic, French and English" They also launched a hurtful smear campaign against communities that send their kids to non-Catholic faith based schools. It was filled with so much hypocritical and intentional misinformation that many times I felt physically ill and embarrassed to live in a province that claims to be proud to support multi culturalism.

The campaign worked and yesterday John Tory declared that in 2-3 years when the plan is ready for implementation his party would hold a be free to vote. This flip flop will probably seal on a landslide Liberal majority government. This will kill the issue of fair funding from emerging into public discourse for at least another 20 years. The declaration that Liberal Cabinet minister Monte Kwinter supported the Conservative proposal was only picked up in one major newspaper across the province. This despite the fact that the Conservatives sent out two press releases and the NDP one bringing this issue to the media's attention. If the Conservatives some how manage to win it will be another 3 years to find out if they support fair funding. If it turns out they do not, it will take even longer to become part of the public discourse. In the mean time the movement against funding Catholic Schools is growing. If fair funding does not get accepted they may very well be next under attack.

Before everyone goes to the ballot box I would like to correct some of the false Liberal claims.

The Liberals claim that funding faith based schools is "segregation" and will lead to a break down in the social fabric of Ontario. This has not happened in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North West Territories or Quebec. Catholics in Ontario have not had problem integrating into society. They counter that Ontario is different because it is the most culturally diverse province due to our immigrant population. While it is true that more than 50% of immigrants are ending up in Ontario, the other 50% are not flocking to the Maritime provinces that have a single secular public school board. Personally, I think more segregation occurs because there is only one hockey house league that offers teams that do not play on Saturdays than worrying about which school people go to.

The Liberals have accused the Conservatives of trying to cater to the immigrant vote. This is an interesting argument from a government recently got in trouble for doling out millions of dollars to ethnic groups with no accountability. When the opposition called them on it the Liberals played the race card. They also shut down parliament 3 weeks early to avoid public scrutiny. Currently about half of the non Catholic faith based schools are from other Christian denominations. Approximately 40% are from the Jewish Community. The Jewish community has been well established for many years and currently does not have a huge influx of immigrants. It is the Jewish Community that has spear headed this issue. The demand for fairness comes from those who communities that have been in Canada for some time and have legitimate reasons for wanting to be treated equally.

The Liberals claim that it will 'divert money from public schools' and cost more than the $400 million price tag. The Liberals are going to assume that every single eligible school is going to opt into the public school system. Looking at other provinces we can assume that at least 2% of schools are going to decline funding. Currently in Ontario the government pays $9500 for every public and Catholic School student. The formula is not going to be decreased to make room for the other faith based schools. They also claim that if a student switches from current public school to a faith based school it will cost more money. As the money has already been allocated to that student this will have no net effect on the government books.

The Liberals favour 'public' not 'private' schools. This is a simple use of terminology to ignore the facts. There are currently 7 or 8 non-Catholic Christian schools that have worked out special arrangements with the local school board to be counted as part of the public system. A public faith based school could be almost identical in quality of teaching as a private school the only noticeable difference is one is a member of the state approved religion and the other is not. Any attack on the faith based private school should be applied equally to faith based public schools. Premier McGuinty stood up in a Catholic school to make the point that as a grad of the Catholic system he was able to make adjustments to secular society implying other religions can not.

The Liberals claim we should support Catholic schools because of a constitutional obligation and that is what has always been done. This type of thinking ignores United Nations condemnations and goes against Canadian values. Would we tolerate other countries around the world treating their minorities in this way? Why should we accept discrimination in our own back yard. Homosexuality was once illegal and now legal. McGuinty has even expressed support for legalized gay marriage. Using his own logic he should support the position that it remain illegal. The same would apply to any other rights obtained through women's suffrage and the civil rights revolution. All that is required is the political will to obtain the constitutional amendment to end funding of Catholic Schools and free up billions of dollars to be spent in the public school system.

McGuinty has argued that he is keeping his eye on the 2 million students currently under the public system. 30% of those students attend faith based Catholic Schools. Why do the 53,000 non-Catholic faith based students not deserve his care and attention? The same question can be asked as to why religious and/or ethnic votes should be worth less than votes from other Canadians.

There have been complaints that this issue came out of nowhere and caught everyone by surprise. The Harris private school tax credit was designed to address this issue. Cancelling the credit (retroactively) was one of the first and few campaign promises McGuinty kept. Tory announced his intention to bring forth this proposal during the leadership campaign 3 years ago. The Liberals have had the issue briefly discussed and rejected at their policy convention. I also understand that the NDP leadership have been active in making sure this topic never reached the floor at their policy convention.

There has been fear that faith-based school might teach 'creationism' or racism. Christians have more of a hard time dealing with the evolution issue than other religions. This would be an argument for discontinuing funding Catholic schools instead of not funding other religions. Other provinces have put in a place a set of hard rules of things that cannot be taught in government funded schools. These rules take care of the bigotry and racial superiority fears.

It looks like on October 10th Secularism & Catholicism are going to be endorsed as the true official state religions for Ontario. While this may make many people very happy, I feel that it undermines some of the core principles that make this country great.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Fair Funding Victory

Last week every newspaper and media outlet jumped on the story when a Conservative MPP declared that he would vote against funding faith based schools. This issue is already hurting the Conservatives election bid and the Liberals and the media took the opportunity to take a stab at John Tory for supporting this unpopular issue.

In a no less significant move, in an interview with the North York Mirror, Liberal Cabinet Minister Monte Kwinter declared that he would vote in favour of the Conservative plan to fund faith based schools. Interestingly enough the Toronto Star as well as NDP and Conservative press releases were the only print media that picked up on this issue.

I applaud Kwinter for his decision even though I am disappointed and suspect of his decision to hold back his intentions until now. At least in the end he has decided to stay true to his word unlike other Liberal Candidates. Kwinter, disgraced former Citizenship Minister Michael Colle, had attended a meeting with leaders of the Jewish Community where Dalton McGuinty declared that he was in favour of funding the Jewish Day School System at some point in the future. Minister of Education Katleen Wynn and Attorney General Michael Bryant are other Liberals that used to be in favour of faith based funding that have now changed their tune.

The current Liberal government has consistently demonstrated it's inability to stay true to their word. This is a refreshing change.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Crazy Day in Politics

Today was one of those rare day in politics where something has been going on at every level of government.

Municipal --
When Mayor Miller failed to get his new taxes approved by city council, his followers retaliated by suggesting a whole bunch of cost cutting measures to help balance the books. The proposal to close the Sheppard subway line was replaced by a $0.15/fare increase and $4 metro pass increase to preserve service.

Another cut was to close all 150 community centres on Mondays. In the past week or so there have been attempts to block this plan by various city councillors because it has not been approved by council. Today the plan went into effect and residents learned how this idea seems to be more vengeful for not getting the tax increases, then a practical cost cutting measure.

The buildings are closed. The lights are on and all full time workers are still reporting to work. Only the part time staff are being cut on days when the centres are closed. These savings are off set by the loss of revenue from the programs that are unable to run. I really hope city council can stop acting like children and get the budget under control in a fair and reasonable manor. I have my doubts.

Provincial --
Faith based school funding remained a hot issue in the election. In the early days of the election McGuinty was criticized for attacking faith based schools in a public elementary school down the block from the Catholic high school he attended. Today he went to a Catholic High School and once again declared the 'threat' that funding faith based schools posed. In response to being a hypocrite he said that as Premier he has supported policies (gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion) that goes against Catholic teachings. Once again the Premier demonstrated that he feels Catholics have some special ability to integrate into society that other religious groups don't have.

Federal --
Stephan Dion had been complaining that Stephen Harper waited the full 6 months he was allowed to call by elections in Quebec. He accused the Conservatives of being afraid to face the voters. It appears that the voters are afraid of him.

Two of the ridings are BQ strong holds. The Conservatives have successfully taken one riding while the Bloc has maintained control in the other riding. This is a major victory for the Conservatives.

The most important riding is Outremont. This is considered the safest Liberal riding in the entire country. The Liberals have lost it only once since 1935 prior to tonight. The Liberals ran a high profile star candidate hand picked by Stephane Dion and condemned by B'nai Brith. The NDP have taken this riding rather convincingly. It is only the second time ever the NDP have ever one a seat in Quebec.

This may only be a by election which does not necessarily reflect the outcome if there were to be a general election. The implications are huge. The NDP have now established an outpost where they can try to legitimately win seats in Quebec. It is another stinging blow to Stephane Dion's leadership. There is no way that he will be able to bring down the government in the fall. I am sure Harper will use this to rub some more salt into his wounds as the Liberals will be forced to accept a thrown speech they don't like. It also creates more doubts for the Liberals of their leader's ability to ever win an election. Dion may become only the 3rd Liberal leader since confederation not to become Prime Minister.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Election making me sick

I follow Canadian politics really closely and have taken a more active interest in the past year. I have been actively arguing to support the Conservatives Party for supporting funding of Jewish day schools. The Conservatives have created a leaderboard to recognize people contributions to their campaign. Currently I am sitting 4th in my riding even though most of my contributions are off the record.

For the first time ever in an election, the rhetoric and slander in the campaign has on more than one occasion made me feel physically sick to my stomach. So far funding of faith based schools is the only defining election issue. It is at the forefront of the campaign every single day. Last week the Liberal Party website had 2 of the 5 new articles they keep in their headlines condemning funding faith based schools.

Currently in Ontario the government provides 100% percent government funding to secular public schools and Catholic schools. All other schools in the province receive nothing. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec provide some sort of funding for faith based schools (usually in the range of 60% of what secular public schools get). New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland & Labrador do not provide funding to schools outside of the secular public schools system.

The Conservatives have condemned the status quo as being discriminatory & unacceptable. They have proposed that the 'faith based' schools to be incorporated into the public schools system the same way the Catholic schools are. They would need to hire certified teachers, teach the Ontario curriculum and participate in standardized testing. I believe this is a fair way of balancing the desire for faith based schooling and the government's responsible to provide a proper education for everyone. The Liberals and NDP have stated that they support the status quo. The Green Party is in favour of abolishing funding to the Catholic school board.

What is making me feel ill is the lack of intellectual honesty in the arguments the Liberals have been making. They have been arguing that funding 'faith based' schools doesn't bring children from different background's together. They also argue that It takes money out of the public school system.They have defended their continuing support of the Catholic school system which creates the exact same 'problems'.

When I contacted the Premier in February he told me that funding the Catholic schools was necessary to uphold the governments constitutional obligation. Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador have received constitutional amendment freeing them from their obligations to support the schools that existed at the time of confederation. Ontario could do the same.

The Liberals have argued they are in favour of supporting 'public' schools and not 'private' schools. This is a complete abuse of language as public vs. private is not the issue at hand. The Liberals have recently stated that funding faith based schools would create social unrest. They have also stated they support the Catholic school system because it is the system the inherited. I am sure glad McGuinty wasn't in charge when Rosa Parks choose to stand up for what was right instead of the status quo. It is funny that the slogan of his last election campaign was 'choose change' There are also the accusations that the Conservatives are catering to the 'ethnic vote' which plays into the hands of the anti-immigrant sentiments that already exist. My e-mails asking for clarification on the government support for Catholic schools have been ignored by the Premier, Minister of Education and my local MPP.

I just hope the average voter is able to see through the political posturing and make an honest intellectual decision to reject the discrimination that exists in Ontario and urge the next government to either support the Green Party plan or the Conservative plan. In the mean time I will keeping fighting for the truth to come out on this topic.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Quebec Superior Court challenges criminal background checks for teachers



Schools across the continent have adopted policies to have criminal background checks for their teachers. This policy is designed to protect students and keep schools safe.

A man applies for a teaching position in Montreal. The application form asks if he has a criminal background. He fails to mention the fact that he has just spent 7 years in jail for killing his wife. The school is happy with his job performance until they discover his criminal record. He is immediately fired. The union files a grievance. The Quebec Superior Court upholds a ruling by the Human Rights Council that the skill must give the teacher his job back. Their reasoning is that the criminal conviction was in no way a factor in his ability to perform his job. They sight the details of his conviction that he is not a risk to re-offend and posses no risk to the students. Quebec law makes it illegal to refuse to hire someone because they have a criminal record, if it is not a factor in their ability to perform the job.

There are two very dangerous precedences that could come out of this ruling. The court is establishing that it is OK to lie on a job application if it does not affect their ability to perform the job. These factors may not be significant in determining if a person is qualified. They could be significant when a manager is making a final decision between 2 or more applicants. If a person gets hired based on the law they have no fear of being fired when the lie is finally uncovered. This hurts honest job seekers. Nothing good can come out of this reasoning.

Schools have a responsibility to protect the safety of their students. The burden is now being placed on the principals to not only establish if an applicant has a criminal record but if the crime will effect the potential teachers job performance. They must take a detailed look at the individual details of the crime to determine if they pose a threat to students. Being a murderer is not enough to disqualify them from the application process. A wrong decision will either result in unnecessary danger to students or a law suit against the principal.

Hopefully this ruling will be appealed and struck down by the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rhinos return from extinction

The Federal Government successfully passed this years budget and the Prime Minister no longer has the right to call an election. As a result the huge ramp up for an election that never happened. Since Stephan Dion took over as leader the Liberal Party seven seats have been vacated. Five of them belonging to Liberals including MPs making seats available for the runner up of the leadership convention.

The Liberals have been complaining for months that Harper waited the full 6 months (which he is entitled to) before calling the first by-election in the riding of Outremont. The by-election has been called and things are getting very interesting considering the riding has been Liberal in all but one election since it's creation in 1933.

When the hand picked Liberal candidate has already been condemned by B'nai Brith for his open anti-Israel views. Dion responded by criticizing the Conservative foreign policy. The candidate called himself a "critical friend of Israel" He justified is position by the fact that former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler attended his nomination announcement. The riding is 10% Jewish so this could become significant.

The NDP who have finished 3rd the last two elections are hoping to have a shot with the increasing focus on the environment and other social issues. The Green Party has the same hope as the environment has started cropping up as the number 1 issue for Canadians. Governments never do well in by-elections. Picking up seats in any of the by-elections would be significant in reaffirming their mandate and getting the Senate to finally approve legislation they have been holding up, in some cases for more than a year.

Today the Rhinoceros party announced their return to politics. Their self appointed party leader (who has legally changed his name to Satan) will be making a run in the Outremont riding. They have also launched a $50 million lawsuit "Satan versus Her Majesty The Queen" to strike down the 1993 legislation that lead to their parties extinction. The legislation required a $1000 deposit for all candidates who seek legal office. In order to gain party status they must run 50 candidates in an election. The courts should do away with the lawsuit fairly easily. It is good to see some political campaigning that are not arrogant and take themselves too seriously. Personally, I would have liked to see a return on the Lemon Party but this will do.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

From Ontario Conservative Election Platform

Take action to bring faith-based schools into the public system.

This is a question of fairness. John Tory and the PC Party believe that we
need to achieve more effective integration of Ontario’s increasingly diverse
student population into the mainstream of our province. That’s why we are
committed to creating an opportunity for non-Catholic, faith-based schools to
choose to join our publicly funded education system the same way Catholic
schools have already done. Our policy will apply only to faith-based schools
and we believe that the best results would be achieved through direct
funding rather than through tax credits.
· With this direct public funding will come strict criteria and accountability
requirements. These criteria will include the expectation that participating
• fully incorporate the complete requirements of Ontario’s common
curriculum, just as in the Catholic system;
• participate in Ontario’s standardized testing program and agree to
published results; and
• appropriately address teacher credentialing.

Tory will be running against the Education Minister Kathleen Wynne.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Joke of the week!!!

Dalton McGuinty and the provincial Liberals unofficially launched their re-election campaign this weekend. They promised that they will not raise taxes.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A vote against my daughter

I decided to write to the Premier and ask him to consider changing the governments policy as part of their election platform. I explained that the burden was hard on the Jewish community and it is causing people to leave the province (aka make Aliyah).

Thanks for your online message regarding education funding. I value your views and appreciate your taking the time to share them.

I passionately believe that universally accessible, high-quality public education is the cornerstone of a just society and the key to our long-term prosperity. And our government believes in excellent public education for all our children: we want to ensure they get the tools they need to succeed. That's why our number one priority is to invest in public education and make needed improvements.

My colleagues and I remain committed to providing a public education system that's open to all students regardless of religious or cultural background. Our goal is to make Ontario's public education the best. As we work toward that goal, we'll continue to uphold our constitutional obligations and fund public and separate schools fully.

Our government recognizes that there are many hard-working families who make sacrifices to send their children to faith-based schools. We have the utmost respect for your views and those of other Ontarians who disagree with our government's stance on funding for independent or religious schools. However, we remain deeply committed to restoring confidence in and stability to our public education system.

Thanks again for contacting me. Your input is always welcome.

Dalton McGuinty
Premier of Ontario