Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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.
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
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
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
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.
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.