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 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 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.