Wednesday, April 30, 2008

'Have-not' maybe not

With the economy in the US tanking, the fear is growing as to how hard it will hit the Canadian economy. Ontario is already showing signs that they will be hit the hardest with job loss in the manufacturing sector. TD released a report today predicting that Ontario is on it's way to 'have not' status within the next two years. The policy that the federal government is to make sure funding is available for each province to provide the same level of basic service is enshrined in the constitution. The labels of 'have and have-not' play a huge role in how each province is perceived across the country. Labeling the economic engine of Canada a have not province would be a tremendous embarrassment.

As can be expected the public reaction has been to reinforce previous held stereotypes about government and inter-provincial relations. Different levels of government are being blamed for tanking Ontario, with congratulations for other provinces for shifting the economic power outside the traditional power base.

For the average person who just follows the headlines the most important detail is being overlooked. The equalization payment formula has just been revised. These changes add to the economic strength of provinces like Newfoundland & Alberta without changing their economies. Ontario is not declining in as much as they are not able to benefit from the skyrocketing price of oil as other provinces have.

Ontario is heading into some tough economic times. The Ontario economy needs to be evaluated on standard economic benchmarks such as unemployment. Using the equalization formula that has just changed is irresponsible and misleading. To stimulate the economy real economic factors must be considered. If the public and politicians use the politically negotiated equalization formula as the key indicator, they will make the wrong decisions.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ghosts & Fiscal Responsibility

A report came out this week that predicted that government revenues may be less than estimated and could result in a deficit. The Liberals have seized the opportunity to blame the government for fiscal mismanagement. The fact they missed an opportunity to stop this budget for their own political gain will be glossed over if the doom and gloom ever comes to pass.

Newly elected Associate Finance critic Martha Hall Findlay decided to take her own shots by claiming all Conservative Prime Ministers since 1918 have run deficit budgets. This statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of Canadian history both economic and political.

Counter cyclical financing was adopted by the government with support from the economic community. The government would run small surpluses when times are good and deficits when the economy needed stimulation. While the consequences of such decisions can be judged by history it is unfair to blame governments for following the advise of experts at the time. In our more developed economy the Bank of Canada uses interest rates and other available fiscal and monetary tools to help control the rate of growth of the economy. There are still those who subscribe to the old philosophy, that the government should be running a small deficit to help counter the economic downturn resulting from the problems with the American economy.

The accounting processes used now are far more complex than they used to be. Statistics Canada has revised all the budget data since confederation through 1975 to better reflect today's accounting rules. This involved adding both revenue and expenditures from what were once considered non-budgetary accounts into their proper spaces. The conclusions from these revisions are that Paul Martin and Stephen Harper are the only two Prime Ministers in Canadian history to not have run a deficit while serving as PM. The trends also indicate that surpluses were a result of the economic times rather than which party was in charge. There were large deficits through WWI & WWII followed by the larger deficits under Diefenbaker and Trudeau as they helped advance the welfare state. Major surpluses were during the post war boom of the 1920s and 1950s.

One of the problems the Liberals have had slinging mud at the Conservatives is that they reach too far into the past. Placing blame on the current government for events that happened 15 -20 years ago does not change voter's perception on government performance. Bob Rae now sits on the Liberal front bench. People still remember the deficit he ran up in Ontario. In the debate in the last provincial election Premier Dalton McGuinty still blamed him for some of the problems his government is dealing with.

Martha Hall Findlay, enjoy your stay in Ottawa. There are plenty of valid points of reasonable discourse for criticising the government. Stirring up ghosts will not help bring the Liberals to power.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

TDSB pools running on empty

Once upon a time there was a home owner who loved having a swimming pool. They moved and could not have a swimming pool in the new home. They were comforted by a friend who told them if they ever missed the swimming pool they could fill up their bathtub with water and toss money in it.

TDSB has been facing this dilemma for many years as they tried to operate their 78 swimming pools. They did not have a mandate to offer this community service so they would not receive funding from the Ministry of Education. The City of Toronto provided limited funding to help pay for the maintenance of the pools. On Friday TDSB faced reality and announced the closing of 23 pools this year and 16 pools next summer for a total annual savings of $4 million.

This is simply a case of bureaucratic red tape. The pools provided an important community service by providing the skills to prevent drownings. It also provided healthy recreation in an era where child obesity appears to be a primary concern. The big question is what is going to happen
on a hot summer day when the city realizes that there are not enough swimming pools. Will they try to build more or simply shrug their shoulders and blame a different level of government. Somebody should have stepped up and acted in the best interest of the citizens of Toronto, instead of the best interests of their individual bureaucratic department. Such short sightedness will only cause harm in the future.

Banning cars, one crime at a time

Yesterday, David Miller launched a Youtube/facebook campaign for the federal government to ban handguns. The provincial Liberals have also been long time supporters on a ban on hand guns.

Liberal MPP Mike Colle decided to take action by introducing a private members bill. The bill calls for drivers license suspension as well as impounding cars found with illegal handguns. The focus on banning handguns has been used as an excuse for different levels of government not to deal with issues that result in kids turning to a life of crime. This bill does nothing to make the streets safer.

Cars are impounded if a driver is caught without a valid license. The onus is on the owner of the vehicle to verify that someone using their car has a valid license. The government has recently implemented racing laws where speeding 50 km/h over the speed limit results in a car being automatically being impounded for a week. Despite the risk police are still impounding cars. If a person has no fear in carrying and presumably using an illegal gun, why would they fear the loss of driving privileges. They should be afraid of facing the justice system. The police should be focusing having these offenders put in jail.

A few weeks ago there was a shooting on the TTC. Will the government consider taking away metropasses for criminals who do not commit their crimes in cars? The government will be introducing a ban on smoking in cars with children present. Will the punishment also be to have license suspension and cars impounded?

Punishments must fit the crime. This trend to solve the worlds problems by simply punishing drivers and car owners is short sighted. There are times when such action is appropriate. This does not make it the solution to every problem.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

York University accomodation of Jewish Students under attack

For the last 34 years York University has had a policy of closing for up to three days each year for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippor. When this policy began a large percentage of students and professors would take these days off anyways.

York History Professor and non-practising Jew, David Noble has been a long time detractor of York's policy. He filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission claiming it was unfair in a multicultural society to accommodate one group's religious beliefs.

A report on the topic has been prepared for the Human Rights Commission. It concluded that the policy is discriminatory because it provides preferential treatment based on creed. York University has a policy that no student is to be penalized for keeping their religious holidays.

Hopefully the HRC will be able to take more factors into consideration when making their decision. The Jewish calendar works in such a way that in a four week period around September/October religious Jewish students could end up missing a total of 7 days worth of classes to religious holidays. This can be a tremendous strain at the beginning of the school year or approaching midterms. Having the extra 3 days off worry free helps reduce the problems created from trying to play catch up. There are many students who take this rule into consideration when they choose York over the universities that do not offer such accommodation.

York University is closed for all Christian holidays. They are even closed on Easter Monday which is a holiday not recognized by the private sector. The accommodation provided by York simply reverses indirect discrimination created by the nature of the regular calendar.

The HRC should also take into consideration who has launched the complaint. If the complaint came from or was supported by other religious groups who are being discriminated against, it would have a lot more credibility. This appears to be a case of someone upset that any religious accommodation would be offered to anyone.

Hopefully the HRC will rule wisely in such a way that will allow the rule to stand. The Public school system already supports Catholic beliefs above all others. It would be a shame to for university administrators to carry out the same level of discrimination.