Guns, America and Tragedy: The View From Here

December 31, 2012 10:17 am
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As everyone knows, there was another gun massacre in America on Friday December 14th, this one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut.  The horrific details are almost too painful to recall. Adam Lanza – a bright, quiet, socially awkward 20 year old – first shot his mom multiple times at their home and then proceeded to drive to Sandy Hook Elementary. He had in possession three guns legally registered to his mother. He would only use one: a .223 calibre rifle. When he arrived armed and wearing a bullet proof vest, he first shot his way through a secured door and entered the school. The school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was among the first to respond to the sounds of gunshots. She must have courageously attempted to intervene before the shooter could do more harm. But she had no chance and was riddled with bullets. The shooter then made his way to a classroom full of kids and their teachers. He killed most, if not all, of them. He then entered another classroom and did the same before turning his gun on himself. He had enough ammunition left to kill many more kids. It is believed that it was only the knowledge that the police would soon arrive at the school that prompted the shooter to kill himself.

The community of Newtown Connecticut has been plunged into the sort of grief too profound to contemplate.  Who wouldn’t be driven to the depths of despair by the knowledge that twenty kids and six adults were ruthlessly mowed down in a place of learning, a place of community, a place of apparent safety? The rest of the country is no doubt sharing in Newtown’s grief. Intermingled with their profound sorrow, however, is a question and crisis over which Americans remain strangely divided. How many mass killings need to occur before more of America realizes that their love of guns and their strange belief that guns and freedom are synonymous will only lead to more such episodes?

By now it is clear to most people outside of America that their love of guns is demented, dangerous and tragic. This explains why much of the world is dumbfounded by America’s lack of action around guns, despite the haunting regularity of mass shootings on its soil. No wait: there has been action. A panel of federal appeals court judges in Illinois just last week struck down the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons. In 2008 courts struck down Washington’s ban on handgun ownership. Such court led folly is in keeping with the country’s perverted fascination with the second amendment of its constitution.

Those who zealously defend the right to bear arms don’t only point to the country’s constitution. They also invoke arguments which would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is perhaps the most inane response to the plea for a saner approach to guns. Equally inane is the idea that all these tragedies highlight the need for more guns. If someone else had a gun in at Sandy Hook Elementary School or that theatre in Aurora – or so the thinking goes – the shooter would have been killed sooner than was otherwise the case.  It’s hard to imagine a more dystopian scenario: an entire nation of citizens carrying concealed weapons wherever they go.

Yet amid the tears and the goodbyes to those murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary are voices of sanity struggling to be heard. These voices are perhaps too polite, their outrage muted, but at least they are being raised and not only with respect to gun laws. Thus, for example, they are saying the simmering issues of mental stress and mental illness can no longer be ignored. In all of the coverage I’ve observed the shooter hasn’t once been referred to as a ‘coward.’ It suggests that people understand that such a designation doesn’t begin to explain his capacity to murder dozens of people in cold blood. I don’t pretend to know what combination of twisted thoughts and deprivations drove the killer to commit mass murder. We must be careful not to assume he had a mental illness. But at the very least he was mentally unstable and possibly prone to psychotic episodes. In a nation of 315 million people it is reasonable to expect there are individuals – usually young, disaffected males – who will be similarly unstable. Most grope their way through the darkness without doing harm to others. Occasionally, however, someone acts on his most violent impulses. America, these voices are now saying, is unique in its apparent determination to make it as easy as possible for such individuals to do so.

This is why these same voices are insisting their country toughen its gun laws. After this latest massacre, they appreciate more than ever that an endless proliferation of guns enables horrific violence, not deters it. There is, at last, the recognition that there is no good reason to own a rifle capable of killing many people in a matter of seconds and that eliminating them will prevent more tragedies. They are likely haunted by the question of what might have happened if the killer didn’t have three guns in his home. How would he have channeled his dark thoughts that led him to kill? It’s impossible to know but still worthwhile to speculate. Perhaps his weapon of choice would have been one not able to inflict so much carnage, so quickly. Perhaps he would have only killed himself or perhaps saner thoughts would have somehow won the day. What we do know is this: having his mother’s semi automatic rifle vastly extended the reach of his violent impulses. And so long as such guns are readily available it’s only a matter of time before there is another such massacre.

 

That much seems obvious. Yet America’s leadership has been tragically timid in the face of the pressure exerted by the National Rifle Association and others like them to eliminate restrictions on gun ownership. Indeed America’s leaders too often appear to be actively working against the voices of sanity. Whether that will change is an open question.  Much has been made of President Obama’s speech at Newtown’s inter faith vigil on Sunday night. He expressed the nation’s sorrow and said that the country had to do better. Not once, however, did he utter the word ‘gun.’ Some thought the word’s absence was appropriate. It struck me as in keeping with his tendency of avoiding offending anyone. This has to change. He and his administration must resist the pressure of the NRA, must ignore their howls of derision and contempt. It is they who are contemptible. Obama must get passed meaningful gun reform. This is the only way the voices of sanity in America will prevail.

 

 

 

Norway: A Country of Unequalled Equality

December 3, 2012 3:18 pm
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As the need for accessibility reform grows in Ottawa, it is important to examine countries that have successfully created effective accessibility programs. In Norway, the government has been busy over the past three years attempting to make the whole country more accessible to persons with disabilities.

On January 1, 2009, the Norwegian government, with the permission of the King, enacted aggressive legislation that strengthened legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of disability. The Anti-Discrimination and Accessibility Act applies to all public areas of society and targets direct and indirect forms of harassment and discrimination towards the disabled, from refusing to hire someone due to a disability or simply neglecting to make a workplace accessible to disabled persons. The Act also requires that public schools allow all disabled students to be given equal opportunities to learn and participate in curricular activities.

This legislation was followed in the same year by a groundbreaking Action Plan put forward by the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion. The Plan details the government’s intentions to make Norway universally accessible for persons with physical disabilities.

In order to enact this mammoth plan, the Ministry began collaborating with a large number of other Norwegian government administrations, including the Ministries of Regional Development, Transport and Communications, Environment and International Development, and the Ministry of Government Administration and Reform. In this way, the accessibility reforms enacted will reach every aspect of public life throughout the country.

The Act was put forward to be in concordance with The United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which obliges countries to “implement the necessary measures to ensure that people with disabilities have access to the physical environment, transport, information, communication and other areas and services that are open to or offered by the public.”

Norway plans to increase the number of accessible homes, buildings and outdoor areas by 2025, and ensure that all aspects of Norway’s travel system, including trains, buses and stopping stations, are accessible to disabled persons. Norway is also seeking to improve its information and communications technologies (ICT) network to be entirely accessible to the elderly and persons with disabilities by 2021.

But accessibility isn’t the only concern of the Norwegian government. The Norwegian government has spent nearly a decade enacting legislation prohibiting discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religious belief and sexual orientation.

In 2006, the Anti-Discrimination Act was passed by the Ministry of Labour, which detailed the government’s commitment to promote complete social equality. The Act prevents any forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, national origin, skin colour, language, religion, belief, sexual preference or sexual orientation. Because of this act, employers can no longer fire, demote, refuse to hire or refuse to promote anyone based on any of the above factors.

Arni Hole, former Director General of the Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion of Norway. PHOTO: 20-first.com

One year ago, at the European Forum for New Ideas, Director General Arni Hole of the Ministry of Children, Equality, and Social Inclusion delivered a series of speeches detailing Norway’s commitment to total gender equality.

She emphasized that nations can no longer “afford not to employ all talents from both genders,” and that the world “need[s] women in politics as much as in the corporate world – at all levels.” Hole argued that enabling social frameworks to benefit women and men will build “a more sustainable, fairer and economic[ally] viable society” and that such a society will benefit all involved, “even in strict economic terms.”

The government has enacted a long list of legislation looking to improve the overall equality felt between the two genders. According to Hole: “Sometimes it takes radical affirmative action to produce results and eradicate some of these stern and strict stereotypes.”

Legal protection was offered by the 2003 amendments to corporate laws, requiring every Norwegian company to have 40% of either sex represented on their elected board of supervisors. The amendments accomplished the hoped-for objective: by 2006, an average of 43% of all Norwegian board members were women.

A 2010 study conducted by the Oslo and Copenhagen Business Schools found that the female board members helped make strategic work more efficient by strengthening the board’s capacity-building, developing new competencies and improving conflict management.

These changes to gender representation in Norwegian public and private life have not gone unnoticed. Norway’s legal quotas have been so successful that Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Iceland and Italy have started enacting their own quotas for gender equality on corporate boards.

However, not all of Norway’s gender reforms were brought about by legislation. Since 1986, every Norwegian Cabinet has had a 40%-60% or greater gender balance. There is no law requiring the Head of Government to appoint a certain number of women to Cabinet, yet every government in the past 26 years has chosen at least eight women to hold ministerial offices.

Seeing the increase in available opportunities, brought about by legislation and public pressure, more and more young Norwegian girls are going to school in order to attain employment they never had access to before. As of 2011, 62% of Norwegian University graduates were female.

Hole also stated that “a quota is not a quick fix.” She believes that in order for gender-equality legislation to be successful, it must be enacted in “a more or less gender-equal society” that gives both genders “opportunities to combine careers and family life.”

Thus, the government sought to improve gender equality by enacting legislation to help parents of young children balance work and home life. Norway’s 1993 Parental Leave Scheme gave fathers and mothers of small children the right to leave work early in order to pick up their child from daycare or preschool. These parents also have the right to refuse to work overtime when no one is available to take care of their children.

This legislation has improved the overall status of parents and families in Norway. Save the Children’s 2012 State of the World’s Mothers Report placed Norway as the best country in the world in which to be a mother, with Canada ranking 19th and the US ranking 25th.

On MSN’s 2012 list of the top 10 countries to live in, Norway ranked second.  Canada previously held the second-place rank, but sank down to sixth place in the past year. The ranking is based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Better Life Index, which creates reports and rankings on developed nations based on overall population satisfaction. As of 2012, the index reported that there is a higher per cent of the Norwegian population reporting to be employed, volunteering in community activities, contributing to environmental efforts, managing work-life balance, and feeling more satisfied with their overall quality of life than in those reporting in Canada. Canada still ranks higher in housing availability, income earned, quality of education, quality of health care and overall safety in public life.

But these statistics don’t lie, as in the past year alone, Norway has seen a substantial increase in labour migration, as tens of thousands of immigrants moved to the country looking for work, many of them with their families.

According to Hole, the government strives to be as transparent as possible, placing all public hearings online and opening Ministerial journals to the public.  All social reforms are always subject to consultation and public hearings before being voted on in Parliament.

All private and public businesses are required to submit annual reports to the government detailing the status of social equality in their workplace. The government responds with measurements and evaluations based on the information submitted. Such “transparency” and “exposure,” says Hole, keeps companies and government accountable to the commitment to social equality and thus promote “sound economics,” as well as “a moral base [with] equal opportunities for all individuals.”

Hole believes that Norway needs to continue to “develop a society better prepared for future challenges in terms of demographic changes, economic competitiveness, employment, social sustainability and human rights.” Hole and the Norwegian government claim that all individuals should have equal access to all sectors of society, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, religious belief or disability.

By giving equal opportunity to all individuals, at the workplace, in school, in government, and even through public transportation and building accessibility, Norway seeks to enable to ensure that those with high competencies, unique talents, creative minds and indomitable spirits are never hindered in any aspect of their daily life.

This includes the disabled and handicapped, as preventing even one person from being able to enter a building or travel to work runs the risk of preventing someone with inimitable aptitude from contributing to the betterment of their country.

 

Time to Refine? Should Canada Refine its Own Oil?

November 24, 2012 9:30 am
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By Anna May Burke

For decades, Canada has worried about its image abroad as a country that merely exploits its precious natural resources, exporting its raw commodities. And yet, at the same time, going back at least to Premier Peter Lougheed days in Alberta in the 1970s, there has also been political debate about how Canada can generate more wealth and jobs from its natural resource bounty by adding more value to them before exporting.

That discussion, and particularly as it pertains to oil-sands development, is red hot again thanks to a recent proposal from B.C. newspaper mogul David Black.

His idea is to build an oil sands refinery in Kitimat, B.C., which is the end of line of the proposed, controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Enbridge proposal would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta through northern B.C. to a tanker port in Kitimat. Opposition to the project has been strong from environmentalists, communities along the pipeline route and Aboriginal leaders (who fear the project could potentially violate their constitutional rights) to name a few. A recent demonstration against the pipeline attracted more than 2500 people. The concern is the impact and potential environmental disasters in areas through which the pipeline passes (forests, animal habitats etc.) As well, increased tanker traffic in B.C. is unwelcomed by many and the increased risk of spills that go along with that. The B.C. government has been at best luke warm. B.C. Premier Kristy Clark has said that B.C. needs to get its fair share of the pie.

Enter Black. He has a few ideas to lessen some of those concerns. He wants to build an oil refinery in Kitimat, the first one to be built in Canada since 1984. (As Black points out, there are currently 19 refineries in Canada but none in B.C.) Economically, he claims construction would employ 6,000 people for five years. After that, 3,000 permanent jobs would remain to operate the refinery. On top of that, he says $2 billion in exports would result. All in all, his plan would be a financial benefit for B.C. And this doesn’t even include the tax revenue benefits for the provincial government that the refinery would generate.

As for the environment, he has said that his refinery “would eliminate any risk of a devastating tanker spill of bitumen off the coast because what would be produced would be lighter refined by products of petroleum which are easier to clean up and also naturally dissipate.”

Black clearly has done his homework and even commissioned a poll to ask British Columbians what they thought of the project. A whopping 72 per cent are in favour or somewhat supportive of refining Alberta’s oil in Kitimat using local labour rather than shipping bitumen to Asia. Black argues his proposal goes a long way to addressing the Premier’s economic concerns.

But here’s the catch, without the Pipeline, there is no refinery. In addition to that, whether or not there would even be a market for the refined oil by products is unclear.  Critics of Black’s idea argue that the locations where he plans to send his refined oil, mainly in Asia, may not be interested. China, for example, would likely prefer to buy the raw bitumen as opposed to already-refined oil given the country has its own facilities and is building new ones. Black’s response is to engage the Chinese now, by making them a partner in his project.

Despite the fact that he can’t seem to find any financial backers for his idea (not even Enbridge has endorsed the plan), Black has filed an environmental assessment application and has sunk millions of his own cash into making his idea a reality. While the Enbridge Pipeline has its detractors, there is no question that Black is the only one to have come up with something that makes the Pipeline project palatable to British Columbians and that is a big hurdle. But time will tell if Black’s vision will ever see the light of day.

Public hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project are ongoing and are expected to continue for months. The panel studying the issue has until the end of next year to file its report. However, ultimately, it is up to Stephen Harper and his cabinet to make the final decision.

TOP PHOTO: KITIMAK TOURISM

 

Political Advice from 1929 Holds True in 2012: America Votes to Uphold the Status Quo

November 20, 2012 9:00 am
Barack Obama Delivering His Victory Speech. PHOTO: Eurweb

Shortly before Republican Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as the 31st president of the United States of America on March 4, 1929,former Republican president Calvin Coolidge offered him some helpful advice. He told President-Elect Hoover that: “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.”

A photograph of President Calvin Coolidge & President Elect Herbert Hoover on Hoover's Inauguration Day. PHOTO: Library of Congress

Eighty-three years later, President Coolidge’s advice could have described the mantra of the 2012 American presidential campaign, which ended on November 6. Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama defied the odds — both figuratively and historically — since he won a second term even with an unemployment rate of 7.9%, an unlikely result as only one previous president had been able to accomplish such a feat – Democrat President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, in 1936, the seventh year of the Great Depression, won his second of four terms while the unemployment rate sat at 17%. Also, Republican President Ronald Reagan was reelected in 1984 at a time when America’s unemployment rate was 6% – but with the lingering recession of the early 1980s slowing down and with an economic recovery that was gaining momentum.

Despite the burden of a weak economy, crippling national debt, the impending “fiscal cliff” threatening the American economy should a deal with Congress not be reached before New Year’s Day, and the fact that upwards of three-quarters of Americans in countless opinion polls agreed that the country “is going in the wrong direction,” President Obama will return to the White House for four more years.

Obama’s win was historic for another reason: he is the first president to win a second term with a decreasing number of Electoral College votes. In terms of the popular vote results, Obama shed about 10 million votes compared to his win four years earlier. His winning majority dipped from 52.9% when he defeated Republican Senator John McCain to 50.4% when he defeated former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on Election Day.

While a win may indeed be a win no matter by what margin it is won, all wins do not carry the same meaning, especially when the winner and the loser did not campaign on the specific details of their future tenure in the Oval Office. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns focused on wedge issues, distractions and divisive cultural issues that are of little importance, given the drastic fiscal challenges that America faces in the short term, as well as an economy that remains stuck in first gear.

Issues from access to contraception and abortion to funding Big Bird on daytime television’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) were discussed at great length. However, neither Obama nor Romney spent much time discussing the crucial issue that mattered most to Americans: how to fix America’s ailing economy. On this matter, Romney offered a five-point plan that hinged upon cutting regulatory red tape and tapping into America’s vast hydrocarbon deposits to boost the prospects of achieving North American energy independence and rejuvenating the broader economy.

Obama, on the other hand, offered a slick-looking campaign document entitled A Plan for Jobs and Middle Class Security that essentially attempted to repackage the older ideas and goals from his first term.

Class warfare was the calling card for what little tangible economic discussion was to be had throughout the election campaign. It centered on Romney’s refusal to raise income taxes on Americans and Obama’s persistent belief that most of America’s financial woes and deficit could easily be cured by raising income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year — despite the fact that many independent studies have shown that such a move would only generate marginal gains in revenue for the paying down of America’s $16 trillion debt. Consequently, instead of a detailed discussion on what both candidates envisioned for the American economy, the campaign devolved into a form of political trench warfare characterized by hundreds of widely broadcast virulent political advertisements intended to besmirch the opposing candidate. Even before Super Storm Sandy severely damaged the North Eastern Seaboard (thereby allowing the president to effortlessly appear as a bipartisan figure), the presidential campaign clearly demonstrated the advantage enjoyed by an incumbent who benefited from the changing demographics of American society. For instance, while Governor Romney spent months of his time and millions of his campaign’s dollars fighting fellow Republicans during his party’s grueling Primary Race, President Obama as an unopposed incumbent was able to focus much of his campaign’s financial and human resources on negatively defining Romney to the American public, on gathering extensive voter information and on developing a finely-tuned ground team that was able to tailor its broader campaign (and candidate) to the diverse demographic segments of the American populace. This paid dividends for the President on Election Day.

Romney, having been framed as a radically conservative candidate by Obama, lost the election primarily because of the changing face of 21st century America. Romney won the clear support of middle-aged and older Caucasian men, but lost the majority support of Caucasian women because of a number of outlandish remarks made by several congressional Republican candidates during the campaign. However, the vast majority of the fastest-growing demographic groups in America overwhelmingly voted for Obama rather than Romney. Hispanic-Americans contributed about one of every 10 votes in the election. Romney was only able to secure about 27% of their support, a sharp decline from the 44% that Republican George Bush won in the divisive 2000 presidential race. Much of this dearth of Hispanic-American support for Romney and his party grew out of what was generally considered to be Romney’s tougher stance on illegal immigration when compared to President Obama’s (or even that of former President George W. Bush).

Romney’s support in the African-American community was virtually nonexistent. With the percentage of Caucasian-American voters bound to slip below 70% in the next few years, the Republican Party faces difficult prospects in terms of winning back the presidency, should it be unable to broaden its appeal to voters in America’s increasingly larger ethnic minority groups.

Mitt Romney Delivering His Concession Speech. PHOTO: Hollywood Reporter

Yet, despite the changing demographics of America and the challenges it may pose for the Republican Party, when considering the congressional and presidential election results in unison, 2012 was an election upholding the status quo in Washington. The Democrats kept control of the White House and the Senate, while the Republicans held on to the House of Representatives. Perhaps the return to the status quo (whatever it may be) should come as no surprise given the lack of meaningful discussion in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. for several years. Then again: “If you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it.”

No wonder Coolidge’s nickname was “Silent Cal.”

 

 

Auditor General Criticizes Outsourcing of Federal Public Service Jobs as Ottawa MPs Pierre Poilievre and John Baird Do Nothing

November 16, 2012 12:35 pm
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By Gary Corbett

The findings of Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s Fall 2012 Report, released on October 23, come as no surprise to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents over five thousand employees impacted by the government’s on–going dismantling of our nation’s public service infrastructure.

The report notes that the federal government spends billions of dollars on external contractors annually, without fully assessing the costs, benefits and risks involved. At the same time the Treasury Board is paying out billions to private sector contractors with one hand, it is using the other hand to cut the jobs of the federal public servants who usually do this work with the proper experience, oversight and accountability.

It is obvious from the Auditor General’s report that Treasury Board President Tony Clement is paying for these expensive and unregulated external contractors by cutting the jobs of public servants. The danger of unregulated or self-regulated processes came into stark reality recently when a breakdown in health and safety processes due to lack of federal oversight at the XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alberta, resulted in an E. coli outbreak that led to a beef recall and endangered the health of Canadians from coast-to-coast–to-coast. Despite this grave warning, Tony Clement and Ottawa MPs John Baird and Pierre Poilievre are doubling down as 4 per cent of federal all public servants jobs are terminated between now and 2015.

The situation is particularly serious at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and Health Canada, two departments that together account for about 25 per cent of the total federal contracting-out budget. The Auditor General’s report confirms what public service employees have been saying all along: You can’t eliminate or outsource thousands of public sector jobs to the private sector and maintain the same level of safety, security and financial accountability. Canadians know there is a very real price to pay for the government’s ongoing cuts to the country’s federal workforce. It is no coincidence that HRSDC and Health Canada have seen close to 1,400 PIPSC members receive “affected notices” this year, and that hundreds more members have been transferred to Shared Services Canada before a detailed plan was even in place.

Consider this. In addition to PIPSC members (as of September 13, 2012), 18,019 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in 44 departments received notices saying they could lose their jobs. A grand total of 19,200 positions will be lost due to the Harper government’s latest round of cuts to the federal workforce. PIPSC, PSAC and other unions within the government representing additional departmental workers have received workforce adjustment notices – this while the Harper government recklessly spends billions of dollars contracting out government services to their friends.

The number of federal public servants in the National Capital Region (NCR) whose jobs are expected to be cut totals 6,268. In addition, the Harper Conservatives are terminating 2,609 public servants in Ontario; 2,326 in Quebec; 2,155 in the Prairies; 1,876 in the Atlantic; 1,213 in British Columbia; and 124 in the North.

Thirty-five per cent of these notices have gone out in the NCR, while 65 per cent  have gone out elsewhere in the country. These cuts are only beginning. The Harper government plans significant departmental cuts at the Department of National Defence, Parks Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, Statistics Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

These cuts are being hardest felt by federal employees in the National Capital Region whose careers are being terminated while the Harper government, with the full support of Ottawa-area Conservative MPs John Baird and Pierre Poilievre, do nothing as the savings are redirected to external contractors – the very contractors the Auditor General is criticizing in his report. Where are the elected representatives? Busy busting unions, that’s where! All the while people are losing their jobs.

Rather than support the hardworking public servants in his riding, Poilievre has decided to embark on a sideshow and attack the public sector unions that are standing up for the very people in his own riding whom the government is terminating in order to give out contracts to external contractors. It is clear now more than ever that Poilievre and Baird have put their Conservative Tea Party ideology first and are sacrificing thousands of public sector jobs in their own ridings and cutting public services to Canadians at the altar of privatization. They obviously think profits for companies come ahead of the safety of Canadians. I encourage all public servants in Baird’s and Poilievre’s ridings to remember their role in supporting these cuts in the next national election.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the Auditor General’s report.

 

 

 

So Unnecessary: Ontario’s Fabricated School Crisis

November 15, 2012 11:09 am
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On September 11, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals brought back the Ontario legislature early to get Bill 115 passed. The controversial bill banned strikes, froze wages and clawed back all retroactive pay hikes for Ontario teachers for two years. The government said the province was deep in debt and public servants, including all teachers, would have to take a two-year pay freeze. The teachers were rightly upset and pushed back, saying they had collective bargaining rights.

To counter this, McGuinty’s government crassly and dishonestly put out the narrative that if they did not pass the bill, the teachers would go on strike – throwing millions of students out of school. They did this with the full knowledge that the teachers’ unions had never made any such threat to anyone in public or in private. It was the Big Lie. When the Bill passed, the three powerful unions representing Ontario teachers and education workers immediately declared war against the governing Liberals as well as the Conservatives led by Tim Hudak, who had also supported the bill. The unions say it violates constitutional rights and have vowed to fight the bill all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Liberals’ public narrative was that the bill was required to help them eliminate Ontario’s $17-billion deficit. They decided to balance the budget by cutting education costs – specifically teachers’ salaries. Ironically, this was the one area where they had built a sterling reputation in the past decade. Investments in education and in teachers’ compensation (teachers’ salaries now  average 18 per cent-25 per cent more than a decade ago) resulted in improvements that saw Ontario recognized in 2009 as having one of the best elementary and secondary school systems in the world. All this brought to Ontario courtesy of new programs in education and the dedication and hard work of Ontario’s teachers. Despite this, the Liberals decided that by imposing a wage freeze on teachers and public servants, they could save up to $430 million per year for two years. So they brought the hammer down, using the ploy that the teachers were planning a strike action to try to gain public sympathy for their plan. In other words – they fabricated a crisis.

Critics point out that the real crisis lies in the McGuinty government’s financial mismanagement and lack of accountability that has led to the highest deficit ($17 billion) in the province’s history. Taxpayers are on the hook for over $2.5 billion in misspending, fraud and boondoggles. First was the $1 billion that disappeared in the eHealth debacle. This was followed by the Ornge air ambulance fraud and scandal at a cost to Ontario taxpayers of $275 million, then by the $750-million cost to provincial taxpayers for the Oakville Energy plant scandal. The final bill has yet to come in on the cost to taxpayers for the off-the-rails Ontario Green Energy Act that saw the Ontario government subsidize hundreds of millions of dollars in solar and wind power projects, with no return on investment other than higher energy costs for all Ontarians. For the first time in its history, Ontario – once the economic engine of Canada – has been declared a have-not province. A sad state of affairs for a province with a population of 13,505,900 – or a third of all Canadians!

By October 31, the two biggest unions representing elementary and secondary school teachers were urging their members to withdraw from any voluntary activities as a show of protest of what they’re calling “draconian” legislation. True to their word, they did not strike – even after the legislation was passed. On October 11, the  Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) filed a court challenge against the Ontario government’s Bill 115 on the grounds that the law, which strips the education sector of its right to bargain collectively, violates rights set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (ETFO represents 76,000 elementary public school teachers and education professionals across the province and is the largest teachers’ federation in Canada.)

“We want all Ontarians to understand that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms exists to protect the rights of individuals, even when governments seek to override them,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond. “That is the strength and backbone of democracy in Canada.” Similar challenges are also being filed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario, and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. In his remarks outside the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Hammond pointed out that the Charter guarantees the right of people to organize, engage in collective bargaining, and withdraw services to advance workplace goals.

Back to the Future: The Fall and Possible Rise of the Liberal Party of Canada

November 14, 2012 11:45 am
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By Dan Donovan and Simon Vodrey

It has come down to this. On Election Night, May 2011, the once great Liberal Party of Canada was pummeled. It seemed unbelievable that the “Natural Governing Party of Canada” had fallen from grace with a loud thud, placing third in the polls, unable to muster enough support to beat the New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP had strategically focused its campaign on its popular leader, Jack Layton. Layton had just fought off a serious battle with cancer and, without missing a step, jumped into the election with renewed vigour. People responded to his positive attitude and populist appeal.

Meanwhile, the book-smart Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff seemed to be lacking political smarts. This became painfully obvious during the nationally-televised leaders’ debates. Layton nailed Ignatieff, pointing out that he had missed more votes in the House of Commons than any other sitting member. “Canadians know that if you don’t show up for work, you don’t get a promotion.” Ignatieff appeared stunned and said nothing. It was one of the biggest “deer in the headlights” moments in Canadian political history. To be fair, Ignatieff had only missed those votes because he had been spending most of his time outside of Ottawa visiting ridings and smaller towns, getting feedback from Canadians and listening to peoples’ concerns. The problem was that when Layton hit him with the unfair shot, Ignatieff didn’t know what to say. A seasoned pro like Jean Chrétien or Brian Mulroney would have responded with a counter question like: “Why, Mr. Layton, when you live in Toronto – a mere four hours from the capital, did  you and your spouse Olivia Chow (also an MP) bill Canadian  taxpayers with expenses of almost one million dollars last year? So much for the average Canadian narrative you like to talk about. By the way, I don’t spend time in Ottawa racking up taxpayer-paid expenses. I am out talking to Canadians.” But it was not to be. Even in defeat, Ignatieff showed bad political judgment. He had not only lost the election; he had lost his own seat in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. Instead of resigning immediately on election night, as any seasoned politician would have done, he talked about staying on, helping to rebuild. Ignatieff just did not get it.

Surely, one of the saddest moments of election night occurred when Ignatieff’s caucus colleague, apparent friend and one-time university roommate Bob Rae went on national television musing about how progressives might now unite (code for the Liberals and the NDP to join parties). This untimely and arrogant remark did not go unnoticed by Rae’s former NDP colleagues or Liberals who immediately dismissed the notion. It was an especially bitter pill coming from Rae, the former NDP Premier of Ontario who had contributed to bringing down the government of former Ontario Liberal Premier David Peterson in 1991. As Premier, Bob Rae had been defined by his anti-business policies that drove the Ontario economy into record debt and deficit, a low point of his tenure came in 1995 when Rae was loudly booed during a visit to the Toronto Stock Exchange with his then Finance Minister Floyd Laughren, famously referred to by Liberals and the business community as “Pink Floyd.”

Now Rae was speaking as a federal Liberal MP. With Ignatieff mortally wounded, Rae immediately showed he was prepared to sell the Liberals off to a partnership with his former pals in the NDP.  It was a remarkable bit of crass political chutzpah and spoke volumes about Rae’s lack of knowledge of the Liberal Party. By putting his own ambitions ahead of the Party for all to see, he put the nail in his own coffin and buried any chance of ever becoming permanent leader. Ignatieff had not even given his election night speech to concede defeat. Worse was Rae’s suggestion that Harper’s win was not really a win. His reasoning was that if progressives united they would have more votes. It was arrogant in the extreme. The NDP had just won three times as many seats as the Liberals and were now, for the first time ever, the Official Opposition in the House of Commons. The Harper government had just won a clear majority. The Liberals had just been reduced by the electorate to a shadow of its once mighty self. By the end of the evening, Rae and Ignatieff were finished – Ignatieff through defeat and Rae by his own naked ambition displayed recklessly on national television.

Since May 2011, Liberals across the country have been licking their wounds as pundits continue   to  eulogize the Liberal Party, pronouncing its quick demise after the next election. Are they premature in their prediction? Probably. Canada lives in the centre of the political spectrum and political landscape. The Liberal Party has traditionally been that centre. The real question is can the Liberal Party stop being its own worst enemy, quit bickering and start renewing itself to offer Canadians a real option? In April 2013 in Ottawa, the federal Liberals will pick a new leader. Papineau MP Justin Trudeau and Toronto-based lawyer Deborah Coyne have entered the race and many expect Montreal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau to jump in. Polls indicate that Canadians seem to want the Liberals back. But the issue is can the Liberals come back with something to offer that Canadians will buy?

To look ahead, it is worth looking back to see how the Liberals ended up as the third party in Parliament and see who is stepping forward to bring them back to the future.

Rémi Bujold, Iona Campagnolo and the late Pierre Trudeau at the June 1984 Liberal Leadership Convention. PHOTO: JEAN-MARC CARISSE

In 1984, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau retired from politics after 16 tumultuous years that changed Canada forever. Trudeau’s role in the patriation of the Constitution, his numerous pieces of legislation to make Canada a fair and just society, and his policies enshrining bilingualism and multiculturalism in Canada stand as great political achievements. Many scholars suggest that the Trudeau-crafted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms stands as the pivotal document that gave birth to a modern Canada and that the content of the Charter is on par with the great democratic treatises of history, including the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Magna Carta.

However, Trudeau’s extended tenure as Prime Minister left a number of scars on the Canadian political landscape. He had increased the national debt substantially and unilaterally, created the unpopular National Energy Program (NEP), which initiated a political arm-wrestling match between Alberta and Ottawa about the federal government’s control over, and its share from, Alberta’s lucrative petroleum industry — a move which still rankles many Albertans today and is often seen as the underlying reason why the Liberal Party has had little success in electing Albertans and Westerners to Parliament. By the time Trudeau left, the country was redefined but it was also in debt due to massive increases in spending and social programs. On the security and deficit side, Trudeau’s policies had been a failure and the Canadian Forces went through years of neglect and underfunding that impacted Canada’s relations with its allies, particularly the United States and Western Europe. Politically, the Pierre Trudeau experiment had been devastatingly polarizing for the Liberals in Western Canada.

In Trudeau’s last election in 1980, the Liberals won a majority government by winning all but one seat in Quebec and most of the seats in the Maritime Provinces and in Ontario. However, the Liberals won only two seats under Trudeau in Manitoba and were completely shut out in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In 1984, seven seasoned cabinet ministers entered the Liberal leader-ship race: John Turner, Jean Chrétien, Donald Johnston, John Roberts, Mark R. MacGuigan, John Carr Munro and Eugene Whelan. Early odds for a winner were on John Turner, a Toronto-based corporate lawyer and former Minister of Finance. Turner, who had run against Trudeau for the leadership in 1968, had a very public falling-out with Trudeau in 1976 over economic policy differences and left politics. By 1984, Turner was seen as the great hope and Crown Prince who would restore Liberal credibility in the West and keep the Liberals in power. At the June 1984 Liberal Leadership Convention in Ottawa, delegates narrowly elected Turner after a come-from-behind campaign surge by Jean Chrétien was defeated. Before announcing to delegates that Turner had been elected the new Leader (and as a result he automatically became Canada’s 17th Prime Minister), Iona Campagnolo, with Turner and Chrétien standing next to her on stage, said that Chrétien “came second on the ballot but was first in our hearts,” inferring that Liberals had not voted for their first choice but had instead only voted for Turner because they thought he would keep them in power. This is the moment that the Liberal Party split into two factions. From then on, the Chrétien-ites became one faction in the Party and the Turner group (who would later back Paul Martin and then Ignatieff) became the other faction.

Turner called a general election in the summer of 1984 to secure his position as Prime Minister in the eyes of the Canadian electorate. He decided that the best way to proceed in the 1984 general election was to distance himself from Trudeau’s record and carve out a new path for the Liberal Party. However, Turner’s awkwardness on the campaign trail, as well as his difficulty in explaining where this new path would lead Canada, made for a lacklustre campaign. Internally, the Liberal campaign was in meltdown mode as Trudeau stalwarts – including Trudeau’s chief political architect and now Turner foe Jean Chrétien – watched as a self-imposed identity crisis paralyzed the Liberal Party. Chrétien wanted to run on the Trudeau record, while Turner wanted to turn the page.

Further complicating matters was Conservative leader Brian Mulroney’s decision to make  the 1984 election  a referendum on almost two decades of Liberal rule that he said had resulted in crass patronage and tired old ideas. Change was in the air. On the evening of September 4th, 1984,  John Turner and his Liberals were whipped by Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party, winning only 40 seats and narrowly holding on to their status as the Official Opposition as the NDP placed a close third with 30 seats. It would have been easy for Turner to quit. That is what the Chrétien forces wanted, but Turner was a fighter and even with the massive losses across the country, he had managed to win his own seat in the Vancouver Quadra riding. The defeat reinforced his resolve to make it right and get the Liberals back on top. Over the next four years, the internal politics of the Liberal Party were ferocious as the Chrétien and Turner camps fought behind the scenes. Chrétien resigned from Parliament in 1986 as he recognized that he was not a fit for Turner’s style. Turner won support for his leadership during that period at party conventions but in the spring of 1988, the Liberal caucus led by several disenchanted MPs – many of them loyal to Chrétien – tried to force Turner out. He survived the very public coup but the tactic-savvy Brian Mulroney, seeing the Liberals in disarray, called a federal election on the issue of free trade with the United States.

Turner went into the autumn 1988 general election badly crippled by Party infighting, the recent coup that he had put down, and with the possibility the entire Party could collapse. Between 1984 and 1988, the Mulroney government had negotiated a free trade agreement with the United States. The Turner-led Liberals vehemently opposed the agreement, based on the reasoning that it would undermine Canada’s sovereignty and its manufacturing sector. Although Mulroney would win the election, many cite Turner’s performance in the Free Trade campaign as one of the great political performances in Canadian electoral history. Turner exuded authenticity, especially in the nationally televised debate when in a Socratic and blunt tone directed squarely at Mulroney, he said that Mulroney’s Free Trade Agreement was selling out Canadian sovereignty to the Americans with the stroke of a pen. It was a riveting moment and in the days following, the Liberals surged ahead in the polls. However, the three previous years of infighting had taken their toll and the Party was so low on money that it could not match the avalanche of television ads the Conservatives ran against the Liberals to counter the Turner surge and they pulled ahead in the polls.

On November 21, 1988, Mulroney and the Conservatives were returned to power with a second majority. However, Turner had more than doubled the Liberal seats in the House to 83 with representation from across Canada. He had redeemed himself and the Liberal Party. In Montreal, a very successful high-profile businessman with impeccable Liberal credentials named Paul Martin had also been elected as part of the 1988 Turner Team. After taking the Party through a difficult period, John Turner retired to private life in 1990, setting the stage for new leadership.

Leadership races are a key ingredient in the renewal process of any political party and function as a tool to bring in new members with new ideas and to advance the policy debate across a number of issues. Most of the Turner people would get behind Paul Martin’s leadership bid. They saw Martin as the new man to lead them into the 1990s. Jean Chrétien, the Party populist, in their view was yesterday’s man and “his people” had caused severe damage to the Liberal brand by working behind the scenes against Turner for the past six years.

The 1990 race was a rather testy affair that ended in Calgary in June 1990. Jean Chrétien won a decisive victory over Paul Martin, Sheila Copps, Tom Wappel and John Nunziata. Behind the scenes, it was a rematch between the backroom boys who fought each other in the 1984 leadership. Almost immediately after assuming this position, Chrétien urged the Party to review its definition of liberalism, a move which would signal the first step toward what would ultimately help the Liberals forge a new identity applicable to the 1990s. Internally, he managed the Martin cadre by appointing Martin as the Environ-ment Critic and gave him a key role on the national election team. Chrétien gave Martin some rope but otherwise ran an ironclad office with strict caucus discipline that required compliance.

Two and a half years later, in the winter of 1993, Prime Minister Mulroney announced his retirement. The Conservatives elected a new party leader – Kim Campbell – who automatically became Canada’s 19th Prime Minister. But like her earlier delegate-chosen Liberal counterpart John Turner, Kim Campbell needed to have her position as Prime Minister of Canada confirmed by winning a general election. This did not happen. In the fall of 1993, the Conservative brand had been tarnished by Mulroney’s then wildly unpopular Goods and Services Tax, which he implemented on New Year’s Day 1991, as well as by a weak economy resulting from the lingering recession. Early in the 1993 campaign, Chrétien unveiled his Party’s election platform entitled Creating Opportunity: The Liberal Plan for Canada, which came to be widely referred to as the Red Book of election promises. While Chrétien’s skill in selling his Party’s Red Book to Canadians would play a role in the Liberals’ 1993 victory, the high unemployment rate and the sluggish Canadian economy would be the underlying catalyst that would propel the Liberals to power. When the dust settled on the evening of October 25th, the Conservatives were swept out of office, losing 154 of their 156 seats in the House of Commons as well as official party status.

Once elected, Chrétien named Paul Martin his Finance Minister and together they would run one of the most efficient governments and produce the most balanced back-to-back budgets of any government since the glory days of C.D. Howe and William Lyon Mackenzie King. In the spring of 1997, with the Opposition Reform Party and former Conservative Party fighting out their internal battles and the separatist Bloc Québécois controlling the majority of seats in Quebec, Prime Minister Chrétien called a general election, and, on June 2nd, the Liberals won another  majority government because of an improving economy, strong support in Ontario for Chrétien’s economic policies and his determination to slay the federal deficit, and a general resonance for the Party’s emphasis on national unity – a particularly visceral issue since Chrétien’s federalist forces had narrowly won the October 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, which would halt the Quebec separatists’ secession agenda for a generation.

Paul Martin at the 1990 Liberal Leadership Convention. PHOTO: JEAN-MARC CARISSE

At a practical level, the Chrétien-Martin austerity program to slay Canada’s deficit and get its financial books in order was one of the greatest achievements of any government in a half century. The Chrétien government’s tough measures and disciplined approach to the country’s finances produced results. By 1998, Canada’s deficit had been whittled away and the budget was balanced. Throughout the remainder of Jean Chrétien’s term as Prime Minister, with Paul Martin as Minister of Finance, Canada would continue to enjoy stellar economic growth and balanced budgets.

However, throughout this entire period, the Liberal Party’s internal family feud between the Martin and Chrétien forces was not contained – it was growing and getting out of hand.

In the fall of 2000, Prime Minister Chrétien called what would be his final election. He sought to simultaneously win another mandate from the Canadian people, stunt the growth in popularity of the western-based Canadian Alliance and circumvent a possible merger between the Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. Chrétien won a third consecutive majority government. However, this victory seemed to frustrate the Martin-ites as they saw that Chrétien seemed to be intent on staying Prime Minister for some time to come. To counter this, they accelerated their process of taking over Liberal riding associations and the key positions and structures of the Liberal Party of Canada.

By November 2002, at the very time the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party united to become the Conservative Party of Canada, the Martin Liberals had taken full control of most of the riding associations across Canada and were now in a position to force Chrétien from power. Seeing the writing on the wall, Chrétien announced he would leave, in late 2003, even though he was still a very popular Prime Minister and leading in the polls. There was no leadership race or any chance to bring in new members or have a debate about issues. Because Martin’s people controlled the vast majority of ridings and since the leadership was decided by delegates from those ridings, it was clear the process had been hijacked and Martin would be anointed leader. Several Chrétien Cabinets ministers wanted to run, including Finance Minister John Manley, Health Minister Allan Rock and others, but they knew it would be impossible to win because the delegate selection process was controlled by the ridings; a majority of which were controlled by Martin. On a purely tactical level, it is hard to fault Martin’s team. They wanted their man to be PM and Martin wanted the job. It was realpolitik in overdrive. Cabinet Minister and Former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps put her name on the ballot on principle and gave it a run anyway. She would pay for it later with some pretty shabby treatment by the Martin people when she lost, but she never lost her self-respect. It is why today people in the Liberal Party still admire Sheila Copps – always a fighter.

On November 14, 2003, Paul Martin became the leader of the Liberal Party, capturing 93 per cent of delegate support. On December 12th, 2003, he became Canada’s 21st Prime Minister. There was no real race, no renewal of the Party, no surge from young people who were excited to be behind a series of candidates who would fight out a battle of ideas to become the next Liberal Leader. The same month the Reform Party and Progressive Conservative Party united to become the Conservative Party of Canada, which would be led by newly-elected leader Stephen Harper, who proved to be a worthy adversary and tied Martin and the Liberals to an ongoing sponsorship scandal (AdScam or Sponsorgate, as it was known), which undermined the confidence many Canadians had in the Liberals.

Being well aware of the negative fallout that the sponsorship scandal was having for his Party, Prime Minister Martin campaigned in 2004 in a fashion that distanced himself and his Liberals from the government of his predecessor, Jean Chrétien. Behind the scenes, the Martin team blamed the entire scandal on the Chrétien people. Yet this strategy came with a substantial catch for the Martin government: it meant that he also had to distance himself from his Party’s achievements and his own personal achievements while serving as Chrétien’s Minister of Finance. Ironically, many of these same Martin advisors had given John Turner the same advice in the 1984 election. Run against your achievements – in fact, run away from them. As political scientist Stephen Clarkson put it: “The Martinites’ disowning of Chrétien over AdScam prevented them from claiming ownership of Martin’s great economic achievement as finance minister — eliminating the budgetary deficit and presiding over robust growth rates that improved Canada’s economic position to the point where it was the only G7 country to enjoy both fiscal and trade surpluses in 2002.”  These drawbacks likely contributed to the election’s outcome: a Liberal minority government.

The sponsorship scandal continued to plague Prime Minister Martin and his Liberals, so much so that in November 2005, the opposition parties in the House of Commons voted to pass a motion of non-confidence in the government. Having lost the confidence of the House, the Martin minority government was forced to head to the polls. On January 23rd, 2006, when the votes were tallied, nearly 13 years of Liberal rule had drawn to a close. It was Stephen Harper and the Conservatives who would now form a new minority government. Paul Martin, re-elected MP for LaSalle-Émard, would continue to represent his constituents in the House of Commons before eventually exiting politics in 2006. Martin and Chrétien had achieved great things for Canada together. However, their rivalry had also come with costs. Their respective political teams were so adversarial towards each other that it began to eat away at the stability of the Liberal Party itself. With their departure, the “family feud” between the factions remained.

Heading into the December 2006 Liberal Leadership in Montreal, The Liberal Party Establishment was clearly split in two with many of Chrétien’s former backroom people supporting Bob Rae, the former NDP Premier of Ontario and Liberal adversary – and brother of Chrétien’s closest aide John Rae – while most  of the former Martin-ites lined up behind Michael Ignatieff. Rae was viewed with great suspicion by many in the Party and Ignatieff was seen by many as a candidate contrived by the party establishment – an intellectual who had spent most of the previous three decades outside of Canada. Rae was positioned as a Liberal who could capture NDP support and Ignatieff was positioned as an intellectual and policy wonk with charisma.

However, the vast majority of Party delegates were fed up with the establishment. Most lined up with Stéphane Dion, Gerard

Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion at the 2006 Liberal Leadership Convention. PHOTO: JEAN-MARC CARISSE

Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion at the 2006 Liberal Leadership Convention. PHOTO: JEAN-MARC CARISSE

Kennedy, Ken Dryden, Scott Brison, Joe Volpe and Martha Hall Findlay. In a shocking twist, newcomer Martha Hall Findlay won about 100 more ballots on the first vote than expected. Findlay had shown some grit in travelling the country in a red bus looking for support. She had almost defeated the Tory Candidate Belinda Stronach in Aurora-Newmarket in the 2004 election. Hall Findlay was prepared to give it another go at Stronach and the Tories in the follow-up election but when Stronach crossed the floor in 2005 and joined the Liberals under Paul Martin (and staved off a vote that would have defeated the Martin Liberal Minority in Parliament), Hall Findlay was left without a seat as the Party establishment promised Stronach she could run in Aurora-Newmarket as the Liberal candidate. Hall Findlay was not consulted on this by the Party. She had singlehandedly built up support for the Liberals in the riding to have it stripped away without any say. She was not offered another seat. So she ran for the leadership.

After the first ballot, Hall Findlay walked with her votes into the Stéphane Dion camp. Dion and another Liberal candidate, Gerard Kennedy, had agreed they would join forces after the second ballot – whoever was ahead would continue on. Hall Findlay’s decision to go to Dion gave him enough votes to pass Kennedy on the follow-up ballot and Kennedy then joined Dion, which gave him enough votes to force Rae off the ballot. Most of Rae’s people went to Dion – also a Chretien protégé – and a Dion victory ensued. The Party delegates won while delivering a snub to the establishment. However, Dion’s tenure would prove to be disastrous.

Dion’s main problem was that he did not take advice and was very hard-headed. His focus on a carbon tax above all else was demonized by the Tories. In the 2008 election, the Conservatives picked up more seats in the crucial province of Ontario, while the Liberals lost almost two dozen seats with a continuation in the lack of support that led to their loss of power in 2006. Dion’s carbon tax policy proved fatal for the Liberals at a time when the global economy was in free fall and when the memory of record-setting oil prices that summer was still fresh in the minds of Canadians. The result of the 2008 general election was a second Conservative minority government led by Stephen Harper. When Dion, with Bob Rae’s support,  and the now much smaller caucus made a move to stop Harper from governing by forming  a coalition government with the Bloc Québécois and NDP  (against the advice of many in the Party), it proved catastrophic. Ignatieff did not commit to the deal and made it public that he was uncomfortable with it. The idea that Dion would prefer to govern with separatists whose sole purpose was to destroy Canada as we know it rather than a Conservative government committed to Canada proved to be the final straw. After significant pressure from the Caucus and the Ignatieff team, Stéphane Dion would step down as Leader of the Liberal Party.

At this point, Ignatieff’s team was pitching the line that the Party was close to bankruptcy and that it could not afford another leadership convention to democratically elect a new leader.  It would cost too much and was not necessary since there was this brilliant guy Michael Ignatieff who came second last time and was the current Deputy Leader and he could easily beat Harper. So, for the second time in seven years, the Liberal Party of Canada anointed a leader. No excitement, no campaign, no renewal. On May 2nd, 2009, Ignatieff – the renowned historian, academic and alumnus of Oxford and Harvard – was elected Leader of the Liberal Party and assumed the Office of Leader of the Official Opposition, a position he would retain until the crushing defeat of May 2011.

On April 14th, 2013 in Ottawa, the Liberals will select their next leader using a new untested “open convention” nomination process. In an attempt to capture the attention, votes and loyalty of younger Canadians (and also to reduce the influence of the traditional Liberal Party establishment), any Canadian citizen who is not a card-carrying member of one of the other federal political parties can vote for their choice of Liberal leadership candidate without having to join the Liberal Party.

The stakes could not be higher. Ironically, the same Liberal establish-ment that anointed Paul Martin and then Michael Ignatieff is now suggesting that Justin Trudeau, the 40-year-old son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, is the only answer for the Liberals. To be fair to Justin Trudeau, he did not ask to be anointed. Given his father’s legacy, the Trudeau name can be both a blessing and a curse in Canada. However, Justin Trudeau does bring a number of vital assets to the race: the key being name recognition and excitement. Pundits say he is a lightweight but that is unfair. He has surrounded himself with knowledgeable people; he is a charming orator, a quick study on issues and is well travelled in Canada and abroad.

He also has grit. He sent Ottawa into a frenzy last spring when he knocked the lights out of tough-talking Tory Senator Guy Brazeau in a charitable boxing match. In a room packed with Tory aides and MPs, Trudeau walloped Brazeau in the ultimate mano-a-mano fight. In a pre-fight press conference to promote the charity, Brazeau weighed in with a Speedo-like thong, long shoulder-length hair and mouthy attitude. Trudeau showed up in red and white trunks with his wavy hair and polite smile. The loser would have his long hair cut by the winner and wear the opponent’s party shirt and emblem for a week. On the night of the fight, Trudeau took some early hard hits and then after rope-a-doping Brazeau, proceeded to systematically clean his clock. What most did not know is that Trudeau has trained in a Montreal gym at Olympic-style boxing since he was in his twenties. You’d expect that – given he is Pierre Trudeau’s son – he is not going to get into a fight he can’t win. Just ask Senator Guy Brazeau. That is where Justin Trudeau should not be underestimated. He is not afraid of risks. He twice won election in his Montreal-area Papineau riding against serious Bloc Québécois opponents… choosing the hard road instead of a sure-thing riding. To date, his tenure in Ottawa has been unremarkable. But so was Stephen Harper’s before he became PM. Remember Harper had only been a political aide, a Member of Parliament and the head of the National Citizens Coalition – a lobby group – before becoming leader and PM. Trudeau has been tested twice in street politics and was a high school teacher and has a couple of university degrees. Most polls show Canadians have a high regard for teachers. The danger for the Liberal Party and for Justin Trudeau is that if no credible person runs against him in the leadership race, it could actually hurt him and the Liberal Party. Then the net effect of his entering the race could be the same as when Paul Martin ran in 2003 – he is viewed as unbeatable so there is no real race and Trudeau wins by anointment. He gets the Party leadership without being tested.

It is a tough decision for candidates because to enter they must pay a $75,000 fee to the Liberal Party. A dream pick for many Liberals is the Governor of the Bank of Canada Mark Carney. They believe Carney could beat Trudeau and then defeat Stephen Harper. Others mentioned include Montreal MP (Westmount–Ville-Marie) and former astronaut Marc Garneau, Ottawa South MP David McGuinty, British Columbia MP and former MLA Joyce Murray, former Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, University of Ottawa President and former Minister of Health and Minister of Justice Alan Rock, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi, former Ajax Pickering MP Mark Holland and former Willowdale MP Martha Hall Findlay. Lawyer Deborah Coyne has entered the race but did so even though she lost in a run for Parliament in Toronto Danforth in 2006.  Bertschi, Holland and Hall Findlay are all considered long shots because they lost in the 2011 election. Many in the Party assumed New Brunswick MP Dominique Leblanc would run, but he is backing Justin Trudeau.

When speaking during an exclusive interview for Ottawa Life Magazine, former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin expressed a great deal of optimism about the 2013 leadership race, saying that: “This coming year’s convention will give the Party a real shot in the arm and will provide great momentum and give the Liberal Party exactly the opening it needs.” But what kind of “opening” does the Liberal Party require? Paul Martin sheds some light on the matter by stressing that: “The current Canadian political climate is looking very favorable for the Liberal Party of Canada. This is because the entire progressive wing of the Conservative Party (or what used to be referred to as the Progressive Conservative Party) has left the scene.” Martin maintains that this trend will have negative ramifications, the most important of which signals that “we are heading in the direction of the extreme political polarization that you see in the United States.” Martin is adamant that an opening exists for the Liberal Party of Canada since “in Canadian politics at the federal level, we now have an extreme right-wing government with an extreme left-wing opposition.”

While the once formidable Liberal coalition – francophones outside Quebec; federalist francophones in Quebec; multicultural communities; blue-collar workers in the industrial cities of Ontario; progressives, business people and environmen-talists in the West; Atlantic Canadians in St. John’s, Halifax, Moncton and Saint John; the “business class” Liberals from Toronto – still exists, it has just not found a reason to coalesce around what was being called the Liberal Party in recent years. Previously, this impressive coalition mobilized at election time to secure the big ideas and values for which Liberals stood. When there are no big ideas or values present, people stay at home or join the other team.

Pessimists will argue that the country has passed the Liberals by. They say that the Liberals have become a collection of dilettantes and self-righteous intellectuals who get elected in pockets here and there. They say Liberals live on past glories and are not in a serious position to contend for power. The thing is that even though some of this is true, there is still a bright light burning for Liberals. Even the smartest NDP strategist will acknowledge Quebecers voted for Jack Layton, not the NDP; that the Harper government, despite its huge advantages, can’t break above 40 per cent in the polls due to its polarizing and prickly ways. The Liberal Party, like Canada and Canadians, remains a fundament-ally progressive, pragmatic, fiscally conservative entity. The Liberals’ problem is that they have not defined who they are and what they want to do since the day Jean Chrétien retired in 2003.

Paul Martin became Prime Minister but then ran away from his record with Chrétien which may have caused his premature demise after an exceptional political career. Stéphane Dion was in over his head and Michael Ignatieff was a nice guy with zero political instincts who was ravaged by his own inexperience. Bob Rae – the one-time chameleon and current interim Liberal Leader – seems to have come into his own Liberal skin since he announced he would not seek the Liberal Leadership in April 2013. As Interim Leader, Rae and the Liberal Caucus have performed well in the House of Commons and kept the Liberals front and centre and very relevant against the Mulcair-led NDP.

With Rae out of the race and focused on Harper, the Liberals can finally focus on redefining and reinventing themselves as they have done so many times in the past. But this will not be easy. The Liberal Party needs to pick a centrist, pragmatic, substantive, bilingual, charismatic, smart, expe-rienced and likeable person if they want to defeat Harper and put the NDP back into its traditional third-party turf. With Justin Trudeau, Marc Garneau, Martin Cauchon or Deborah Coyne, they can go back to their future and recapture the centre. The political middle – those Canadians who fall neither into the camp of the extreme right nor of the extreme left – is open for representation. But as a former Prime Minister of Canada and also a long-serving Minister of Finance, Paul Martin is quick to point out that: “Nothing is easy in politics.”

 

TOP PHOTO: JEAN-MARC CARISSE

 

Minky Worden Discusses the Unfinished Revolution: The Global Fight for Women’s Rights

November 5, 2012 12:05 pm
Minky Worden

More needs to be done to reduce global gender discrimination and to bring women closer to equality with men. So said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, a leading NGO, as she recently addressed a large crowd at the Ottawa Writers Festival.

Worden spoke at length about this pressing issue and about the challenges faced by the women’s rights movement in the 21st century. She also discussed the book she edited entitled The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights (with a foreword by Christiane Amanpour). The volume contains more than two dozen essays by respected authors, researchers and journalists, providing global and regionally-oriented perspectives on women’s rights and gender equality challenges.  The Unfinished Revolution examines many timely topics, including the implications of technological advances on women’s rights, the trafficking of women and girls, and the continuing struggle to expand gender-based equality in war-torn regions of the Middle East and the developing world. Closer to home, a revealing essay discusses the efficacy of government pursuance of post-rape forensic analysis and criminal investigations in the United States of America.

Speaking to an attentive audience, Worden stated that, although in varying degrees and from culture to culture, women’s rights and gender equality are global issues, “there is no one-size-fits-all policy for women’s rights.” Instead, she claims that to expand women’s rights and gender equality across the globe, activists, individuals and opinion leaders “must support local activists who are on the front lines in the struggle for women’s rights.” According to Worden, there is no magic formula for the global expansion of women’s rights. It can only be accomplished by continually striving to promote gender equality on a country-by-country and region-by-region basis and it remains dependent upon the help and expertise of those who are directly affected by existing inequality. “Each country should have its own benchmarks,” Worden said. However, these benchmarks cannot guarantee gender equality. “Having laws on the books is one thing, but enforcing them is another.”

Worden addressed the uphill struggle for women’s rights in much of the developing world, particularly in the Middle East where, even if a woman is abused physically or sexually by her husband, she cannot legally apply for a divorce. When discussing women’s rights (or the lack thereof) in much of the Middle East and Muslim world – particularly in Afghanistan – Worden observed that “with the military pull-out of Afghanistan fast approaching, there is fear of a humanitarian pull-out as well”… a very real possibility that, if the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), often called the Coalition Forces, is removed from Afghanistan, gains that were made for Afghan women and girls (like access to schooling and improved health care) will be reversed once the Taliban takes control. The Taliban and other radical Islamic factions could easily regain power in a country that is beset with corrupt governance and an inadequate, undisciplined military.

It takes time to effect change. We should not forget that it has been some 90 years since the world first saw visible positive change in the promotion of women’s rights and gender equality — the most fundamental of which likely remains the right to vote obtained by women in North America shortly after the end of the First World War. As Minky Worden puts it: “We need to look back at our history to judge how we are doing on women’s rights in the present. Without looking at the past, we cannot accurately assess the present.”

 

The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the global fight for women’s rights is in bookstores now.

 

 

Harper Government’s Disdain For Science

October 15, 2012 11:33 am
corbett

In recent years, science in Canada has come up against an increasing disdain for evidence-based decision making and a disappearing commitment to transparency. In brief, evidence-based policy-making in Canada is under attack and it is orchestrated by our own federal government.

In the absence of evidence, government policy is increasingly originating from ideological considerations. The abandonment of the long-form census in 2011, for example. No longer do Canadians have key social and economic data necessary to make well-informed public policy. There is sparse data upon which to base government policy decisions that involve the spending of millions (if not billions) of taxpayer dollars. The result is decision-making based on incomplete information that may lead to government waste, sometimes on a large scale.

This month, the ramifications of decision-making based on knee-jerk ideology as opposed to solid facts and figures hit home to the tune of almost $1.5 billion. On July 16, 2012, the Minister for Public Safety Vic Toews announced the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) would return $1.48 billion in funding to the Government of Canada. The additional number of offenders expected to result from the government’s new tough-on-crime legislation – including the Truth in Sentencing Act – failed to materialize as the Minister indicated. While projections pegged the inmate population at growing to almost 17,725 by June 2012, the actual figure was 14,965. As a result, CSC will return the funding originally allocated to support this increased offender population.

As worrying as the government’s spurious allocation of a billion and a half dollars on CSC expenditures may be, it is in the sciences where the government’s reliance on fiction over fact is most glaringly apparent. The government has made it official policy to gag scientists. Government scientists now have to be cleared by public affairs officials in Ottawa before they can speak to the media. Scientists have been so tightly gagged that media coverage of climate change issues has plummeted more than 80 per cent since 2007. (Compare this to the United States National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, which adopted a scientific integrity policy in January 2012. The U.S. government policy permits American scientists to speak about their work to anyone at any time.)

Then there was Kyoto. In December 2011, Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. In doing so, the Conservative Government abandoned the world’s only legally binding plan to tackle global warming and to save the planet.

This year, the federal government’s attack on science reached a new low. The government is now putting the very water Canadians drink and rely on at risk. In June 2012, the government announced the planned closure of the Experimental Lake Area (ELA) research station in northwestern Ontario that produces data critical to combating acid rain and phosphate pollution in lake water. The ELA is Canada’s only outdoor laboratory for scientists studying how to protect the country’s freshwater lakes. Without government funding, the research station will close in 2013. It was of importance not only to Canada. The ELA was the only facility in the world that allowed scientists to observe how entire ecosystems are affected by lake water pollution. Experiments at the facility included the dumping of acid, toxic metals and phosphorus to observe the effects on water and the surrounding environment. Defunding the ELA is a loss to the world and is a smear upon Canada’s reputation as a world leader in water conservation.

The funding cut to the ELA is one Canada’s scientific community can ill afford. By G7 standards, Canada’s investment in science was already low. Now it is perilously low. In 2006, Statistics Canada stated that Canada’s gross expenditure on research and development in science and technology was 1.9 per cent of gross national product (GDP).

On July 10, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) attended a rally on Parliament Hill. Thousands of scientists, academics and concerned citizens protested the cuts to science programs. While funding cuts at the forefront included the impending loss of Ontario’s ELA research station, other changes are also cause for alarm. Last month, Canada’s Fisheries Act – which has protected our fish stock for 35 years – was replaced with a new, looser regulatory regime. The new law creates defenses for polluters and significantly expands the scope for discretionary decisions by the Minister and staff of Fisheries and Oceans Canada as they make regulatory approvals. The changes will significantly undermine Canada’s ability to protect national fisheries now and in the future.

The cuts made by the Canadian government that protect core natural resources on which Canada’s economy is founded is of grave concern to PIPSC. In less than 12 months, the government of Canada continued to gag its own scientists, defunded a research facility of international importance and failed to ratify the world’s primary climate change agreement. In doing so, it has not only undermined Canada’s natural resources for future generations but smeared Canada’s international reputation.

Deception, Virulence and a Bomb: Iran Obstinately Moves Closer to the Nuclear Tipping Point

September 24, 2012 3:40 pm
Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The Canadian government’s sudden decision to sever all diplomatic ties with Iran earlier this month can be seen as a clear indication that, in the eyes of the Government of Canada, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s saber-rattling is fast-approaching the point of no return. Yet, in an attempt to avoid provoking a confrontation with Iran that could hurt his prospects of winning a second term, the President of the United States remains unwilling to draw a line in the sand addressing the consequences that would befall Iran should it not abandon its nuclear ambitions. Over a decade of American-led intelligence gathering, attempted diplomacy, cyber and industrial espionage and, more recently, months of what should have been crippling economic sanctions imposed upon Iran appear to be having little effect on slowing the Iranian regime’s quest to develop nuclear capabilities.

Under the political leadership of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the spiritual and philosophical leadership of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, the Iranian government continues to threaten the destruction of Israel on a regular basis (Israel being a country which sits a little over 1,000 kilometers to the west of Iran and therefore remains well within the range of an Iranian missile attack). A nuclear-enabled Iran would likely serve as the catalyst for launching nuclear development programs in many neighboring anti-western Middle-Eastern countries, many of which, like Iran, are state sponsors of terrorism and clearly fall within the region that the George W. Bush administration referred to as “the arc of instability.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Nevertheless, despite the stream of militant rhetoric and threats coming from Tehran, the Iranian government continues to claim that it is developing its nuclear program for civilian — and not military — purposes. However, evidence has revealed that Iran is continuing to enrich its uranium stockpiles well beyond the level required for civilian purposes such as power generation which the Iranian government purports to be its goal. That is despite the fact that Iran is home to close to 10% of the globe’s reserves of light sweet crude oil, a more-than-sufficient source of electrical power for Iran’s 74 million residents. In fact, enriching uranium to the level that is being undertaken by the Iranian regime can only serve one purpose: creating a nuclear weapon.

While the majority of those in the global intelligence, diplomatic and political professions are of the consensus that Iran continues to enrich uranium for the sole purpose of building a nuclear weapon, there is greater uncertainty about what might happen when Iran completes a nuclear bomb and about which delivery method or vehicle could be utilized to carry that nuclear weapon to a target. Some claim that the window of opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring, and potentially using, a nuclear device against the target of its most virulent threats (Israel) may be wider than expected since, even if Iran were able to develop a working nuclear bomb, it would take years to develop an effective delivery system enabling Iran’s pre-existing ballistic missiles to carry a nuclear payload. While this technical difficulty may indeed be true, the window of opportunity to stunt the growth of Iran’s nuclear program is likely much narrower since a ballistic missile may well be the last method that the Iranians would use if they were to follow through on their threats to rid the Middle East of what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has recently called the “cancerous tumor” of Israel. The real threat lies in the delivery and detonation of an Iranian nuclear weapon in Israel through more subtle, covert and easier means — like the trunk of a car.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

The Israeli government is well aware of this scenario and, unlike the current American administration, it appears to be more concerned about radioactive fallout from such a calamity rather than the political fallout that could damage an incumbent president’s re-election bid. The possibility of this worst case scenario is compelling the Israeli government and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to consider unilaterally initiating a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities — even though such a risky military maneuver could not guarantee a collapse of Iran’s nuclear program.

While such a preemptive military strike would doubtless lead to war with Iran, the retaliatory actions that Iran has threatened to take, should such a strike be executed, would be more destructive than the strike itself. High-ranking Iranian government officials have been threatening for quite some time to close the Strait of Hormuz (the narrow corridor in the Persian Gulf through which nearly 20% of the world’s oil exports travel each day) should Israel or any other nation attack Iran. Such a move by Iran would be short-lived since it would undoubtedly attract the full brunt of the American military upon the much smaller and much less well-equipped Iranian naval and air forces. Nonetheless such action would cause an economically crippling price spike in global energy markets that would translate into higher prices for all consumer products and would stunt the anemic economic growth to which the Western world is clinging as it pulls itself out of the deep recession that began in the fall of 2008. Even if the Strait of Hormuz were closed just for a day, the sky would be the limit on global crude oil prices.

Such a spike in global oil prices would be unimaginably damaging to the global economy since oil still is — and will remain for the foreseeable future — the lifeblood of any modern economy. A substantial increase in the price of oil slows economic growth, raising the price of everything from bananas to patio furniture and, in so doing, reduces general consumer spending and confidence. Such a result would clearly undermine President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election.

 

Publisher speaks to Justin Trudeau’s Liberal leadership potential

September 14, 2012 10:08 am
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Sun TV News interview with OLM Publisher, Dan Donovan, on Liberal Leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau.

A Tale of Two Conventions: The Summer Campaign for the White House Draws to a Close

September 11, 2012 3:26 pm
Democratic National Convention

With both the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) now over, the American summer political season has officially drawn to a close. Last week’s DNC in Charlotte, North Carolina and the previous week’s Republican counterpart in Tampa, Florida offered both parties a three-to-four day opportunity to re-energize their political base and to redefine their party’s presidential candidate. The climax of each convention came when incumbent President Barack Obama as well as his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, spoke at length to make a direct, uninterrupted appeal to the millions of Americans watching on television. Each man explained how he would jumpstart the near-stagnant American economy as well as the direction in which he would steer the country as he forged four years worth of policies from behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

Pundits on both sides of the aisle will undoubtedly continue to argue that one convention (or one speech) was more effective than the other but the fact remains that, post convention, each party is simply hoping to gain and maintain the traditional bump in the polls. But this year’s presidential election race has proven time and again to be anything but traditional: given the razor-thin margin separating Obama and Romney, even the slightest boost in public opinion must be maintained at any cost. For example, President Obama’s national approval ratings are stuck below 50% (although he appears to be slightly ahead of Romney in many of the all important “swing states”) and he is still lagging behind Governor Romney in terms of who the American people think could do a better job turning around America’s sputtering economy.

Barack Obama delivering his speech at the Democratic National Convention

Of those Americans planning to vote in the November 6th Presidential election, most have probably already chosen their candidate and they will not alter their decision. Thus, the battle now rages for the small portion of the American public that is undecided and also for the handful of states that could flip to either party without warning (the aforementioned “swing states”). Both Obama and Romney intended to use their speeches to simultaneously appeal to their parties’ base and to entice these undecided “independent” voters to vote for them rather than for their opponent. This is no easy task to accomplish. Both Romney and Obama offered speeches that sought to redefine themselves positively while defining their opponent negatively, all the while outlining the direction in which their administration would take the country and describing the policy items and priorities that they would pursue. The last of these goals remains the most convoluted since both men delivered speeches that were heavy on rhetoric and platitudes but light on the specific details about how they would deal with the one thing that matters most to Americans in this election cycle: the economy.

In his speech to the stadium full of Republican delegates and media journalists, Romney was quick to frame himself as a pragmatic businessman with the private sector experience needed to turn around America’s ailing economy and also to frame the President as an inexperienced and resentful neophyte when it comes to managing the U.S. economy. On this topic he stated that, “And yet the centerpiece of the President’s reelection campaign is attacking success. Is it any wonder that someone who attacks success has led the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression?” He then went on to characterize the President as an apologetic and ineffectual leader by stating that, “In America, we celebrate success. We don’t apologize for success.” Romney then invoked the spirit of Ronald Reagan by identifying that “The President cannot tell us that you’re better off today than when he took office,” a comment that harkens back to then candidate Ronald Reagan’s effective televised appeal to the American public during which, one week prior to his defeating incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Presidential election, Reagan asked, “It might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago?” Romney also discussed the importance of returning America to a path of fiscal and economic prudence through addressing the nation’s crippling debt accumulation.

2012 Republican National Convention, Tampa, Florida, America - 30 Aug 2012

Romney hoped to draw a clear ideological line in the sand to separate his vision of the way that the American economic system should function from that advocated by the President and the Democratic Party. With this goal in mind, Romney stated that, “It doesn’t take a special government commission to tell us what America needs. What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.” He inferred that Obama has become fixated on issues that are less important to the majority of Americans and offered himself as a clear, common-sense alternative to the President by pointing out that, “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” Romney proposed to help Americans and their families through a five-step plan to create 12 million new jobs within the next eight years. That said, aside from identifying the importance of making North America energy independent by taking full advantage of America’s vast hydrocarbon fuel sources, removing unnecessary barriers to the use of hydrocarbon fuels from Canada and Mexico, increasing the skills and training necessary for successfully competing in the increasingly competitive global economy and by “forging new trade agreements,” it should be said that the specifics about how these 12 million new jobs would be created were sparse.

A week later, President Obama also delivered a speech that too was heavy on rhetoric and light on details about what the second chapter of an Obama presidency would specifically entail. Near the beginning of his speech, Obama pointed out an undeniable fact about modern high-stakes political campaigning by noting that often, “The truth gets buried under an avalanche of money and advertising.” Yet, instead of offering the American public a clear idea of what he would pursue if given a second term, he tried to portray himself as an elder statesman representing a far different ideological perspective and vision for twenty-first centuryAmerica than that outlined by Romney.

Furthermore, Obama’s speech was full of words about what he has deemed to be his foreign policy triumphs but which largely ignored a detailed discussion of the domestic priorities that are the top concern of the American people, the most important being how to heal the American economy. On this topic, the President said little but he did stress the importance of “patience.” However, after four years of economic policies that have not substantially reduced America’s economic woes and with the release of yet another month’s worth of disappointing job reports last Friday, a new campaign slogan of “patience,” not to mention the previous election cycle’s “hope” and “change,” may not be palatable to a country that continues to be home to a mass of unemployed and underemployed voters representing more than double the total population of Greece.

 

Part Three: Horse Sense & Government Nonsense

July 30, 2012 9:02 am
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Public-Private Partnerships Are Not Subsidies

The Ontario government’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program has a detrimental effect for Ontario’s vibrant horseracing and equine industries.

The McGuinty government’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program has become a political football which has been kicked back and forth between the OLG, the Liberal government and the NDP (the Progressive Conservatives have been on the sidelines due to their decision to withhold support for the Ontario Budget even before it was announced), with no one party clearly wanting to deal with the consequences that ending the program would have for the province. The OLG’s play is summed up by their spokesman Tony Bitonti, who insists that “the implications for ending it fall into the camp of the government, since Slots at Racetracks is a government policy and we’re a Crown corporation, not a government body.”

The Liberal government’s play is to set up a straw man argument, presenting itself as making a tough but necessary choice between continuing to support the province’s health care and education systems or its horseracing industry, a clearly fictitious argument. Dwight Duncan’s spokesperson Aly Vitunski captures the government’s play by stating that “we are committed to the people in the industry, but there comes a point when it’s health care and education or horseracing. It’s unfortunate but we have to choose health care and education.” Health care and education on the one hand and horse racing on the other are not mutually exclusive. In fact, much of the McGuinty government’s 75 per cent share of the revenue generated from the Slots at Racetracks Program is allocated to providing generous support for health care and education in Ontario.

The example of one Ottawa-based racetrack demonstrates that the “either or” play used by the Liberal government does not stand up to scrutiny. Jean Larose, general manager of Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton Raceway, states that: “Since the Slots Program began, Rideau Carleton Raceway has generated $643 million for the provincial government that is specifically earmarked to be spent on health-care costs for all Ontarians. That represents the cost of nearly 80,000 hip replacements.”

Many in the industry view the panel and its $50 million fund as little more than an economic band-aid and an attempt by the government (and also the NDP) to show that they care about the 55,000 non-unionized industry workers.

It should also be noted that, on the issue of health care, the Ontario government has a less than sterling record. On Premier Dalton McGuinty and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s watch, eHealth squandered more than $1 billion in taxpayers’ money on the province’s failed initiative to create electronic health records for Ontarians. And, earlier this year, it came to light that Ornge, the province’s not-for-profit air ambulance provider, lost more than $200 million of taxpayers’ money through mismanagement. Allegations of unsound business practices and questionable invest-ments, some unrelated to running an air ambulance service, were compounded by the fact that the number of patients transported by Ornge was steadily declining. But the funding Ornge received from the Ontario government increased rather than decreased. The McGuinty government claims that Ontario must act now and choose between, as Aly Vitunski said, “health care and education or horseracing.” Yet, in the case of Ornge, the government was informed of alleged wrongdoing long before it was finally forced to act. One might wonder why the government is now moving so quickly to terminate a successful revenue-sharing program like the Slots at Racetracks Program when it was in no hurry to deal with the Ornge debacle.

Andrea Horwath, the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, delegated the NDP’s play in the Slots at Racetracks political football game to NDP MPP Taras Natyshak, who has been the party’s point man on this issue. Representing the riding of Essex which is closely tied to the horseracing industry, Natyshak stated that “the Ontario government’s decision is not a prudent move and is fiscally irresponsible.” (…) “The provincial NDP as a whole disagree with the Premier and the Ontario government’s decision.” However, actions speak louder than words. When asked what exactly this statement meant and why the NDP abstained rather than vote against the Budget if it so strongly disagreed with the government’s decision, Natyshak responded that, “because the modernization initiative was spearheaded by a government agency, OLG, it did not rear its head in the context of the Budget. No amendments within the Budget could have been made by us to specifically address the OLG modernization initiative since the details of the initiative were absent and they were the prerogative of the OLG.”

Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP were prepared to vote against the Budget over wages for unionized government workers but would not do the same for the province’s horseracing and equine industry because of the OLG modernization plan’s lack of clarity and detail. Instead, the NDP claim to have won a victory for Ontario’s horseracing and equine industry by having secured the $50 million funding for the Horse Racing Transition Panel.

However, many in the industry view the panel and its $50 million fund as little more than an economic band-aid and an attempt by the government (and also the NDP) to show that they care about the 55,000 non-unionized industry workers. In politics, per-ception is reality. Across the aisle, Liberal Minister McMeekin says: “We in agriculture had nothing to do with the OLG decision. We discovered it about the same time as everyone else did.” And so the political football continues to be passed.

Many in the industry adamantly insist the government needs to realize it wrongly assumed that ending the Slots at Racetracks Program would adversely affect only the upper echelon of Canadian society.

Regardless of who assumes responsibility for ending the Slots Program, it is abundantly clear that the issue as a whole can be seen as symbolic of a predominantly urban-focused and urban-centric government being unable to understand a predominantly rural-based industry and way of life. As Dennis Mills puts it, “very few legislators understand how this industry works because most legislators are from cities” and they are unfamiliar with the horseracing and equine world. Ian Russell explains that many legislators who hail from Ontario’s cities have a preconceived notion that horseracing is a sport limited to Bay Street investment bankers and corporate lawyers who own and race thoroughbreds. This is not the case. “In fact, the majority of the tracks in Ontario race standardbred horses that are owned, trained, managed and raced by salt-of-the-earth, everyday Ontarians,” Russell says.

Many in the industry adamantly insist the government needs to realize it wrongly assumed that ending the Slots at Racetracks Program would adversely affect only the upper echelon of Canadian society. Or, as Anna Meyers explains, “the Ontario government needs to look at the whole province and not just the urban centres when it considers the implications for any decision it makes.” The argument could be made that this was not the case with its cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program.

Instead, the government suddenly and unilaterally ended a program that has allowed the horseracing and equine industry to thrive in Ontario. And, as Conservative Senator Bob Runciman points out, “a true cost-benefit analysis of ending the Slots at Racetracks Program has not yet been undertaken.” He goes on to state that the decision “doesn’t make any sense” because when a production line at an Oshawa automotive assembly plant is shut down with a loss of about 2,000 jobs, there is blanket coverage in the media. Yet, when the province’s entire horseracing and equine industry, accounting for some 55,000 jobs, is placed on life support by a hastily implemented government decision, there is very little coverage by the media.

The reasoning behind this event continues to defy logic. The McGuinty government’s past eHealth and Ornge boondoggles pale in comparison with the likely long-term loss of revenue and the number of Ontarians who will be forced to rely on unemployment or social welfare programs, given their industry-specific skills which are not easily transferable. The province’s unresearched and unpredictable decision to terminate the lucrative Slots at Racetracks Program will have lasting consequences. Senator Runciman sums this up by stating that “maybe the original contract and revenue-sharing agreement should have been updated or renegotiated, but to blindside everyone by unilaterally ending the program without even doing a cost-benefit analysis speaks volumes about the unpreparedness and hastiness of this government.”

The Slots at Rideau Carleton Raceway generated $52 million for the City of Ottawa, which the city has said helps keep annual municipal property tax increases lower.

The impact of that questionable decision will be felt by more than the 55,000 Ontario workers who are part of the horseracing and equine industry with its web of ancillary businesses. The province’s horse tracks are not just the workplaces of jockeys, trainers, and farriers – nor do they simply provide a venue for the leisure of gamblers and spectators. The tracks also serve as meeting places for people from all walks of life. For instance, Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton Raceway has been the home of the Gloucester Fair for the past 13 years. Every year, the Raceway hosts fundraising events for more than 100 charities and businesses, as well as the annual events of several embassies.

It is also worth noting that much of the revenue that has been raised from the 14-year-old Slots Program is being put to use outside the tracks themselves. The Rideau Carleton Raceway’s general manager Jean Larose explains that: “The Slots at Rideau Carleton Raceway generated $52 million for the City of Ottawa which the city has said helps keep annual municipal property tax increases lower.” Thus, even city dwellers will feel the impact of the Slot Program’s termination as more of the province’s horseracing tracks will be forced to call off all bets and close down. Ultimately, the termination of the Slots at Racetracks Program will be a great loss to Ontario and to Canada as a whole because as Dennis Mills notes, “there’s no other product in Canada that has the global sports presence and the tourism reach of horseracing in Ontario, but a lot of city people don’t know this.”

Many Ontarians who live in rural areas are well aware of the importance of the province’s horseracing industry, the third largest of its kind in North America. Dr. Garth Henry is one of those people. He has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in building and operating his veterinary practice and horse training facility and is very conscious of the negative effect that cancellation of the Slots Program will have for his business and for his employees.

Dr. Henry states that when the program ends on March 31, 2013, “the Hamstan Farm’s training facility will be shut down overnight and the 13 people who work there will be unemployed immediately.” As will doubtless be the case for similar businesses in Ontario’s horseracing and equine industry, the future does not look rosy for the 100-acre Hamstan Farm. It will become the victim of an urban-centric government that is seeking to reduce its $15-billion deficit at the expense of the Slots at Racetracks Program.

Part Two: Horse Sense & Government Nonsense

July 27, 2012 4:43 pm
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Public-Private Partnerships Are Not Subsidies

The Ontario government’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program has a detrimental effect for Ontario’s vibrant horseracing and equine industries.

This is a serious problem with major ramifications. Dennis Mills, the former Liberal MP whose web site Racing Future builds awareness of Ontario’s horseracing and equine industries, points out that the industry is considered to be one of the top three in the world. He states that: “Our province has a horseracing industry that is of similar calibre to that of the United States (home to the renowned Kentucky Derby) and England (which hosts the world-famous Royal Ascot).” High-profile Canadian races like the Queen’s Plate, North America’s longest-running annual horse race, are broadcast and webcast worldwide with betting from all corners of the globe. Furthermore, Ontario has become the world’s premier harness racing destination. As a result of this importance, Ontario horseracing “is an industry that represents a huge valuable export market for Canada in terms of horses, trainers, equipment and expertise,” Mills states.

Terminating the Slots at Racetracks Program threatens the very existence of this enviable industry. As Jane Holmes vice-president of corporate affairs at the Woodbine Entertainment Group, owner of the Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto  states: “You may see horseracing survive in Ontario, but it certainly will not be the international sport that it is today.” There will also be a negative impact on the purse for races. Holmes says that even “if we have enough money to survive, the purse for the surviving races will simply be too small to sustain the sport.” Put differently, without the program, the purse money will not cover the high costs associated with breeding, training, feeding, maintaining and racing a horse in Ontario. This is crucial, because over 60 per cent of the horseracing industry’s take from its share of slot machine revenue is used to pay for purses.

As Robert Wright, the former lead veterinarian for Equine and Alternative Livestock at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and publisher of the Horse News and Views web site, explains: “Horse owners receive their share of the Slot revenue through money added to the purses and they reinvest these winnings in the local economy, purchasing everything from feed and bedding to vehicles and trailers.” Owning and maintaining a single horse costs upwards of $20,000 annually and “a reduction in purses trickles down to lower spending power.” As a result, certain rural communities that depend on this spending for their existence will likely disappear.

Ontario horseracing “is an industry that represents a huge valuable export market for Canada in terms of horses, trainers, equipment and expertise,”-Dennis Mills

Ending the long-standing program also threatens the viability of the many industries that help support the horseracing industry. The most immediate of these is the heart and soul of the equine industry: the breeding industry — and it is particularly hard hit by the decision to end the Slots Program. Anna Meyers (of the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association) captures the essence of the problem by stating that “with the government’s decision, there will be a ripple effect that will be felt across the province.” But that ripple effect will likely be first felt by Ontario’s horse breeders since, as she explains: “Breeders need almost five years of lead time to respond to changing market forces.” Because the breeders were not forewarned about the cancellation of the program, they did not have the required lead time to compensate for the sudden lack of demand for race-ready horses arising from the cancellation. To make matters worse, “breeders in Ontario are sitting on roughly three years worth of horses due to the timing of the birth to yearling sales to racing process.”

Because of the prevailing climate of uncertainty, the breeding of mares and the sales of yearlings have dropped off more than 40 per cent since the program’s termination was announced, according to Robert Wright. Anna Meyers explains that not only have breeders’ sales been cut in half, but clients are refusing to pay stud fees and many of the mares that were boarded in Ontario have left the province for safer breeding markets with stable sire stakes programs.

A similar story can be told of Ontario’s veterinary industry. Like doctors, veterinarians have different specialties and areas of practice. Because of the stature of Ontario’s horseracing industry, Ontario has some of the most sophisticated and renowned equine veterinarians and veterinary facilities in North America. However, after the Slots Program is discontinued, things may very well change.

As Dr. Garth Henry, a long-time practicing equine veterinarian who owns the Russell Equine Veterinary Service located just outside Ottawa in Russell and owner of Hamstan Farm, one of the premier horseracing training facilities in eastern Ontario explains, “access to equine veterinary treatment in the province will decline substantially” as a result of the government’s decision. There will simply be a much smaller demand for the services provided by equine veterinarians. Dr. Henry states that this will lead to a “mass exodus of Ontario’s equine veterinarians,” the majority of whom will likely be forced to relocate their practices to American states like Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania which are less likely to discriminate against the horseracing and equine industries.

The farming industry in Ontario has also suffered from the Liberal government’s sudden cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program.

The farming industry in Ontario has also suffered from the Liberal government’s sudden cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program. Mark Wales, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), states that “a lot of our members supply hay and oats to those who breed horses in Ontario” and that the demand for feed rises and falls with the demand for horses. Mark Wales notes that many of Ontario’s farmers will need to adjust their business models and explains that: “Farmers selling oats, hay and straw for racing will have to switch their crops to sell more crops that aren’t as dependent on the equine industry. This will represent a substantial loss of market for hay, oats and straw.”

Changing the staple crops a farmer grows is an expensive process and can be particularly difficult for those who have specialized in equine-specific crops and who may lack the skill sets and resources required to change.

In June, the Ontario government created its face-saving Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel in an attempt to find a way to ensure the survival of the horseracing and equine industry post-March 31, 2013. The panel is chaired by three knowledgeable former politicians representing the three provincial parties: Elmer Buchanan (NDP), John Snobelen (PC) and John Wilkinson (Liberal). They are tasked with creating a meaningful dialogue with the Ontario horseracing and equine industry to smooth the transition from the “dependency” of the Slots Program to what is deemed a “more sustainable” business model.

The panel has $50 million and three years to accomplish this task. Yet, the viable business model in question must be implemented before this September’s yearling sales, without which the remaining 50 per cent of Ontario’s breeding industry would likely collapse and the horseracing industry would be as defunct as Quebec’s. But even if the panel is able to reach a relevant conclusion, what will the horseracing and equine industry be able to transition to?

As Sue Leslie says on behalf of the OHRIA: “The panel and the broader provincial government need to understand that the industry is not looking for a way to transition out of existence. It is looking for a way to transition to a more sustainable but still profitable business model. I don’t see the government reversing its position and therefore it will be a huge challenge to adopt to this environment, a challenge which is simply impossible to overcome in a mere three years.”

Undoubtedly, the horseracing and equine industry knows that the stakes couldn’t be any higher. And, as Elmer Buchanan says on behalf of the panel, “we are well aware that we have a short timeline.” However, Buchanan feels that there should be a new model for the industry whose “dependency on the increased slot revenue happened by accident.”

Although some in the industry are hopeful that the panel can reach an agreeable, realistic and tenable conclusion and create a business plan with input from industry members, that remains to be seen.

Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Ted McMeekin (now responsible for the phasing out of the Slots Program) explains what he sees as one of the biggest problems with the current program by stating that the industry “needs a path that allows it to function without being artificially propped up by the revenue from slot machines.” Although McMeekin represents the riding of Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, a riding which is home to many horse farms and to Flamboro Downs, one of the province’s most popular racetracks, his description of Ontario’s horseracing industry as being “artificially propped up” is reminiscent of the flawed reasoning of Finance Minister Dwight Duncan who does not seem to understand that the Slots at Racetracks Program is a public-private revenue-sharing program and not a subsidy.

Nevertheless, Minister McMeekin’s vision for the new business model is “a model that won’t require artificially propping up the horseracing industry and that will have roughly 60 per cent of what the industry used to be, albeit running more efficiently.” This will likely be difficult to translate into reality given both the time constraints and the paltry $50 million allocated for this process. As Anna Meyers notes, “that $50 million doesn’t even begin to cover the losses that the breeding industry alone faced this year.”

Ian Russell explains why many in the industry view the transition panel as a toothless paper tiger by stating that “$50 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the billion plus dollars the industry generates for the province every year under the Slots Program.” In fact, Ed McHale of the NCRHHA is quick to point of that “the $50 million would be enough to cover the purse money at Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton Raceway but not the other tracks in the province as well.” Russell sums up the frustration felt by many in the industry when he says that “the panel is merely a way for the government to deflect criticism that it is ignoring the consequences its decision will have for the horseracing and equine industries.”

Although some in the industry are hopeful that the panel can reach an agreeable, realistic and tenable conclusion and create a business plan with input from industry members, that remains to be seen. But the buck stops with the transition panel because, as Buchanan says: “We’re not going to come out with a Plan B.” Aside from the limited funding allocated to the panel, each day that goes by without a viable new plan pushes Ontario’s once vibrant industry closer to collapse and the Ontarians who work in it closer to the unemployment line.

Continued in Part Three: Horse Sense & Government Nonsense 

Part One: Horse Sense & Government Nonsense

July 26, 2012 4:34 pm
mare-and-foal_0

Public-Private Partnerships Are Not Subsidies

The Ontario government’s decision to end the Slots at Racetracks Program has a detrimental effect for Ontario’s vibrant horseracing and equine industries.

THE COMEDIAN GROUCHO MARX ONCE COMMENTED that: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” That observation may well describe the Ontario government’s decision to abruptly end the Slots at Racetracks Program, a successful revenue-sharing program that has, for almost 15 years, mutually benefited the government, the horseracing and equine industries and many small towns in rural Ontario.

The vehicle for the Ontario government’s unexpected decision was its March 27, 2012 Budget when Finance Minister Dwight Duncan rose to his feet at Queen’s Park and unveiled the document entitled Strong Action for Ontario. It outlined how Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government would eliminate the province’s massive $15-billion deficit within the next five years. Ontario horsemen, jockeys, breeders, equine suppliers, black-smiths, saddlers, veterinarians and farmers had no warning that contained within the 332-page document was a proposed initiative named Modernizing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), which would eliminate the Slots at Racetracks Program by March 31, 2013, threatening the sustainability of the industry and a large segment of Ontario’s agricultural industry that it supports.

Since its inception in 1998, the Slots at Racetracks Program earned Ontario roughly a billion dollars in revenue every single year.

Since its provincial government-initiated inception in 1975, the OLG has been the Crown corporation responsible for running Ontario’s gaming industry, ranging from the sale of lottery and bingo tickets to the oversight of Ontario’s many resort casinos. Betting on the horses has been a time-honoured practice in Ontario since before Confederation, but, with the introduction of the Slots Program in 1998, horseracing became more closely tied to the gaming industry. The Budget initiative’s plan to remove slot machines from racetracks will undoubtedly loosen those ties. But why would their removal deliver such a crippling blow to the horseracing and equine industry, the second largest sub-sector of Ontario’s agricultural economy? The answer can be found in first identifying why OLG and the Ontario government put slot machines at the racetracks in the first place and also how the program functioned for the past
14 years.

Under a revenue-sharing agreement, profits from slot machines located at the tracks were split among the government, the horseracing and equine industry and the rural municipalities where the slot machines were located. The government received 75 per cent of every dollar spent at a provincial track and the industry got 10 per cent for wages and employment purposes. An additional 10 per cent was distributed to the racetracks to augment the purses of prize money, to maintain the tracks and for renovations. The final 5 per cent went to the rural municipalities. The subtext of the initial implementation of the Slots at Racetracks Program reveals a financial olive branch offered to the horseracing industry and a calculated conclusion based on social perception.

In the 1990s, knowing that slot machines were a crucial source of revenue, the OLG and the government needed to find an appropriate venue to expand the use of slots beyond Ontario’s numerous pre-existing casino facilities. Social perception made this a difficult task, since many Ontarians were reluctant to have new gambling facilities anywhere near where they lived. The province’s racetracks soon came to be seen as the appropriate place for the excess slot machines. As Ian Russell – president of Canada’s largest equine supplier, Greenhawk Harness and Equestrian Supplies Inc. – explains, “[the] racetracks are already located in socially acceptable places for gambling to occur.” Ed McHale, who serves as director of the National Capital Region Harness Horse Association (NCRHHA), offers the Ottawa-area perspective on this same issue by noting that: “Nobody wanted the slots anywhere and they decided that the best place (because they had nowhere else to put them) was the racetracks.” Yet there was another reason that the province’s newly expanded slot facilities found what many thought would be a permanent home at the province’s racetracks: a compromise with the horseracing industry.

Anna Meyers, president of the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association, identifies the compromise offered to the racing industry by the OLG in 1998 by stating that “we knew with the introduction of slot machines at racetracks, there would be some cannibalization of the wagers placed on the horses involved in horseracing, but we also knew that the revenue-sharing element of the Slots at Racetracks Program could also raise a lot of money both for the horseracing industry and the province.”

Or, as John Macmillan, executive director of NCRHHA, puts it: “We thought we could play off of one another, allowing both horseracing (through bets placed on horses) and the slot machines to be profitable. We felt that it would even out, because whatever revenue the industry lost through reduced wagers placed on horses due to the presence of the slot machines would be offset by the share of revenue kept from the slot machines.” And, as the results demonstrate, these two competing forms of gambling were able to “play off of one another” for quite some time.

The Ontario government and OLG have attempted to rationalize their decision to end the Program on purely economic grounds.

Since its inception in 1998, the Slots at Racetracks Program earned Ontario roughly a billion dollars in revenue every single year, most of which was gladly accepted by the province to help pay for essential services. In fact, between 2001 and 2011, after OLG commissions and expenses were deducted, the program delivered over $9 billion in revenue to the province. Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars from the horseracing industry’s portion of the lucrative revenue-sharing agreement were reinvested in the horseracing community. In 2010 alone, the industry received $334 million from its share of the Slots Program. That $334 million was split down the middle between the horse owners, racers, trainers and breeders on the one hand, and the racetracks on the other hand.

However, the $334 million pales in comparison with the approximately $2.3 billion the industry spent in Ontario that same year. Most of the $2.3 billion was spent in rural communities, stimulating the local economy through the purchase of services like training and grooming or goods like saddles, trucks, trailers and gasoline. All of these essential goods and services, part of the cost of doing business in Ontario’s thriving horseracing and equine industry, provided additional tax revenue for Ontario. But with the delivery of the Ontario Budget on that cold day in March, and its passage on the first day of summer three months later, the fate of the Slots at Racetracks Program was officially sealed.

The Ontario government and OLG have attempted to rationalize their decision to end the Program on purely economic grounds. They maintain that it is a necessary first step in the modernization initiative which will promote economic efficiency in the province’s gaming industry and will help reduce the province’s unsustainably high deficit. However, the reasoning simply does not add up. On page 39 of the Ontario Budget, it is stated that the modernization initiative will further benefit the province since it “will create 2,300 net new jobs in the gaming industry and nearly 4,000 additional jobs in the hospitality and retail sector by 2017-18.” While this may seem positive, closer examination reveals that it requires a tradeoff that is less-than-beneficial for Ontario.

The Budget speaks of “public sector investment” that will be reduced while still allowing the province’s gaming industry to make more revenue “through shifting day-to-day operations of gaming sites and lottery distribution to private operations.” Is this realistic? Bear in mind that this “public-sector investment” of about $345 million between 2011 and 2012 (and the cumulative total of roughly $3.7 billion that made its way to the horseracing industry from 1998 to date) is not a “subsidy”, as Dwight Duncan has said in the past. It represents the horseracing industry’s portion of the revenue accumulated under the Slots at Racetracks Program, a revenue-sharing agreement, not a “subsidy.”

“There’s an absolute genuine possibility that there will not be horseracing in Ontario in two or three years from now,” says Sue Leslie.

Will the modernization initiative’s plan raise more revenue than is now being generated by the current revenue-sharing program when the revenue provided by the OLG’s lottery and bingo operations has remained largely stagnant and that generated from charity and resort casinos has declined? Nevertheless, OLG’s modernization initiative projects that by eliminating the Slots Program, its most profitable revenue stream, and by further developing gaming operations which have historically returned less revenue to OLG and the province, net revenues will increase by more than $500 million by 2015. OLG spokesman Tony Bitonti explained how this paradoxical situation could be plausible by claiming that: “At the moment, it may be true that the bulk of revenue in the gaming industry comes from slots, but the demographics are changing. More and more people are becoming interested in table games.” Maybe so, but the OLG’s own data seems to show that the resort and charity casinos that provide a cross-section of slot machines and table games continue to see their revenue decline.

Perhaps the answer can be found in the cautionary tale of Quebec’s experiment with revenue restructuring in its gaming industry which led to a nightmare scenario that could be repeated in Ontario — but at a higher risk of 55,000 jobs lost. In 2006, Quebec’s horseracing industry undertook a revenue-restructuring initiative that resulted in the total collapse of the province’s horseracing industry and a near-death experience for the province’s equine industry two years later. The plan was to privatize the horseracing industry by allowing a private sector company called Attractions Hippiques to install Video Lottery Terminals (VLTs) in restaurants and bars while removing many of the existing VLTs from the province’s tracks and restricting Off-Track Betting. These actions, coupled with mismanagement, led to an inability to generate sufficient revenue through diversification and the subsequent bankruptcy of Attractions Hippiques. The horseracing and equine industries disintegrated almost overnight. Today, there remains only about 13 per cent of the pre-2006 jobs in Quebec’s horseracing and breeding industry. While VLTs were found in 6 per cent of Quebec’s tracks, slot machines are now present at (but will shortly be removed from) 100 per cent of Ontario tracks. The stakes could hardly be higher or the fallout worse from the sudden removal of the slots, because 10 per cent of their revenue had been kept by each track under the Slots Program.

The OLG and Ontario government predict that the modernization initiative will increase job opportunities for the gaming and hospitality industries. This is an attempt to divert attention away from the fact that, by adding some 6,000 jobs in five or six years’ time, Ontario risks sacrificing its horseracing and equine industries, as well as their satellite industries which employ about 55,000 Ontarians in full-time, part-time and seasonal jobs. The government position is perplexing since the modernization initiative has already caused 560 layoffs when the slots operations in Sarnia, Windsor and Fort Erie were closed down in April.

When speaking about the direct implications of the McGuinty government’s sudden decision, Sue Leslie, who serves as the President of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA), the organization which is the voice of horse racing in the province, captured the urgency of the situation by stating that, “there’s an absolute genuine possibility that there will not be horse racing in Ontario in two or three years from now.” John Macmillan from the NCRHHA elaborates on the fallout of the government’s decision by noting that, “there has been almost no investment in horse racing in Ontario since the ending of the Slots at Racetracks Program was announced in March.”

Continued in Part Two: Horse Sense & Government Nonsense 

“Changing the Conversation”: Campaign Distractions on the Road to the White House

July 23, 2012 9:00 am
Don Draper

In an episode of Mad Men, the popular series set in the early 1960s, Madison Avenue advertising executive Don Draper offers this advice to a colleague: “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation.” This dictum is not limited to the realm of advertising.

Last week’s coverage of the American presidential campaign, shows that both Democrat and Republican political operatives are attempting to use the tactic to reframe the November election in a way which favors their candidate and diminishes his opponent. But one party appears to be doing a better job than the other in “changing the conversation.”

As election day approaches in a presidential contest which will likely be the most significant since the pivotal 1860 election (in terms of establishing the general trajectory of the country and what it means to be American). Both incumbent President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney no longer appear to be running issues-based campaigns.

If Obama were to “change the conversation” of the campaign to divert attention away from both these issues and also from his past performance, he would have a better chance of winning a second term.

Here are the issues: America is saddled with an almost unrepayable deficit, an array of unsustainably expensive social welfare programs which are decades overdue for reform, an overly complicated 71,000 page tax code, a near-stagnant economy with a weakening job market and a looming budget crisis which, if unaddressed, will raise interest rates to crippling levels and trigger massive automatic spending cuts that will damage the nation’s credibility and the global economy. Instead of hearing both Romney and Obama discussing how to right these wrongs and how to restore the country’s competitive edge in the increasingly interconnected global economy, they have “changed the conversation.”

Obama has done so out of necessity. As the incumbent president, he wears the steady stream of bad economic news and likely knows that offering credible plans to address these crucial issues requires him to first acknowledge their existence. He therefore risks being portrayed by the media as a president who, throughout a four-year term of office, did not deal with these issues as America moved ever-faster towards the fiscal and socio-political cliff. If the election were to be a referendum on his performance on these issues and also on the ideological trajectory he implemented in those four years, he would undoubtedly lose the November 6th election. However, if he were to “change the conversation” of the campaign to divert attention away from both these issues and also from his past performance, he would have a better chance of winning a second term. The issue which has allowed him to do so has been Mitt Romney’s business record.

Romney has spent most of the week staying off-message and defending his private sector business record against virulent allegations by the Obama campaign that Romney’s tenure as the chief executive officer (CEO) of the private equity and venture capital firm Bain Capital in the 1990s resulted in countless hostile takeovers, the shuttering of many American businesses and the exporting of thousands of American jobs overseas. Furthermore, the Obama campaign accuses Romney of committing a felony, claiming that, for three years following his 1999 departure from Bain to serve as the CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Romney still controlled Bain. Since Romney’s name appears on a variety of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) documents between 1999 and 2002, the Obama campaign claims that Romney was illegally operating Bain Capital after he had formally resigned. The Obama campaign ignores the fact that it is not unusual for the names of former executives to remain on SEC disclosure forms for a number of years as a company formally vets and brings the replacement CEO up-to-speed on the inner workings and complexities of the position he or she inherits. This process may have taken longer than usual at Bain Capital since Romney’s departure in 1999 occurred without much warning and other executives at Bain had little time to prepare the transition given Romney’s absence.

The Obama campaign accuses Romney of committing a felony, claiming that, for three years following his 1999 departure from Bain to serve as the CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Romney still controlled Bain.

Furthermore, Romney has also been off-message for quite some time due to the controversy raised by his refusal to release a more extensive selection of his annual income tax returns. There may be a number of reasons why he has refused to release income tax returns that predate the legally required two years preceding the election date. One reason may be that they will reveal that he consistently made a substantial amount of money, thereby reinforcing Obama’s definition of Romney and the Republicans as the candidate and party of extreme wealth, out of touch with the majority of Americans. All accusations of class warfare aside, it is undeniably true that Romney’s estimated personal wealth of about $250 million marks him as a rich man, but it is important to remember that he is not the only wealthy man ever to have run for election in America.

President John F. Kennedy’s father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., served as the Chairman of the SEC despite the fact that he made a large portion of his fortune through insider trading and market manipulation tactics like “bear raiding” and “pumping and dumping” albeit before these tactics were technically illegal. He would eventually rise to the position of United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom in the final years before the Second World War. Between the 1920s and his death in 1969, Joseph Kennedy made roughly $500 million which he contributed to the family war chest. Adjusted for inflation, in today’s dollars, that $500 million would represent well over $3 billion. When his son John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960, there were no accusations that the Democrat was out of touch with the majority of Americans due to his family’s extreme personal wealth. It is worth noting that, even as early as 1935 during the height of the Great Depression, the Kennedys had a net worth of at least $180 million dollars, or $3 billion in today’s money, a sum which is approximately 11 times the net worth of Mitt Romney.

During the height of the Great Depression, the Kennedys had a net worth of at least $180 million dollars, or $3 billion in today’s money, a sum which is approximately 11 times the net worth of Mitt Romney.

Another reason Romney may be hesitating to release a more extensive array of tax returns could be that they would show that much of his annual income was accumulated through investments which carry far lower tax rates than does income tax in the USA. This could increase the criticism that he, and many wealthy individuals like him, pay tax rates which are disproportionately too low. That characterization would further hamper his ability to break free of the Obama campaign’s framing of him as being out of touch with ordinary Americans. Instead of skirting around these issues, Romney should take a page from Don Draper’s book and “change the conversation.”

To get his campaign back on track and back on message, Romney should release more annual tax returns and confront the Bain Capital accusations head on. He should address the lower tax rates he benefited from under the US Tax Code and also remind the American public about the large charitable donations he makes as a form of socially responsible compensation for his lower tax rates. For example, in 2010 alone, Romney gave 14% of his income to charity while two years before winning the presidency Obama donated 6.1% of his income. Obama’s future running mate, now Vice-President, Joe Biden only gave a paltry 0.15% of his 2006 income to charity. Romney should then change the conversation of his campaign to a discussion of how the Obama presidency has not lived up to confronting the challenges which could cripple the United States of America in the twenty-first century. He must then redefine himself as the man who offers a business-based approach in dealing with these challenges, in stark contrast to the community-organizing sitting president. The point should be made that rhetoric can no longer suffice and that appropriate, measured and tangible policies (which he, Romney, can offer) are what is needed for America to survive in the brave new globalized world.

Disabilities in Public Life

July 9, 2012 4:01 pm
President Kennedy in a rare 1961 photograph

Fifty-two years ago, in 1960, Massachusetts Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy threw his hat into the ring as a presidential contender. In November of that same year, at the age of 43,  Kennedy would be elected as the United States of America’s 35th president thanks to a combination of his father’s wealth and political connections, his own oratorical skill as well as his ability to convince the American people that he could reform Washington. He would do so by implementing what he called the “New Frontier,” a modern and more accommodating foreign and domestic policy agenda which, amongst other things, sought to end partisan bickering and gridlock in Washington, to minimize poverty and to beat the USSR in the space race. In the eyes of many, the young, vigorous and photogenic president himself appeared to be the perfect man to steer America towards its New Frontier of progressivism. However, few Americans knew that behind the thin veneer of publicly-projected vigour was a man who was anything but healthy.

Jack Kennedy, as he liked to the called, suffered from debilitating back pain which resulted from injuries he sustained when his torpedo boat PT109 was rammed and sank during the Second World War. Between the end of the war and the beginning of his presidency, he underwent two serious back surgeries that nearly left him crippled. For the rest of his life, Kennedy would be in severe physical pain and would often require the use of crutches to move around the White House, not to mention daily dosages of medication to keep his chronic pain under control as he conducted the nation’s business. To make matters worse, he also spent his entire life battling Addison’s disease, a disease which severely lowers the ability of one’s immune system to fight off infection. But Americans were unaware of their president’s physical frailty since Kennedy refused to allow the press to photograph him on crutches for fear that, if the public knew that he was not the healthy man he projected, he would be rejected by the American people and seen as weak and vulnerable by America’s enemies.

President Roosevelt in one of the few known photographs that exposes his disability.

Kennedy was not the first president to hide his ailments from both the press and the public. Another Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America’s only four-term president, spent the second half of his life paralyzed and wheelchair-bound from contracting polio at the age of thirty-nine. When Roosevelt ran for the presidency in 1932, he too took every measure possible to hide his disability from the American people fearing that they would not elect a president who could not walk. For instance, he wore special leg braces which allowed him to stand upright. He would arrive at the podium to deliver a speech well in advance of any spectators and would not move away from the podium until well after the last of the press and the audience had left the venue, thereby preventing the American public from seeing that he could not walk. In order to convince Americans that he was not disabled but healthy, Roosevelt drove a car in which the gas, brake and clutch pedals were secretly operated by hand levers hidden below the window line. And, of course, he too refused to allow the press to see him in his wheelchair or from any vantage point that revealed his leg braces. For the most part, like Kennedy, Roosevelt’s strategy worked. Very few pictures of him revealed his disability and, as the saying goes, the public cannot know what the press doesn’t see.

American presidents are not alone in going to great lengths to hide their health problems from the public in the fear that being handicapped or ill could translate into a political drawback on election day or an unfavorable perception in the court of public opinion. For instance, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Diana, the late Princess of Wales, suffered from manic-depressive disorder, anorexia and bulimia. It is alleged that she cut herself numerous times and flirted with suicide on several occasions. Yet, aside from her admitting publicly that she had suffered from “eating disorders” in the past, very few knew that the Princess had many more serious psychological problems. The Royal Family made every effort to prevent this information from becoming public knowledge and it remained confidential for more than a decade after her death in 1997.

American First Ladies have also hidden their illnesses and disabilities from the public for fear their health problems would reflect poorly upon the approval ratings of the president. For instance, Ida McKinley, the wife of Republican William McKinley, who served as the President of the United States at the turn of the twentieth-century, suffered from epilepsy. She was rarely photographed candidly and, when she had a seizure, the president would quickly cover his wife’s face with his handkerchief in an effort to hide the effects of her seizure from any witnesses but also to calm her down since, in her case, darkness helped to alleviate the symptoms of the seizure. But if Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney wins this November’s presidential election, the historical pattern of public figures and their spouses hiding their disabilities or illnesses will be over.

Ann Romney has broken with tradition by refusing to hide her health problems from the public.

Ann Romney has broken with tradition by refusing to hide her health problems from the public. Fourteen years ago, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disease that strikes close to half a million Americans and which wages war on the body’s immune system and erodes the protective covering of nerve bundles in the spinal cord. It is a disease which can be treated but not cured. Multiple Sclerosis leads to extreme pain, muscular rigidity, severe exhaustion and possibly paralysis. While on the campaign trail with her husband, in a number of high-profile interviews with leading American newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, Ann Romney recently openly discussed her struggle with MS and how the disease has affected her life. She is adamant about eliminating the taboo that disabilities still carry in political life — albeit now to a much lesser degree than in the era of both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Times have changed and, today, ordinary citizens living with a disability or chronic disease no longer always seek to hide that reality under a cloak of false normalcy. Why should it be any different for a public figure?

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