Sinbads of Kazakhstan

May 29, 2013 5:04 pm
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The Sinelniks team request assistance from the Russian Military Forces to sail through the pirate region. The destroyer Admiral Levchenko escorted the Rusich  through the Horn of Africa for three days. (Photo: Eleanor Wilks)

 

“There’s nothing better to behold

Than for friends to roam around the world

And close friends the hardship do not fear

All the roads they’re sure to find dear.

All of them we always find so dear.

 

Our carpet is the field of flowers.

Giant pines – they form the walls of ours.

Our roof – the vast blue sky up there

Our joy – one destiny to share!

Yes, to have one destiny to share.”

From Soviet cartoon The Bremen Musicians

(musical version based on the Brothers Grimm tale)

 

Sinbad’s spirit of adventure will make you sail seas and oceans, cross deserts and climb mountain peaks. On foot, on motorcycles or on boat, twin brothers Sinelnik roam the world, and keep coming up with more adventurous travels. They have just returned from a 2½-year sail from Russia to Australia that they have accomplished on their Viking boat replica, sailing 17 seas and three oceans, circumnavigating 26,000 kilometers on the world’s waters.

 

Twin brothers Sergey and Alexander Sinelnik dreamt of traveling to faraway lands since childhood. As teenagers, the brothers always packed snacks and went camping on the banks of the Ural River in their home city of Uralsk (in Kazakhstan). In the boys’ minds, they were exploring the unknown lands, crossing barriers and facing challenges. They dreamt that one day they would head off into a real adventure.

Rusich: A Vessel of Dreams

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The Sinelnik brothers driving through the eastern Sahara as part of their Around the World project that lasted 660 days. (Photo: Sinelniks)

Now, the Sinelnik brothers are well-known in their hometown and abroad for their travels. One day, people would read in the newspaper that the Sinelniks were the first to drive around the world on Ural motorcycles, covering 75,000 kilometers. Another day, the twins covered 1,000 kilometres on foot through the Western Sahara Desert. Later, they were the first to drive on IZH motorcycles through the seven largest deserts of the Earth without any escort.

After conquering deserts, the Sinelniks challenged themselves to climb the world’s seven highest mountain peaks. They have already climbed Kilimanjaro (5,895 м), Kosciuszko ( 2,228 м) and Elbrus (5,642 м). These are just a few examples of their many extraordinary travels.

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The world travellers stopped to meet Nilote – a local of Marsabit, Kenya. (Photo: Sinelniks)

When it came to exploring the world’s waters, the brothers decided to build their own boat. The Sinelniks wanted to sail a boat that would tell a beautiful story to the world.

They decided to build a 10th-century rook, a Viking and East Slav replica. In the 10th to 13th centuries, Vikings and Slavs occupied Northern and Eastern Europe. They shared part of the land and culture. Together, they built vessels and committed predatory raids on Byzantium.

Like Vikings and Slavs, the Sinelniks built their coast-dweller of hewn trunks of pine and oak, with oars and square sails. Like Vikings and Slavs who once gave Russia its name, the Sinelniks dubbed their boat Rusich. Built in the Russian city of Petrozavodsk in 2006, the twin brothers’ rook was 15-meters-long, four-meters-wide, and had a capacity of 11 people.

The twin brothers planned their first expedition as a historical experiment: to sail their Viking boat as if they lived in the 10th century. They assembled a team of researchers and chose to sail the ancient Volga trade route. The route went from Northern Russia to Persia (Iran) via the Volga River where it connected with The Great Silk Road.

Once their boat was ready, the Sinelniks’ team set sail and reached the Iranian border. At the time, social unrest in Iran made it dangerous to cross the border, so they returned home.

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The Rusich’s navigation tools: GPS and fathometer (uses sound waves to determine the depth of water) (Photo: Eleanor Wilks)

This trip taught the brothers that they could sail in a 10th-century boat, wearing Viking garments and using Viking tools on the river; but to navigate the world’s waters, they would still need modern technologies like GPS (Global Positioning System).

Soon after returning home, the brothers announced that they would sail again – this time to Australia. Their family and friends were worried: the wooden rook is a coast-dweller, and is not meant to sail high seas. But the Sinelniks were determined.

It took them four years to gather a new team and to raise funds. Sinelniks’ team members were people from all walks of life and different countries, who dreamed of sailing the world. Some of the crew members had never sailed before; some had never even seen an ocean. The crew helped finance the voyage. Boris Filatov, a Ukrainian journalist and lawyer, organized different fundraisings to help Rusich lift anchor and  sail away.

To Sergey’s disappointment, his twin brother Alexander could not start the journey with him. He had a contract job in Ukraine – he was painting a cathedral in the city of Dnepropetrovsk. But Alexander would eventually join the Rusich crew in their sail around Australia.

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The Viking boat replica Rusich sailed 26,000 kilometers across the world, crossing 17 seas, passing three oceans. (Photo: Eleanor Wilks)

Life at Sea

At last, after lengthy preparations, Sergey Sinelnik raised Rusich‘s sails on the Volga River. It was August 10, 2010. The Volga River took the boat to the Black Sea. Then, Rusich sailed the Marmara Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

The team lived on deck and slept on planks. They had GPS, maps and a small motor that was used when passing through steep channels; but most of the time, they sailed by catching winds and monsoons.

Sergey Sinelnik taught every team member how to operate the ship and how to sail. Day and night, each team member carried out a four-hour shift on the rook. The boat had one designated cook. Mostly, the crew ate canned and imperishable food; sometimes, they bought fresh vegetables at ports. Their shower represented a barrel with holes that came with a rule: wash yourself with sea water and rinse with less than two litres of fresh water.

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Almost everyone who sailed the Rusich had a 10th century garment. (Photo: Eleanor Wilks)

After sailing 7,400 kilometres, Rusich reached Djibouti, a dangerous pirate region in the Horn of Africa. Sinelniks’ friend, the famous Russian traveler Fyodor Konyukhov, advised them to take a military escort while passing Somalia.

Dangerous situation in Djibouti, piracy threats and uncertainty – the crew was falling apart. Six of them left the ship.

Not knowing what to do, Sergey Sinelnik – with help from the Russian Embassy in Djibouti – sent a telegram to Russian Forces’ headquarters asking for a military escort. While waiting for the support to arrive, the Rusich crew received some help and protection from NATO soldiers, who provided them with food and water.

The escort came in a week. A large destroyer – the Admiral Levchenko with 400 sailors on board – was ready to accompany the rook. The destroyer was part of the Russian operations to combat piracy off the Somalia coast. The ship escorted them for three days.

“Imagine such a big high-speed ship traveling with our slow dragging boat for three days, in waters where every small fishing boat could be a pirate boat,” Sergey Sinelnik remembers.

When Rusich safely reached the Sultanate of Oman, the team could not obtain visas for a long time. They had to leave the boat in Salalah and return home. After five months, Sergey Sinelnik returned to Oman with a new team. The only problem was that their pine vessel had dried up under the scorching sun. The flatboat’s planks drifted apart, and it was sinking into the water. The crew had to rinse the rook with 20,000 tons of sea water before they could sail it again.

On May 1, 2011, Rusich sailed into the Indian Ocean. After sailing for 6,000 kilometres, it reached Thailand. In the shipyard there, the crew replaced 12 planks and made a few repairs. Rusich resumed course to the shores of Australia.

In less than six weeks, the sailors reached Darwin where the media and the public were excited to welcome them. By that time, Alexander Sinelnik finished painting the cathedral and rejoined his brother on their dream vessel.

“I am a Celt. This adventure is my heritage.”

Meanwhile, Andy Gray – an old friend of the Sinelniks – was waiting for the Viking boat to arrive at its next destination in Brisbane. Like the Sinelniks, Gray is also a craftsman and an artist. He designs jewelry, sculpts in clay, carves in wood, creates works from leather and metal. Passion for art and travel allowed him to stay friends with the Sinelniks for nine years. Gray was about to join the Rusich expedition.

But Gray’s intention to sail around Australia made his family and friends uncomfortable. They well knew the waters of Australia and the dangers they represented.

“I had a lot of people worried and expressing their concerns of the dangers of this voyage, but I knew this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that should not be missed,” Gray says. “I am a Celt. This adventure is my heritage.”

Gray and two other Australians boarded the rook in Brisbane, but only Gray was brave enough to sail with the Sinelniks through the Bass Strait to Tasmania.

The Bass Strait is a sea strait that separates Tasmania from the south of the Australian mainland. Like the Bermuda Triangle, the strait is known as a Devourer of Ships – a treacherous combination of wind and sea conditions, semi-submerged rocks and reefs that wrecked many vessels, small and large. Over the past 200 years, more than 400 ships sank in these treacherous reefs.

Together with the brothers Sinelnik, Gray sailed around Australia, through the Arafura, the Coral, the Tasman seas, passing by the Antarctic and the Pacific oceans. Movement along the east coast of Australia required great skill, but the Sinelniks and their team made their way, rounding their trip to 26,000 kilometres. The ancient flat-bottomed Rusich sailed 17 seas and crossed three oceans.

The Rusich adventure changed Gray’s life. The Australian says he learned that language has no barriers and humour is universal; that time at sea broadens the mind and nothing beats fresh fish, eaten raw off the deck. But most importantly, the journey brought him lifelong friends.

“I felt welcomed and a part of a family,” Gray says. “I don’t know if it’s the communist influence or that they are orthodox, but the attitude towards sharing is much more in depth than I have ever seen or experienced. It was quite refreshing to see and be a part of.”

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The Rusich team members in Darwin, Australia. (Photo: Eleanor Wilks)

Gray says he is honoured and proud to call the Sinelniks his friends, and trusts them with his life: “They are true adventurers and explorers. They have so much respect for everyone and everything. I am humbled by their attitude towards life.”

What was the biggest challenge during their voyage? Sergey Sinelnik answers: people.

“One of the main difficulties were not winds and storms, but compatibility of different personalities in the team. Members of the team didn’t know each other. Some of them had never been to sea. Some got seasick and were disappointed that they spent money on the journey. But from the very beginning, I would tell them: if you are seeking pleasure, you have to take a cruise!”

What Dreams May Come

The brothers agree they have a much harder time adjusting to life on land than at sea. The Sinelniks say every time they return home from their travels, they become disenchanted with reality, finding that people are obsessed with buying things, taking credits, and then buying more. It’s easy to lose a dream in such a world, according to the Sinelniks. Sergey observes: “There was a Soviet song with the lyrics: ‘Don’t let the heart stop beating.’ I think it is very important to keep the fire burning inside your heart. And more important is to carry it into adult life.”

Alexander Sinelnik says since childhood, their dreams helped them at work and in life. “Our dreams do not give us rest, and our imagination is always illuminating a new path. This gives us strength in difficult life problems.”

“I am happy to have a twin brother,” Sergey says. “When it gets hard in life – we meet and we dream, and the fire keeps burning.”

The twins plan a special anthropological art project – to create sculptures of major world cultures and peoples. The brothers want their project to celebrate and cherish the beauty of the world’s diversity.

Also, the Sinelniks plan to rebuild Rusich, so that next time, they can sail the world with their families. Both brothers are happily married with children.

At the end of the interview, the twin brothers asked for the inland waterways map of Canada. So don’t be surprised if one day, you see the Viking boat Rusich on the Rideau Canal!

Democracy Watch Unloads on Harper Government for Chronic Lack of Accountability in Series of Cover-ups

May 22, 2013 12:58 pm
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According to Democracy Watch, “biased, lapdog investigations mean cover-up of Senate scandal most likely outcome and public inquiry will be needed – Wright, Duffy should be found guilty of violating ethics rules, and possibly other laws

“Ethics Commissioner has covered up twice already for Nigel Wright, Senate Ethics Officer is controlled by a Senate committee, Auditor General is failing to do audit, Elections Canada has secret, questionable enforcement record, and even the RCMP’s independence is questionable”

Today (May 22) in Ottawa, Democracy Watch set out the details of why biased, lapdog investigations mean that a cover-up of the Senate expenses scandal is the most likely outcome, and why a public inquiry will likely be needed to ensure a full investigation.

Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy should be found guilty of violating federal ethics rules, but the fact that the same secretive, Conservative-controlled Senate Committee of Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration that watered down the conclusions in its initial report is still controlling the review of expenses is just the tip of the iceberg of investigation problems.

“The Conservatives caused the Senate scandal, but they and the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois are all to blame for the weak, biased or ineffective lapdogs who are investigating the scandal because they all failed during recent minority governments to choose strong watchdogs, and to pass measures to close loopholes and strengthen enforcement powers and requirements,” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  “As a result, no one should be surprised if all the investigations cover up the scandal, and if there is any evidence that this is happening, an independent public inquiry will clearly be needed.”

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Ethics Commissioner

Federal Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson is investigating Nigel Wright’s role in the scandal, but she has had a very weak enforcement record since 2007, including letting dozens of Conservatives off the hook for very questionable actions, and making more than 80 secret rulings.  Commissioner Dawson has already covered up twice for Nigel Wright and could, as she has many times in the past, abandon her investigation secretly without issuing a public ruling.

Because of section 66 added to the new Act by the Conservatives in 2006, the Ethics Commissioner’s rulings cannot be challenged in court if she has factual or legal errors in her rulings. There are no mandatory penalties for violating the ethics rules in the Act. As well, if Prime Minister Harper approves it, Commissioner Dawson’s term in office can be renewed for another seven years in 2014 so she has an incentive to please him.

Overall, there is no reason to trust that Ethics Commissioner Dawson will do a full investigation or rule correctly, even though there is already enough clear, public evidence for her to find Nigel Wright guilty of violating at least one or more of sections 4, 5, 6(1), 8 of the Conflict of Interest Act because he used inside information to make the secret, clearly improper payment that furthered the interests of his (maybe) friend Mike Duffy during the audit of Senator Duffy’s expenses.

Senate Ethics Officer

The Senate Ethics Officer may investigate Senator Duffy’s role in the scandal, but the Ethics Officer is even more of a lapdog than the Ethics Commissioner because the Conflict of Interest Code for Senators puts the Officer under the control of a secretive, Conservative-controlled committee of senators who have the power to decide what the Code’s rules mean, how the rules will be applied, whether an investigation can even happen, and (along with the whole Senate) what the final ruling, and penalties, will be.

While the NDP has filed a complaint, in fact the Senate Ethics Officer can only investigate if the committee directs the Officer to investigate on its own or prompted by a complaint from a senator.

Overall, there is no reason to trust that the Senate committee will allow a full investigation, let alone a legally correct ruling, even though there is already enough clear public evidence to find Senator Duffy guilty of violating section 17.1 of the Code for taking the clearly prohibited gift of the payment of money from Nigel Wright.

The Ethics Officer does not have to issue a public ruling if the Officer’s conclusion is that no Code violations occurred.  Also, if Senator Duffy or any other senator resigns, any investigation is suspended forever unless the committee decides to continue it.

Auditor General

The Auditor General has full powers to audit Senate expenses under the Auditor General Act, should have exercised those powers already, and should begin an audit immediately of all senators’ expenses, and of all MPs’ expenses.

Elections Canada

The NDP has filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Canada Elections concerning the possibility that Senator Duffy’s claims of Senate expenses during the 2011 federal election may have covered costs that should have been covered by the Conservative Party, in violation of the Canada Elections Act.

The problem is that the Commissioner, in conjunction with the Director of Public Prosecutions, has a very secretive and questionable enforcement record, with more than 3,000 secret rulings since 1997, and many weak actions including a deal with the Conservative Party that let senators who participated in the Conservatives’ illegal in-and-out ad spending scheme during the 2006 federal election off the hook with no penalty.

RCMP

There are measures in the Parliament of Canada Act (s.16), and in the Criminal Code (s.119) that prohibit offering or giving any kind of benefit to a senator or other federal or provincial politician in return for any action or inaction by the politician.

There are media reports that allege that the payment by Nigel Wright to Senator Duffy was in return for cooperation by the senator, and the Senate committee reviewing Senator Duffy’s expenses, and the NDP has filed a request for investigation with the RCMP.

There are also media reports that the RCMP is looking into the Senate expenses violations generally to determine if any laws were broken.

The problem is that, in a widely criticized new policy, the RCMP Commissioner has aligned his office with the office of the Minister of Public Safety in all communications about the RCMP’s actions.  Many commentators have raised concerns about how this policy affects the ability of the RCMP to make independent law enforcement decisions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch, Tel: (613) 241-5179;
E: campaigns@democracywatch.ca

Ottawa-based Democracy Watch is a national non-profit, non-partisan organization, and Canada’s leading citizen group advocating democratic reform, government accountability and corporate responsibility.

“Look at me, not my chair”

May 21, 2013 4:33 pm
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Peter Mackay, Justin Trudeau and Martha Hall-Finley participating in Chair-Leaders, a nationwide campaign with events taking place all across Canada.

Life isn’t easy for people living with spinal cord injuries. One of the main issues has been and remains to be their mobility. Several things in today’s society make it harder for someone who uses a wheelchair. Think about the state of our sidewalks after a snowstorm, or the way facilities are built, with staircases, doorways and the height of certain things, such as cupboards and coat racks. Thanks to Spinal Cord Injury Canada, the leading community-based service provider to persons living with spinal cord injuries in Canada, and awareness events like the Chair-Leaders campaign, more and more people are opening their eyes to these realities. Progress has been made but more needs to be done.

 Myrtle Jenkins-Smith, President of Spinal Cord Injury Canada, with Justin Trudeau and Peter Stoffer

Myrtle Jenkins-Smith, President of Spinal Cord Injury Canada, with Justin Trudeau and Peter Stoffer

Chair-Leaders is meant to do just that. It’s an annual event where Canadians come together and spend a day in a wheelchair. The event, along with the fundraising campaign that goes with it is meant to raise money and awareness for Spinal Cord Injury Canada and the 86,000 people living with spinal cord injury nationwide.

“The Chair-Leaders event is extremely important to get exposure for people in a chair,” said Myrtle Jenkins-Smith, president of Spinal Cord Injury Canada. “We want people to see the obstacles they face and that they are ordinary people like the rest of us.”

It all started 68 years ago when approximately 250 veterans returned from World War II with spinal cord injuries. Placed in Veterans Affairs hospitals, they were anxious to return to the life they once knew. Unfortunately, they couldn’t access the services they needed.

Improved medical and rehabilitation services were required. This is why John Gibbons Counsell, a Lieutenant wounded in Dieppe in 1942, founded the Canadian Paraplegic Association. It provided services for veterans, and eventually civilians, living with spinal cord injuries.

It was called the Canadian Paraplegic Association because, at the time, the survival rate for Quadriplegia was basically nil. But the times have changed. There are now approximately 86,000 Canadians living with spinal cord injuries, including over 37,000 cases of Quadriplegia.

Today, Spinal Cord Injury Canada and its affiliated provinces continue to assist persons with spinal cord injuries achieve independence, self-reliance and full community participation.

In 2005, Ron Swan, Board Member of the Canadian Paraplegic Association (Nova-Scotia) and President of Home Safe Living, came up with an idea. The concept was simple – get people to spend the day in a wheelchair and see first-hand what accessibility really means.

This is how the Chair-Leaders event was born. Today, it’s a nationwide campaign with events taking place on Parliament Hill and in many other cities across Canada.

In 2006, Michael Savage, who was the Member of Parliament for Dartmouth and now is the Mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality, was invited to participate in the event. He wasn’t available because he had to be on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, so they arranged to send him a wheelchair and he participated by himself on the Hill.

Other MPs noticed Savage and wanted to get involved. This is how the expansion started. A committee was formed and a national event was born. Ever since, parliamentarians from all different political parties have been coming together every year to participate in the event.

“Awareness is huge for this organization,” said Jenkins-Smith. “We need to continue to show that people in chairs can live successful lives.”

Peter Stoffer and Laurie Hawn racing in front of eternal flame

Peter Stoffer and Laurie Hawn racing in front of Parliament Hill

This year, the national committee, comprised of MP Laurie Hawn, MP Peter Stoffer, MP Sean Casey and Senator Jim Munson, is hoping to recruit parliamentarians to participate in the event scheduled for Wednesday, May 22 on Parliament Hill. Meanwhile, affiliated provinces are organizing their own Chair-Leaders events across the country.

People around the country are able to register as Virtual Chair-Leaders and raise money and awareness for Spinal Cord Injury Canada or the affiliated province of their choice. At the end of May a seven day cruise to Alaska will be awarded to one lucky Virtual Chair-Leader, so don’t forget to register.

“Fundraising is very important because we will never get enough money to advance the cause otherwise,” said Jenkins-Smith.

Be sure to tune in at www.thechairreaction.ca or www.facebook.com/TheChairReaction

 

 

Canadian Red Cross Celebrates World Red Cross Day

May 13, 2013 10:23 am
2013 Open House Red Cross Red Crescent Day (7)

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson helped celebrate World Red Cross Day by officially proclaiming May 8 as World Red Cross Day in Ottawa. Also in the photo is David Fraser, chair of the Ottawa Branch Council of the Canadian Red Cross.

The Canadian Red Cross hosted its 2nd Annual Open House on May 8 to celebrate World Red Cross Red Crescent Day! All local programs were showcased, including RespectED: Violence and Abuse Prevention.

“Education is the key to prevention of abuse, bullying, violence and sexual exploitation,” said Paulette Hammell, Coordinator, Health Equipment Loan Program, Canadian Red Cross, Ontario Zone. “For 25 years, in communities across Canada, the Canadian Red Cross has been helping to break the cycle of hurt. RespectED: Violence and Abuse Prevention programs promote healthier relations and safer communities through education and partnerships.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson helped celebrate World Red Cross Day by officially proclaiming May 8 as World Red Cross Day in Ottawa. The keynote speaker at the proclamation ceremony was Nestor Shartun, RespectED Trainer.

 

 

Ontario: Is This a Wynne-ing or a Losing Budget?

May 3, 2013 10:21 am
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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2013 budget was tabled on May 2. Premier Wynne’s minority Liberals have delivered an Ontario budget full of NDP proposals, but it’s unclear whether the New Democrats will support it.The coming days will decide if Premier Wynne’s government stays in power or is forced into a summer election.

Ottawa Life Magazine is providing a number of links to associations, news-gathering services and think tanks that have provided some excellent analysis of Premier Wynne’s budget.

Among them, the Conference Board of Canada – http://www.conferenceboard.ca/topics/economics/budgets/ontario_2013.aspx

A Tough Spot … and a Difficult Road Ahead

by Matthew Stewart and David Rosé 

At first glance, Ontario’s fiscal situation seems much improved from what we saw in last year’s budget. But much of the improvement from last year’s headline deficit number reflects one-time adjustments and will not carry forward to future years. As such, there is little doubt that unless economic conditions prove better than current expectations, Ontario will continue to face a stark fiscal challenge. Over the next three years, the government plans to tightly constrain spending, with projected increases averaging just 1.5 per cent annually. The most difficult restraint will have to wait until the final two years of the plan, when an outright cut to spending will be required to balance the books as targeted in fiscal 2017–18.

Despite the seriousness of Ontario’s economic and fiscal situation, this was not a budget filled with major announcements. That said, the budget includes a few conciliatory measures aimed at garnering support from the opposition parties.

One important (and positive) measure in our view is the Youth Jobs Strategy. The youth unemployment rate in Ontario remains above its pre-recession level, and it is certainly an area where improvement would be beneficial. This two-year, $295-million initiative aims to improve the employment outcomes for Ontario’s young people. The bulk of the funding ($195 million) will be directed toward incentives for hiring young Ontarians. The remaining funds will be directed toward entrepreneurship initiatives, such as mentorship and seed capital, as well as fostering entrepreneurial activities and commercialization of research at post-secondary institutions in the province.

The budget sets its aim on decreasing automobile insurance premiums by an average of 15 per cent. A specific date for meeting this target is not yet set; instead, it will be achieved “within a period of time to be prescribed by [future] regulation.” The government’s strategy is to limit fraudulent claims and the overcharging of insurers by service providers. (This will be done by introducing sanctions.) Pursuing those who file unjustified claims for benefit payments is an appropriate course of action, as these payments drive up the cost of insurance premiums for legitimate claimants. However, interfering with the market price mechanism by legislating a reduction in insurance rates could have unintended consequences, such as reduced benefit payments (perhaps simply through greater scrutiny of claims) or a change in the mix of insurance products—developments that could negatively impact all potential claimants.

The budget also notes that new revenue-raising tools to pay for transit infrastructure are being considered. One concrete action being taken to alleviate congestion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (the main geographic focus of the government’s transit funding concerns) is a conversion of certain high-occupancy highway lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes—carpooling drivers would still be able to use them without charge, but drivers of single-occupant cars could also use them as long as they pay a toll. Among other smaller measures, the budget sets aside $45 million over three years for a new Ontario Music Fund, which will support and promote Ontario’s music industry. Although this is a miniscule amount in terms of the overall budget envelope, the justification for this manner of expenditure in the current fiscal climate is unclear.

Fiscal Outlook

At a quick glance, the fiscal situation has improved significantly from last year. Estimated at $9.8 billion, the deficit for 2012–13 is $5 billion better than had been projected. However, much of this improvement was the result of one-time measures that will not carry forward into future years. A detailed analysis of the budget leaves little doubt that the fiscal situation in Ontario remains critical. The government’s fiscal austerity program is back-end loaded, with each year of restraint being more ambitious than the last. Next year, the deficit is expected to rise by $1.9 billion to $11.7 billion as program spending rises by 3 per cent. In the following two years, the deficit will improve slowly as the government attempts to hold program spending growth to 1.1 per cent and 0.4 per cent. In fiscal 2015–16 (the final year of the government’s detailed fiscal plan), Ontario will still have a $7.2 billion deficit. To balance its books in 2017–18 as promised, the government will have to freeze program spending in 2016–17 and cut spending by almost 1 per cent in 2017–18—a difficult task, for which few details are provided. (See chart.)

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Of the $5-billion improvement in the deficit in 2012–13, $1 billion is attributed to the elimination of the contingency reserve that went unused and to other one-time savings that will not carry forward to future years. The elimination of banked sick days for teachers reduced education spending by $1.1 billion, as the government booked the unneeded liability against this year’s numbers. Corporate income taxes were also $1.2 billion higher than expected due to one-time assessments for years prior to 2011 and a higher tax base in 2011. Outside of these one-time factors, revenues and expenditures were only slightly better than in the 2012 budget’s projections. Ontario Power and Hydro One together generated an additional $313 million in profits, thanks to lower costs and higher transmission revenues. On the expenditure side, health spending came in almost $600 million below budget, thanks to a tightly restrained hospital sector. Interest payments were also $234 million lower due to the impact of lower interest rates.

This year, the government plans to increase program spending by 3 per cent. Adjusting for the effects of the sick day liability removal, which reduced spending in 2012–13, program spending is slated to increase by just 2 per cent in fiscal year 2013–14. This will mark the third year of significant spending restraint, and it stands in stark contrast to average annual increases of 6.1 per cent between 2000 and 2008. The most difficult challenge facing the government is its plan to constrain spending on health care. Health spending consumes 42.2 cents of every dollar in revenue and is slated to grow by just 2.3 per cent in fiscal year 2013–14, compared with average growth of 7.4 per cent annually between 2000 and 2008. Although growth in health spending was held to just 2.8 per cent last year, much of this was achieved through a wage freeze. Moving forward, more structural changes will be required—especially given the increasing demand for health care from the province’s aging population. The budget has listed some good ideas for efficiency improvements in health care, such as moving hospitals from a lump-sum payment model to a pay-for-patient-and-activity funding model and increasing investments in home care. Another measure included in the budget is the introduction of means testing for prescription drug payments, under which higher-income seniors will pay a greater share of their drug costs. Despite these proposed measures, achieving the required degree of spending restraint without overly affecting the quality of care will be a challenge.

Outside of health care, spending will be similarly restrained. Social services will see the highest growth this year due to a promised increase in social assistance rates. Excluding the liability adjustment, spending in education (including post-secondary) will rise by 2.9 per cent, an increase that includes the cost to complete the rollout for full-day kindergarten. The only other major recipient that will see any growth will be the justice department, which is slated to see its spending grow by 2.5 per cent. Excluding health, education, social services, and justice, spending will be cut by 2.7 per cent.

Unfortunately, unless revenues surprise on the upside, the government will be forced to tighten its belt even more in 2014–15 and 2015–16. Health and education will see below-inflation increases, spending on justice will be frozen, and all spending outside of health, education, and social services will be reduced by an average of almost 5 per cent per year. The only spending category slated to receive any meaningful growth in funding will be social services, reflecting the government’s planned increases to social assistance and its plan to increase the Ontario Child Benefit in 2013 and 2014. These tightly constrained spending numbers leave the government with no new funding available for any public sector wage increases over the life of the plan.

If the government sticks to its current plan, the province’s net debt, which includes operating and capital expenses, is projected to rise by $51.1 billion over the next three years. As a result, debt-servicing costs will rise from $10.4 billion in 2012–13 to $12.2 billion in 2015–16. In 2017–18, when the government is scheduled to balance its books, debt-servicing costs will be $14.5 billion, consuming 10.8 cents of every dollar in revenue.

Economic Outlook

The economic assumptions used by the Ontario Ministry of Finance for its budgetary projections are based largely on the consensus of private sector forecasters. The Conference Board of Canada’s most recent economic outlook is more or less in line with the ministry’s, but we are slightly more optimistic about Ontario’s prospects in 2014 and beyond. In our view, there exists some upside potential to the budget’s fiscal outlook.

In 2012, Ontario’s economy did not perform as strongly as expected. Concerns about the U.S. federal government’s sequester-related spending cuts and the ability of Congress to agree on a deficit-reduction plan for the medium term, along with continued uncertainty about the European debt crisis, weighed on business confidence. This resulted in sluggish business investment, which, coupled with fiscal restraint, pulled down real GDP growth to just 1.3 per cent. One bright spot last year was the strength in auto production and exports, which were pulled up by a solid recovery in U.S. vehicle sales. However, gains in this sector will be modest at best in 2013.

The Conference Board expects Ontario’s real GDP growth to be 1.4 per cent this year and 2.5 per cent in 2014. That compares with the budget’s slightly stronger projection of 1.5 per cent this year but a weaker forecast of 2.3 per cent in 2014. Our outlook for nominal GDP—the broadest measure of the tax base—matches that contained in the budget. The Conference Board’s more restrained growth assumption (in real terms) for this year is based on a weaker investment profile than the Ontario Ministry of Finance is assuming. Results from our most recent Survey of Business Confidence suggests that uncertainty over the direction of the economy and a buildup of excess capacity will cause business investment to be a laggard again this year.

Beyond 2014, our forecast for real GDP growth is somewhat higher than that contained in the budget, due largely to a better U.S. performance. In the wake of the 2008–09 recession, U.S. households deleveraged impressively. This, combined with the nascent recovery in the housing market and a brighter employment outlook, should help the U.S. economy gain traction over the medium term.

Still, risks to the outlook remain unusually high. Geopolitical tensions in the Middle East, Korea, Iran, and elsewhere could easily escalate. And the situation surrounding the sovereign debt crisis in the European Union is far from resolved and continues to keep investors on edge—especially in light of the bungled negotiations for a bailout of Cypriot banks. Finally, the weakening of commodity prices (especially gold) this year has had a negative impact on Canadian equities and is causing mining and exploration companies to pause when considering new investments in Northern Ontario and elsewhere.

In light of these risks, the economic assumptions adopted in the budget provide a prudent approach to the fiscal plan. However, we remain concerned about the government’s capacity to sustain the requisite level of restraint over the next five years—particularly in the final years of the deficit-reduction plan.

 

For more information online, visit:

From LCBO to Ring of Fire: Everything you need to know about the Ontario budget – National Post

http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/05/02/money-for-jobs-and-cops-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-ontario-budget/

Ontario Budget Delivers Infrastructure Investment; Silent on Tools to Manage Costs (Association of Municipalities of Ontario)

http://www.newswire.ca/fr/story/1157745/ontario-budget-delivers-infrastructure-investment-silent-on-tools-to-manage-costs

Ontario Liberals’ fate over budget hangs on NDP – Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2013/05/02/ontario-budget.html?cmp=rss

Ontario unveils budget, opposition support not clear – Reuters

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/ontario-budget-sees-2013-14-deficit-c-11-205713416.html

Highlights of the 2013-2014 Ontario budget – Yahoo! Finance Canada / The Canadian Press

http://ca.finance.yahoo.com/news/highlights-2013-2014-ontario-budget-200545988.html

 

Top Photo:

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne applauds as Finance Minister Charles Sousa tables the 2013 provincial budget at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Thursday, May 2, 2013.

Fixing the Unfixable: Queen Street “Beautification” Project Is Absurd

April 30, 2013 10:55 am
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson unveils artists’ renderings of the Confederation Line that will run under Queen Street.

The City of Ottawa is now studying design proposals for the transformation of Queen Street into a new “Showcase Street” and pedestrian route.

Why do these well-paid planners live in such a dream world? Everyone knows Queen Street is wretchedly ugly (save for a very few architectural triumphs) and the usual mundane solution of wider sidewalks, trees in buckets and oily benches isn’t going to turn this dumpy, crumbling thoroughfare into the Champs-Élysées.

Ottawa has one of the most blighted downtowns of any city in the country – full of cheap civil service hives, glass boxes reflecting each other, and utter architectural banality so spiritually arid as to bring on clinical depression.

But Ottawa’s planners, engineering consultants and traffic experts refuse to accept this grim, intractable reality. So why are such big plans in store for Queen Street? Well, because the Light Rail Transit route (aka the Confederation Line) will run right under Queen Street by the time it is completed in 2018. With two of the three major downtown stops to be located on Queen, tens of thousands of pedestrians are expected to be added to the foot traffic mix every day.

The Queen Street revamp is the first project under Downtown Moves, Ottawa’s new plan for the central business district.

Downtown Moves has dubbed Queen as Ottawa’s “Showcase Street” of the urban core, with “more space for culture, community and vitality.” (What rot, when Queen Street is dead as the proverbial doornail.)Queen Street Ottawa

According to a Downtown Moves report, “Queen Street will have enormous demands to carry pedestrians to the Confederation Line station entrances along it and will do so by the construction of generous wide sidewalks, amenities to provide safe and comfortable walking, and buildings that will eventually become more street-oriented.”

The new plan for Queen Street should be finished within a year.

According to the City of Ottawa’s LRT website: “We have reached the limit. We can no longer add buses to accommodate increasing ridership through the downtown core. During peak hours, buses are often bumper-to-bumper, moving slowly as they navigate 14 traffic lights, and compete with pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic. The Confederation Line graduates Ottawa to a traffic-separated downtown tunnel, following the success of major cities around the world.

“The largest single undertaking of the light rail project, the downtown tunnel will be 2.5 kilometers long with three stations—Downtown West, Downtown East and Rideau Station. During construction, day-to-day life will continue as normal, as state-of-the-art mining techniques will minimize impacts on residents and businesses.”

Confederation Line

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson unveils artists’ renderings of the Confederation Line that will run under Queen Street.

The precise locations of the Confederation Line stations are now determined:

Downtown West is the first underground station. Entrances will be located on Queen Street in front of the Delta Hotel, and integrated into the Place de Ville complex across the street. (The subway entrance, I assume, will be built on land currently used as a parking lot at the corner of Lyon and Queen.)

Other station features include:

  • A train platform located 17.5 metres underground
  • Convenient access to underground north-south pedestrian route from Albert Street to Sparks Street

Ottawa_Queen_StreetWhat’s nearby?

  • National Archives
  • Supreme Court of Canada
  • Major hotels and corporate office towers
  • Shops and restaurants of Sparks Street

Downtown East is the second underground station on Queen Street – just steps from Parliament Hill and at the center of Ottawa’s downtown business district. This new station supports the highest projected use on the Confederation Line. Entrances will be situated at the corner of O’Connor and Queen Street, and through the atrium of the Sun Life Building. (In this built-up area, where can they possibly squeeze the subway entrances?)

Other station features include:

  • A design that will accommodate intense peak volumes
  • A Grand Hall Concourse 15 metres underground
  • A platform located 19 metres underground

What’s nearby?

  • Parliament Hill and Confederation Square
  • The shops of Bank Street and the Sparks Street Mall
  • The World Exchange Plaza and many corporate office towers

The tunnel will then continue under Confederation Square to Rideau Station. Entrances will be located adjacent to the William Street Plaza pedestrian mall and in the northwest corner of the Rideau Centre at Rideau Street and Colonel By. (Sounds like another tight fit.)

The Downtown Tunnel is an idea whose time is way past due. But how Queen Street can be miraculously transformed into a grand boulevard that will comfortably accommodate two busy LRT stations remains an unsolved mystery.

As veteran columnist Charles Gordon caustically observes in the April 11, 2013 edition of EMC, “The mysterious part: how could anyone think that Queen Street can be improved in any way other than blowing it up and starting over again?”

 

Light Rail Transit Western Extension: Either Build It Right or Don’t Build It at all

April 27, 2013 5:13 pm
Light Rail Transit Bayview Station

When one thinks of all the money spent on foolishness by the City of Ottawa, their efforts to keep a lid on LRT costs are baffling. To reduce costs, the City wants to build the western extension of the LRT through an area west of Tunney’s Pasture where few people live and work.

No matter where the LRT is built, the NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) syndrome sets in, so the City’s solution is to wander far afield and place the rail line beside a Transitway route (otherwise known as the Ottawa River Parkway).

Even though the National Capital Commission is a porkbarrel agency that serves no useful purpose, it is to be commended for opposing the City of Ottawa at every turn in its futile efforts to provide a duplicate transit service right beside a parkway that is already overserviced by OC Transpo buses.

For a megaproject as important as the LRT, either build it right or don’t build it at all. So damn the cost. Build the LRT cut-and-cover style under a major thoroughfare where people actually live and work (preferably Richmond Road). Think big and think bold, or forget about it. We will resign ourselves to living in a capital city without a decent rail transit system.

History is repeating itself. Thirty-odd years ago, the bus-only Transitway was built on parcels of vacant land strung together across the city, and not where commuters wanted to go. The intensive development promised by then OC Transpo general manager John Bonsall failed to materialize along much of the Transitway, and vast stretches of the bus-only system still pass through vacant land. The same fate awaits the LRT’s western extension if the march of folly at Ottawa City Hall continues.

So I say to the City of Ottawa: either go big or shelve the project. Be daring or scrap the western extension of the LRT. If you really want to save pennies, then save the $2 billion it will cost to build an LRT to nowhere. Better to ram it through a crowded neighborhood and damn the consequences, because no matter where the LRT is built, it’s going to cost plenty and upset a lot of people. When the dust settles, Ottawa could actually end up with an LRT system it can be proud of, one that relieves traffic congestion and takes commuters to places they need to get to.

So enough with the public consultation, because it is pointless and leads to prolonged inertia. City council, you have been elected to govern, so govern – and let the chips fall where they may.

The Boston Bombings

April 22, 2013 11:30 am
DSCN4105

Today, as runners and Members of Parliament gather at the Centennial Flame to march in solidarity to the American Embassy, it is hard to believe that only a week has passed since the Boston Marathon.  This time last week I was running the marathon, overwhelmed by the excitement of being there and just taking it all in. The Boston Marathon is a huge party from beginning to end as spectators line the streets of the 42.2-km route.  Some drink beer to celebrate as they scream encouraging slogans, while others blast uplifting beats from their car stereos, each with his or her own way to cheer you on.  It is festive and instead of people whining about street closures (sorry, Toronto, but you need to relax), Bostonians have street parties all along the route as they hand out food to runners.  I was struck by the hospitality, generosity, fun-loving atmosphere and community support for the event.  It is incredible.  And the marathon organizers are absolutely phenomenal.  Why anyone would want to mess with that for mindless, hideous sick glory is completely mindboggling.

When that first bomb went off, I was sipping water past the finish line in the athletes’ recovery area, chatting with another runner.  He was disappointed with his finishing time. He ran slower from low sodium levels.  (If only I could run that fast to be worried about such things.) I complained about my time which admittedly was pretty bad, but I sucked because of missing a few too many hill training sessions and my inability to refuse free food along the route, or was slowed down by hand-slapping little hands offering support along the way.

When the bomb went off, we figured it was maybe a speaker blowing up, or an incident at a nearby construction site. Then, seconds later, the second bomb burst.  The other runner and did not realize exactly what happened but we knew something felt horribly wrong.  We continued walking for a bit, and then I sat down on the stairs of a hotel when a man ran out screaming “It’s a bomb! It’s a bomb!”  And then the pandemonium erupted. I came out physically unscathed.  I only wish I had stayed to help.  I wish I could have done something then and now.

There is something horrific about experiencing the kind of terror that shakes you to your core, stripping you of the safety you take for granted in public spaces.  The sound of police cars or emergency crews sent me into fits of panic.  I can’t imagine the trauma those who were closer to the action must be experiencing.  Last weekend, as I stepped onto a closed Colonel By Drive to run, I was paralyzed by fear of what could possibly lie ahead.  This apprehension was completely irrational.  But that fear, that insecurity passed and it will eventually disappear.  We must never forget what happened on that beautiful spring day in Boston that changed the lives of so many.  We must never forget the loss.  But we must also move on and not allow the horror of these attacks to overtake our lives.  To not do so would make every terrorist smile in victory.  We cannot let them win.  It sounds so clichéd but it is true. So let’s line those streets, Ottawa and cheer on the runners in May and celebrate LIFE.

Kevin Page: A Hero for Our Time

April 10, 2013 1:04 pm
Kevin-Page

When Kevin Page, Canada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer, steps down next month after five years on the job, he’ll do so with a respect and admiration accorded few professional public servants – not because he went above and beyond the call of duty (many do) or because he has been particularly outspoken on public matters (many are, especially whistleblowers), but because, like most professionals in the public service, he doggedly maintains that government should tell the truth, even when it refuses to do so.

The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) was created following the 2006 federal election, in the wake of the Liberal sponsorship scandal. It has not been an easy ride for Page, the public service and the people of Canada. Although the PBO should be independent, it serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. In effect, the PBO watches over the spending of the person who created it. That in a nutshell is the problem.

On the matter of the government’s annual deficit, the government claimed it would be $30 billion. Page said it was $56 billion. Page was right. War, never an inexpensive proposition. The government claimed the Afghanistan mission would cost $2.8 billion. Page said it was closer to $9 billion. Page was right. Who can forget those F-35 jets? The government said the jets would cost $15 billion. The PBO, after exposing some financial finagling by the government that conveniently left out decades of maintenance costs, said the jets would cost $40 billion. Once again, Page was right.

None of these attempts to speak truth to power have endeared Page to the Prime Minister who hired him, and who likely expected he would, if not toe the party line, at least not rock the ship of state.

But the real test of honesty and integrity has come with the implementation of the Harper government’s austerity cuts. Can’t afford to maintain Old Age Security benefits for 65-year-olds? Well, actually, yes we can, said Page.

Throughout the past year, the government has insisted that the cuts will affect only “the back office.” Frontline services, presumably health, safety and protection of the environment, won’t be touched. Page’s assessment of the government’s own numbers has repeatedly thrown cold water on these claims. In return, he has received the kind of chill the Conservatives reserve for their worst enemies. His requests for more information have gone unanswered or faced interminable delay. His calculations have been dismissed out of hand or publicly called into question. His role and reputation as a watchdog were attacked with an intensity usually reserved for environmentalists. Even taking the government to court to reveal details of its proposed cuts and expenses has met mostly with a deafening silence.

It’s not just the numbers, it’s what the numbers say. Their consequences speak to the value of Page’s contribution to current debates.

In November 2012, seven months after the government introduced its austerity budget, the PBO could still find specific information on only 500 of the 19,200 jobs to be eliminated (7,000 are supposed to be lost through attrition). How, for example, will the Canadian Food Inspection Agency ensure compliance with federal regulations on food safety while crash dieting on $19 million in cuts? How will the $46 million cut from Aboriginal Affairs address the concerns of communities now responding to the Idle No More movement? How will Health Canada triage the enormous cuts to its own programs? The government waves these worries away with the easy phrase “operational efficiencies.”

Some things no longer exist simply because, to Conservatives if to no one else, they have ceased to matter. Science and the environment have come in for particular attention. The Experimental Lakes Area, a world-renowned freshwater research facility that proved the effects of acid rain and has been instrumental in developing environmental policy, is eliminated. Environment Canada labs dedicated to studying cancer-causing pollution emissions from smokestacks are shut down. Nor should anyone forget the loss of Statistics Canada’s long-form census to current and future knowledge. Evidence is the new enemy.

It says something about the times we live in that a government can be elected to power on the promise of greater accountability, appoint a watchdog to ensure that accountability, and then delay, debate and discredit that watchdog’s attempts to ensure accountability at every turn. But if Parliament and the people of Canada never learn the true cost to taxpayers and to the country of the Harper government’s austerity cuts, it won’t be the fault or on the watch of Kevin Page. To his credit, Page has done what the job demanded. And that should leave us worried about his replacement, if indeed a replacement is ever found. Unsurprisingly, the process is delayed.

George Orwell once wrote: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Kevin Page is not a revolutionary, but if telling truth to power and, more importantly, insisting that powerful elected governments tell the truth to those who elect them are heroic acts, then Kevin Page is a national hero.

Gary Corbett is President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

Photo Credit: Digital Journal

Decoding Gas Prices: Is the Gas Gouge Real? Part 2

April 9, 2013 12:12 pm
Page71_shutterstock_16024516

Continued from Part I

According to the Canadian Fuels Association, Canadians pump 75 billion litres of petroleum fuels annually (more than 200 million litres every day) to travel a total of 325 billion kilometres a year. That is the equivalent of eight million trips around the world. That’s a lot of travelling. It’s no wonder then that we pay close attention to gasoline prices.

Does what you pay get your back up every time you hit the pumps? Given the amount of travel and gas consumption in Canada, the average Canadian could be forgiven for thinking that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes, that the gas companies get together to ensure that Canadians are ripped off at the pump. After all, this time last year, retail gasoline prices had jumped substantially over the span of two months, setting off consumer alarm bells. But, as is the case with many situations, it is more complicated than merely jacking up the price of gas at will. Many factors go into that number you see on the sign before filling up.

The CFA identifies four main factors that affect the price at the pump. There is the cost of crude oil, wholesale price of gasoline, local market dynamics and taxes.

Crude oil is a globally-traded commodity whose price is influenced by what happens around the world. Things like supply and demand, international geopolitical factors and inventory levels all impact the price. It’s kind of like what happens when California gets hit with bad weather and it affects the cost of strawberries. It’s a similar kind of thing. While there are many perceptions on how big the industry in Canada actually is, we’re really only the 7th largest crude oil producers, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The result is that prices for Canadian crude oil follow world prices. We don’t make them.

 As demand for energy increases, chances are the cost of gas will increase. The Paris-based International Energy Agency estimates that global demand for energy is expected to rise by 35 per cent by 2035 as economies in both developed and emerging countries continue to grow and the standard of living improves in the developing world. On top of that, while we may be a big producer, the fact of the matter is for Canadian and international oil and gas companies, access to conventional petroleum reserves is declining, which makes the commodity more valuable.  Bad news there is that it is unlikely gas prices will go down.

So that’s at the global level. But there is a bit of a domino effect because the price of crude oil affects the wholesale price of gasoline, which is the price that gasoline retailers pay. The wholesale price comes from oil refineries. They set their own wholesale prices daily, based on levels set by commodity trading, the continental market for refined petroleum products and distribution charges.

Throw into the mix marketing costs, operational expenses and competitive forces at the retail level that drive local market dynamics. What exactly are they? Marketing and operational expenses include such things as wages, property taxes, utilities, and local promotional costs. Retail prices are also a function of competitive forces in each local market and of what other services and prices are available at the site to attract customers and generate additional revenue.

And then there are taxes. Those are complicated. Taxes on gasoline can vary from province to province and occasionally from city to city (especially in British Columbia). Transportation costs vary and, according to the CFA, the volume of gasoline sold at gas stations can affect pricing.

That may all be true, but being so close to the U.S., it is hard not to notice that when you cross the border, the price of gas drops significantly. Presumably, all of those same factors affect their pumps, so why the difference? It all boils down to taxes. Other than that, the average price of a litre of gasoline in Canada is quite similar to the price in the United States.

That’s compared to the States. Internationally, historical data shows that Canadians pay less for gasoline than consumers in many industrialized countries. For example, looking at prices in January 2010, Canada paid significantly less per litre than Germany, Italy, France, UK, Spain and Japan.

When you see that number at the gas pump and see that it varies very little from gas station to station, it’s easy to jump on the “we get hosed” bandwagon but when you look at it, many factors do explain gas pricing. That said, with so few real players in the industry, could there be lower gas prices if the major gas companies were in true competition? Probably. And that’s the frustrating part. While there are many factors involved, one still is left with the feeling that there could be better transparency and possibly more savings that could be passed on to consumers. But at the end of the day, when you compare Canada with other countries, the price of gas really isn’t that bad.

Where Investing in Transit Can Take Us

April 8, 2013 6:34 pm
Ottawa's OTrain

Earlier today, Premier Kathleen Wynne spoke to the Toronto Region Board of Trade about the need to make investments in transit.

By Premier Kathleen Wynne

The first subway line in Toronto opened in 1954, the year after I was born. I still remember riding the subway with my grandmother as a little girl. I was wearing my white gloves because it was a special occasion. Everyone was so excited, so proud.

Today, in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the average commute time is 82 minutes a day. Gridlock is a major issue affecting our province’s productivity.

This is not just an issue of commute times for people in one region. Congestion in the GTHA hurts farmers who want to move food through the region quickly, truck drivers trying to get to the US border, tourists trying to visit and countless families who want to move from one side of the city to the other, without getting stuck in endless traffic

Fixing transportation infrastructure will improve our lifestyle and our economy. It will also have a positive impact on our tourism, our natural environment and on the health of the millions of people who call this region home.

That’s why I know we have to move forward on this conversation.

But I don’t want anyone to think that transit or the GTHA is getting unfair attention or disproportionate investment.

And so it’s important to note that for the past 20 years, transit investment in Ontario has lagged well behind the funding we have put into the province’s road network, our bridges and underpasses.

That part of our transportation puzzle has received hundreds of millions a year; and in the past nine years, billions.

In contrast, there have been several years in that time period when the provincial government’s capital expenditure on transit was exactly zero.

There is a pressing need for change. That is not up for debate.

But when I listen to the rhetoric around transportation investment, I believe some politicians have made a short-sighted decision to avoid real solutions.

I know improving our daily commute is not about scoring political points. It’s about ensuring Ontario’s success. And that is my core responsibility as the Premier of this province.

People are ready to get moving. But to develop real momentum we have to change the way we talk about these investments.

We need to bring excitement back to the discussion of transportation infrastructure, and where it can take us, our children and grandchildren.

We have to talk about what we DO want. We want every part of this province to move quickly, safely and efficiently so that we can all benefit.

When it comes down to it, transportation investments will need tens of billions of dollars over the next twenty years. Our whole provincial budget each year is about $125B. 

And our spending on programs including education and health care is already tightly constrained, the lowest of any province.

We need to find dedicated revenue for these projects, because the money cannot be found elsewhere.

I  believe that any new funds must be directly tied to a measurable result. People need to know what they are paying for; they need to see where the money is going.

Whether the need is for new transit in the GTHA, light-rail lines in Ottawa, bridge repairs in Kenora or highway refurbishing in Huron County, we need to get this done.

We need to get Ontario moving.

So I will keep talking about what we can achieve for this great province. I will focus on the positive impact we can make through smart, fair investment.

But I need your help. Let’s tap into the desire for a safer drives, a better commute, cleaner air, a stronger economy. I know the will is there.  I know the support exists. And progress will be made.

Together we can get this done.

 

Public workers earn 12% more than private counterparts: report

April 5, 2013 11:48 am
15380beggar

Fraser Institute study says gap drops to nine per cent when unionization included in analysis

BY Canadian Manufacturing Daily Staff ON April 04, 2013 9:01am 

VANCOUVER—Public sector workers at the federal, provincial and municipal levels across Canada earned substantially higher wages than their private sector counterparts in 2011, according to a new Fraser Institute report.

The study, Comparing Public and Private Sector Compensation in Canada, found public employees from all levels of government earned an average wage 12 per cent higher than those in the private sector working comparable jobs.

“At a time when Canadian governments are drowning in debt and deficits, it’s important to look at the compensation packages that government workers have long enjoyed,” Fraser Institute executive vice-president Jason Clemens said in a statement.

“A system that pays a premium to government workers is not only economically unsustainable but also unfair to taxpayers.”

When unionization is included in the analysis, the national public sector wage premium—the amount in which public sector wages exceed those in the private sector—drops to nine per cent from 12 per cent.

Aside from higher wages, the study also found strong indications that Canada’s government workers enjoy more generous non-wage benefits than those in the private sector, including pensions, job security and early retirement.

When it comes to pensions, the study found 88.2 per cent of Canadian government workers were covered by a registered pension plan in 2011 compared to just 26.4 per cent of private-sector employees.

Government employees retired two-and-a-half years earlier, on average, than private-sector workers between 2007 and 2011.

The study also found that in 2011, 0.6 per cent of government employees lost their jobs—less than one sixth the job-loss rate in the private sector, which saw cuts of 3.8 per cent.

To ensure public-sector compensation is fair to both taxpayers and government workers, the report argues that better data collection is needed and suggests that Statistics Canada should gather data on wages and non-wage benefits more regularly and systemically than it does now.

In addition, comparisons between the public and private sectors should focus on total compensation, not just wages or specific benefits such as pensions.

The study also offers recommendations for setting appropriate levels of government compensation, using the private sector as a guide.

“Public sector wages and benefits are largely determined by political factors, while in the private sector the process is guided by competition between firms,” Clemens said.

“These differences are amplified by the monopoly environment of government compared to the competitive world of private enterprise.”

The report shows that in 2011, the public sector employed 3.6-million—approximately one in five Canadians—compared to 11.1 million workers in the private sector.

Media Hoax Ban Shows PQ No Longer Suffers Fool's Gladly

March 27, 2013 11:25 am
pq

By Martti Lahtinen, The Low Down to Hull & Back News

The Low Down has learned that the Quebec government is considering a ban on April Fool’s Day jokes in the media.

In a memorandum privy only to select Parti Québécois cabinet members, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) planned to warn television and radio-broadcasting stations, and newspapers against running fake stories for entertainment.

“Media integrity comes into question when standards – mainly accuracy issues – are cast aside with impunity in favor of inappropriate jocularity,” read the memo concerning April Fool’s – Poisson d’Avril (or April Fish in French) – from the Fruits de merde (FM) section of the OQLF.

“False reporting undermines the trust factor of news itself and leads to the putrefaction of the social fabric,” it said.

The PQ were to advise media in no uncertain terms to stick to straight business-as-usual on April Fool’s, hinting that the satirical hokum celebrated on the calendar date devoted to prankster ingenuity might apply year-round.

“No Quebec media are, under any circumstances, to disseminate fabricated or otherwise baseless news items on April 1, or any other day,” read the memo, further advising cabinet to keep the PQ machinations in-house.

Select news outlets – including the Low Down – have a tradition of publishing tongue-in-cheek satirical pieces as near that date as possible.

Reporter Trevor Greenway minced no words reacting to the possible PQ ban.

“That’s effing bullshit; in my personal opinion. It’s not as if we were even planning to dump on Marois or Ravignat,” he said, referring to the all-too-visible Quebec premier Pauline Marois and the hardly-ever-seen Mathieu Ravignat, the MP for Gatineau.

“Last year, we ran a story on the government requiring Quebec-registered vehicles to mount ‘spring’ tires for extreme wet weather, adding to the aggravation of motorists flip-flopping their summer and winter rubbers,” said Greenway. “How can you not cackle at that?”

The PQ memo caught reporting cohort Lucy Scholey with her pranks down.

“I’m with Trevor; it sucks,” she fumed. “I took the weekend off to work on my idea.”

Scholey’s hoax was to reveal the PQ addressing the lack of transparency at all levels of government, mandating a standard uniform for elected municipal officials.

Given the media focus on the great see-through pants debacle at yogawear titan Lululemon, the Quebec government could take advantage of the fashion giant’s plight by snapping up the 17 per cent of its stock which was recalled because of unnecessary sheerness, and passing them on to municipalities at rock-bottom prices.

“There would be no hidden agenda at council meetings,” cracked Scholey. “Council would have to let it all hang out.”

The leaked PQ memo blew up Low Down editor Martti Lahtinen’s bogus report that Chelsea and Cantley were going to pursue amalgamation.

The idea of twin entities – a notion discussed at the Meredith Centre by certain unnamed key players after a noon hockey game – wouldn’t be the first real-estate deal cooked up in the sanctity of a dressing room, bringing to mind the growing pains of the Ottawa Senators in the cornfields of Kanata, now an oncoming Ontario Valley super-city.

The Chelsea-Cantley combo – in land area and population numbers – would halt the ever-expanding greed of the City of Gatineau, for one thing; it would expedite fixing the traffic bottleneck at the Alonzo Wright Bridge, for another. An environmentally-friendly tunnel under the Gatineau River at Tulip Valley would help solve the access dilemma.

Lahtinen said the Low Down would be remiss if it did not attack the PQ’s banning April Fool’s Day media hoaxes.

“We know they’re super-sensitive to ridicule after ‘Pastagate’; but they have no reason to think they need our help in making them look stupid,” he said. “They do a great job of it, all by themselves.”

Ed. note: Martti Lahtinen is editor of The Low Down to Hull and Back, a Wakefield, Que.-based weekly (lowdownonline.com).

 

 

NDP Says Wynne Government Should Reverse McGuinty Decision and Reinstate Slots at Racetrack Program

March 16, 2013 11:50 am
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Taras Natyshak, the NDP MPP for Essex and NDP Opposition Critic for Labor, told Ottawa Life Magazine yesterday (March 15) that the NDP supports the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP) and believes the program should never have been changed by the Ontario Liberals. Natyshak said that Dwight Duncan erred in changing the successful partnership that brings in $1.5 billion in wages and salaries to Ontario’s economy.

He said the decision of the McGuinty Liberals to end SARP without any consultation or negotiation has sent the horseracing industry reeling: “We’ve already seen almost 1,000 jobs lost and 50,000 more jobs are on the line. On top of the economic and jobs impacts, owners are left with no choice but to put down some of their racehorses. They’ve dropped in value so much that owners can no longer afford to carry the costs of feeding and maintaining them.”

 

Ottawa Life Magazine Managing Editor Dan Donovan asked Natyshak for the official NDP position on the SARP decision as of today. Natyshak  responded that the NDP position today is that “the NDP fully supports the Slots at Racetracks Program as it was and is against the changes brought in by Dwight Duncan and OLG (Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation) last March – and which took effect after the June 2012 budget vote – and that this has always been the NDP position.” When  asked  if he or Andrea Howarth specifically told Premier Wynne that the NDP now  supports SARP as it was before and supports a return to SARP, Natyshak said “yes, they had done this.”

However, Natyshak got testy when asked why the NDP abandoned the very families and businesses in the industry he is now claiming to have concern for when the NDP allowed the Liberal budget implementing the changes to pass last June. Natyshak said the NDP did not support the Liberal budget but abstained. When asked if that position was hypocritical because abstaining would allow the budget to pass and guarantee  the gutting of SARP and the death of the equine industry in Ontario, Natyshak became angry and told Donovan he was an inept journalist and ignorant. Donovan thanked him for the compliment.

Natyshak has posted an article on his website which indicates the NDP wants a return to the SARP program. Here is an excerpt:

“We have already seen job losses in race tracks because of the uncertainty of funding. The industry is suffering, and the damage already caused will be hard to undo. A once thriving industry is being completely dismantled, and the impact will be felt throughout rural Ontario for decades to come. The horse racing and breeding industry is the second largest sub-sector of Ontario’s agricultural sector. We need to ensure that it continues to thrive, and grow, as a valued part of our economy.”

Top Photo: ontariondp.com

Letters to the Editor: Disabled and Displaced: Canada’s Need for a National Disabilities Act

February 14, 2013 12:47 pm
Dunlop

By: Delaney Dunlop

Majority rules – a common phrase used to solve many an argument. This simple practice that parents and teachers employed to avoid conflict has become the cornerstone of our government system. Democracy refers to a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. The reality is, within a capitalist society built on hierarchy, there are winners and losers. The losers – minority groups – are not considered in the game of life, where majority rules.

While we have already experienced a partial shift in power in the 21st century, with many minorities gaining majority status, there are still large numbers of individuals in society who have no say. People with disabilities are an “invisible minority” group because they are forgotten. While our government has improved treatment and accommodations for people with physical challenges, attitudes, stereotypes and systemic barriers are still present.

One woman with a physical disability discusses her struggles with institutional prejudice that infringes on her basic human rights:

I have a physical disability called cerebral palsy.  It may affect the use of my muscles and extremities, but not my brain.  My 23 years of life have encompassed daily struggles to prove I am capable. The majority of people have difficulty understanding and accepting that I CAN be a fully functioning member of society. My most recent struggle is with housing. There are only five buildings in Ottawa that are accessible and provide round-the-clock attendant services.  So, yes there are programs in place… I suppose I should count myself lucky.

The problem is – all of the buildings are full!  I am on the waiting list, and have been for a year, but lists for these buildings can have a wait of 5-6 years! I am going to be homeless as of April. Is that lucky? Clearly, there is a high need and demand for these services. The government must adjust to this change, or risk leaving me out in the cold.

I thought that someone must care about my plight. So I began to make some noise.  I wrote a letter to my Councilor Keith Egli. I wrote asking for guidance and action on my behalf. 

My letter began with a personal introduction. It explained that I am a well-educated 23-year-old woman with a physical disability, facing homelessness in a few months.  My letter was not a sob story. Instead, it commended the government for the positive changes already implemented or underway. Such as the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which requires all businesses to be accessible by 2015, the existence of buildings with attendant services, and recent changes in the public transit system to make all OC Transpo buses accessible. 

I encouraged Egli to continue making Ottawa a leader in accessibility, by calling for the creation of more attendant services, fully accessible buildings, and a law stating that a certain number of apartments in all new building projects must be fully accessible.

I finished the letter and sent it to Egli with new hope and the satisfaction of taking political action.  When I received his response, my hope was shattered with the realization that as usual, this politician intended to dance around the issues.

The very person elected to represent her ignored this woman’s plight. Is that democratic? Does she have equal rights and opportunities? According to her story, she does not have access to her basic right to live under shelter, and she has no opportunity to put a roof over her own head. Shelter is a necessity of life, and yet this minority sometimes does without.

The woman’s dismissal may seem valid after a closer reflection of Egli’s letter, written by a member of his staff. The author discusses affordable housing and the difficulties in attaining it, and mentions the programs in place for rental housing and the construction of new low-income family units.

Only in the last paragraph does Egli mention the problem of accessible housing, stating that in the next two years, the government will invest in a program to help homeowners and landlords make their units more accessible. I can imagine what the disabled woman might have thought when she read the response:

Writing this letter was pointless! They did not address my issue at all! If I were writing about being homeless due to poverty, maybe the letter would have been useful. When he did get around to addressing people with disabilities, it was a mute point! People who already own homes are not my concern, and he didn’t even address attendant care! Maybe those programs will be helpful for the elderly but not for ME! This is just another example of how invisible people with disabilities are – especially young people. We are like a double minority: there are programs for the elderly and children but people in the middle are lost in the abyss.

The truth is, I do not need to imagine. I know the emotions this girl is experiencing: fear, sadness, anger, confusion and fatigue from fighting such a closed political system. Cut off from people they are supposed to serve, ministers of Parliament are only concerned with serving the majority, not achieving equality. After all, the majority rules. It is difficult to imagine a fully educated young adult facing this kind of injustice in the 21st century, but I can. My name is Delaney Dunlop, and in two months I may be homeless…

 

 

America’s Fiscal Albatross

February 11, 2013 1:35 pm
President Barack Obama giving his second inaugural address

The inaugural celebrations are over and a new Congress has been sworn in. Washington, D.C. is returning to business as usual with the status quo being largely upheld. The White House and the Senate remain in the hands of the Democrats and the House of Representatives in the hands of the Republicans — and the 21st century challenges facing lawmakers remain unaddressed.

Perhaps the most significant of these challenges is finding the way to accelerate America’s anemic economic recovery while shoring up its fiscal house to avoid a decline from world superpower to the world’s best-funded banana republic. Politics in Washington remain polarized. The president’s second inaugural address has been viewed by many liberals as a new manifesto for progressive liberalism in the 21st century. Conversely, conservatives see it as a divisive and combative speech that tenaciously steers America significantly to the left by proposing to rewrite its position on policy issues which would drastically increase the size and scope of government, culminating in a more European America. Not to be overlooked is the fact that there is no guarantee that America’s anticipated economic recovery will occur without addressing its fiscal challenges in a bipartisan manner.

Reality once again deflated presidential rhetoric when the American economy took another unexpected turn for the worse. Recently released data revealed that, in the fourth quarter of 2012, the economy contracted at a rate of 0.1% which, according to the United States Commerce Department, is the worst economic report card received since the onset of the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the first quarterly contraction since the turbulent fall of 2009. To make matters worse, the release of January’s job numbers by the U.S. Labor Department revealed that the American economy created only 157,000 jobs compared to the nearly 200,000 jobs created in December 2012.

The U.S. Capitol Building (Credit: Georgia Tech)

While it may be true that the decrease reflected the end of the cyclical (and temporary) holiday retail hiring season, winter storms that curtailed consumer spending, lower levels of inventory investment and the elimination of some 9,000 government jobs, the net result has been an increase in the U.S. unemployment rate from 7.8% to 7.9%. This is bad news for any president embarking upon a second term, especially a president whose second-term agenda (at least according to his inaugural address) appears to focus on the pursuit of contentious “culture war” issues rather than reinvigorating the American economy.

But with more than $16 trillion in debt, continuing high unemployment and the probability that the Obama administration will impose higher tax rates, there is an increasing likelihood that the United States will become less appealing for business investors and entrepreneurs. Furthermore, research projects undertaken by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) — nonpartisan agencies which investigate how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars — have identified that the best-case scenario for the American economy is for it to maintain (not reduce) today’s debt-to-GDP ratio of 72% over the course of the next decade. However, looking beyond 2022, America’s albatross of federal debt will become more unsustainable and a much greater threat because of increased spending on existing entitlement programs — most notably Medicare and Medicaid — due to aging demographics and declining birth rates. Optimistic scenarios have forecast America’s debt-to-GDP ratio at an estimated 160% by mid-century while pessimistic scenarios estimate that figure at 200%. To put this into perspective, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio is now closing in on 200%.

The White House (Credit: MSNBC)

While the United States of tomorrow is not necessarily the Greece of today, the objectives outlined by President Obama in his second inaugural address will not reduce the looming fiscal security threat. Clearing a path to legal citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in America, further subsidizing the development of experimental (and unprofitable) alternative energy sources, penalizing the job and wealth-creating traditional energy industries, and limiting the development of the country’s vast shale oil deposits — while advocating higher tax rates for individuals and corporations — will not prevent America’s possible metamorphosis into a bloated reflection of present-day Greece.

The class warfare line of reasoning for increasing tax rates on what the Occupy Wall Street movement has dubbed the “top 1%” of American income earners will not solve America’s economic woes. Under the existing tax code, this so-called “top 1%” already pays more than 40% of all federal income tax and increasing their tax rates substantially — as President Obama has vowed to do — would only make a marginal contribution to paying down America’s debt. Neither punitive tax rates nor subsidized alternative energy projects will remove the fiscal albatross from the neck of the American economy. A realistic discussion followed by an action plan to reduce government entitlement programs and expenditures is what is required. However, the American public will likely remain unaware of this reality should President Obama pursue the priorities set out in his second inaugural address. But then again, this should come as no surprise since, in his first term, President Obama created his own presidential deficit reduction commission — the Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform — only to ignore its recommendations. Instead, he increased the American deficit by more than $5 trillion in four years and then finished his first term with the American Congress having gone almost a thousand days without passing a budget.

 

Top Photo: US Magazine

 

Closing Doors on Canada’s History

February 4, 2013 11:38 am
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On June 19, 2012, David McGuinty, Liberal Member of Parliament for Ottawa South, rose during Question Period to ask which federal departments or agencies have closed or will be closing their libraries and what is the rationale for such closures. In posing these questions, McGuinty spotlighted a development that has been quietly underway for months and will seriously impede research and undermine our understanding of Canada’s history.

To date, libraries at the Immigration and Refugee Board, Transport Canada, Public Works and Government Services Canada, Public Service Commission, National Capital Commission, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Canadian International Development Agency have been closed. Other libraries are scheduled for imminent closure. In still others, staff are being drastically cut.

Even when forward-looking library managers take into account the reality of digital publishing and act accordingly, they and their staff, to say nothing of outside researchers, cannot but deplore the consignment of valuable books, documents and photos to basements, where they will be out of reach of researchers and in danger of being lost forever.

An example of a unique document destined for oblivion is cited by Michael Molloy, president of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society. This University of Ottawa Senior Fellow is researching the development of Canada’s refugee policy in the critical period between 1969, when Canada signed the UN Refugee Convention, and 1978, when a revised Immigration Act was implemented.

According to Molloy, developments in refugee policy at the Cabinet level can be tracked online, but the critical decisions made by Cabinet were communicated to immigration officials in an “Operations Memorandum” inserted in an immigration officer’s instruction manual. “These instructions,” reports Molloy, “governed how Canada resettled refugees from Chile, Uganda, Eastern Europe and the early phase of the Indochinese refugee movement and had a profound impact on Canadian refugee procedures down to this day. So far as we know, only one copy of the Ops Memorandum still exists: in the Immigration department’s library, which has closed.” At this writing, it is unclear what is to become of historical material of this sort when other libraries close.

Other irreplaceable documentation slated for oblivion deals with Canada’s labour history, no small part of any country’s heritage. These documents are held by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s library, which has also closed.

These closures and service reductions are ostensibly part of the Harper Government’s budget control measures. Unfortunately, the Government of Canada and federal policymakers often don’t consider the implications of the wanton dismissal of print material. They don’t seem to realize that a huge body of literature does not exist on the Internet. This includes older documents and the pay-per-use literature of academia.

Nor do these federal decision-makers register that librarians are still the best search engines. Many people don’t know how to search the Internet expeditiously or even where to begin a search. With the loss of government librarians, civil servants seeking reports and other background material or researching their own reports will have to rely solely on their own research skills. This will result in less informed reports with the regrettable implications this has for policy formulation.

In short, no matter what type of format is consulted, skilled and knowledgeable librarians have provided quick and efficient research access to the information federal government policy analysts and researchers need. And this should continue to be the case so that their advice to ministers on matters affecting Canadians is well-founded.

These librarians have also been an invaluable resource to outside researchers who are interested in bringing to light the background to public policy.

The statue of Arthur Doughty on the terrace at the back of the Library and Archives Canada building overlooking the Ottawa River. Arthur Doughty was Dominion Archivist from 1904 to 1936. While serving in this capacity, he wrote: “Of all national assets, archives are the most precious; they are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.” Doughty must be spinning in his grave now!

Claiming the need to cut costs, the government has also been slowly and stealthily wrecking Library and Archives Canada (LAC), the flagship of Canada’s heritage-keepers. At LAC, over 30 archivists’ and librarians’ positions are being axed, which in turn is leading to a reduction in programs, one involving the acquisition of new archival holdings.

Already dozens of documents, photos and artifacts so essential to the preservation of Canada’s history are not being acquired. Moreover, Daniel Caron, who was appointed Librarian and Archivist of Canada on April 24, 2009, has gutted the private acquisitions program (the papers of politicians, other individuals, arts groups, organizations, etc.) in order to focus on the government’s agenda: record-keeping improvements in government institutions.

Thanks to the cutting last April of a federal government grant program, part of $9.6 million in reductions to LAC, efforts to preserve Canadian history in small historical archives and museums in dozens of communities across the country are threatened. According to Braden Cannon, special projects archivist at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, many jobs will be lost and projects shelved. Previously, the program helped to support First Nations, religious and historical archives.

Archives are about a nation’s memory. They help to illuminate our history and to make governments accountable.

Government records and the records of private institutions have played an important role in the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has been listening to the testimony
of residential school victims. Archival material has also figured in Japanese-Canadian redress and the tainted blood scandal inquiry.

Budget slashing is also making LAC’s holdings less accessible to researchers of all stripes, including genealogists researching family history, journalists, historians, novelists and playwrights.

Since interlibrary loans were completely eliminated on December 11, 2012, readers wishing to consult books found only on LAC shelves will have to consult them on-site at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. And those who can go to LAC will find that hours and services have been drastically cut.

The Harper Government falsely claims the cuts won’t affect service to Canadians as LAC is putting as much of its collection online as possible. What the Government of Canada fails to mention is that only a minuscule percentage of the LAC collection is online and that LAC documents online can be incomplete and of little use to a researcher. One can therefore question whether digitization is all that it is held out to be. In any event, with all the staff cuts, digitization’s progress at LAC is being severely hampered.

To date, the federal Tory government has demonstrated an aversion to evidence-based policy and a dislike of public access to information. So we have to wonder if its treatment of its own libraries and
archives is a reflection of this. Whether or not this is the case, we can only hope that library closures will soon stop and that policies in effect at LAC and government departmental libraries will be altered to protect Canada’s knowledge base and heritage.

 

Top Photo: The main Library and Archives Canada building on Wellington Street.

All Photos: David Knowles

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