RURAL RANT: Living Locally

January 23, 2013 11:17 am
LivingLocallyBlogCranberries

Today’s blog is more of a rave than a rant. I had the good fortune to spend the day on assignment at the Russell Horticultural Society’s fourth annual Living Locally Fair, held Saturday (January 19) at the Catholic high school in the village of Russell, about a kilometre outside Ottawa’s boundaries.

The Living Locally Fair showcased local producers from Eastern Ontario and a few from the Outaouais. The school gym and

Asparagusto pops up at markets and trade shows in and around Ottawa on a regular basis. Here is but a small sample of the local company’s products.

atrium were replete with food, meats, grains, baking, crafts, wool, clothing, handmade wooden products, herbs, cheese, eggs and lots of other delectable items for sale. Artists and authors were on hand, as well as local community organizations—a feast for the spirit as well as the body.

One of the values to the city of a local healthy countryside is the opportunity to eat or wear what it produces.

Canada is a great food-producing nation, but in the winter we are hard-pressed to get all the nutrients we need from food grown here. Very little of the country has the soil or climate to grow vegetables and fruits (eastern and southern Ontario, the west coast, and parts of the east coast).

Gina Wolhgemuth of Savvy Company in Ottawa shows off some of the artisan cheeses she sells as part of her savvy sommelier offerings.

So attending events like Living Locally, a winter version of the farmer’s market, is a fantastic opportunity. A nice drive out to the countryside, an interaction with a rural agricultural community, a lot of hard-working farm folk to discuss food-related topics with—what could be better in the coldest depths of winter?

And the food isn’t all apples and carrots either. Winter is a slow time, both work-wise and revenue-wise, so this January market brings out lots of producers who have been using the downtime to do value-added work.

Local growers add value to their products by producing their own spice mixes, jams, jellies, pickles, wine, beer, baked goods,

Bearbrook Farms just east of Ottawa has long had an excellent reputation for its specialty meats. Here is a small sample of the varieties available, including wild boar, buffalo, ostrich, elk and more traditional bacon, poultry and eggs.

cheeses, smoked and cured meats, fresh and frozen meats—including humanely raised and organic, frozen vegetable orders, heirloom seeds, grains and flour, as well as yarns and clothing made from high-quality local wool.

The 100-mile diet was popularized a few years ago, but it’s always been a good idea. Food that doesn’t travel hundreds of kilometres in a truck or thousands of kilometres in a ship retains more nutrition. We do have to import—Canada is too big and cold to produce everything we need, but we are getting better at enjoying the foods we can make here.

When it comes to eating, city dwellers can do a lot of it locally, supporting the nearby countryside, not just for the delicious goods it produces, but also to keep that countryside alive, vital and healthy for future generations of foodies.

We need to drive to the countryside, walk in it, picnic by little rivers in forested shade and eat apples from trees rooted in our own soil.

Local food helps keep bodies healthy. Local farms keep rural communities vital. Local access to nature feeds our souls.

 

TOP PHOTO: Ottawa’s only local producer of cranberries in quantity is Upper Canada Cranberries from Greely (south Ottawa).

ALL PHOTO CREDITS: Candice Vetter

The Uncertain Road Ahead: The Ontario Liberal Party Unexpectedly Searches for a New Leader

January 18, 2013 12:00 pm
Kathleen Wynee - Paul Couvrette

On October 15, 2012, Dalton McGuinty unexpectedly announced his intention to retire, signaling the end of his nine-year reign as the Liberal Premier of Ontario and more than two decades as the Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) for Ottawa South. While McGuinty’s announcement caught many Ontarians by surprise, an even greater surprise was his decision to abruptly prorogue the Ontario Legislature. Declaring that “my responsibility is to look to the future, and to ensure that we renew our party,” McGuinty was adamant that neither decision bore any relation to the growing political controversy surrounding the rising costs for taxpayers resulting from his government’s decision to relocate two new electricity-generating power stations which, had they been built in the initially-proposed locations, could have cost his party two seats in the 2011 election.

With McGuinty’s announcement, the Ontario Liberal Party suddenly required a new leader, someone who would automatically become Ontario’s 25th Premier but who would also inherit a minority government. A pool of six candidates — four men (Eric Hoskins, Gerard Kennedy, Charles Sousa and Harinder Takhar) and two women (Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne) — are vying to succeed McGuinty at the January 2013 leadership convention in Toronto. But while the candidates have entered a race which McGuinty stated would renew the Ontario Liberal Party, each candidate has served as a McGuinty cabinet minister at one time or another. No matter which candidate moves into the Premier’s office, he or she will have to resolve some thorny issues to retain the premiership in the next provincial election.

During his years in power, McGuinty built a record that included many successes. However, his tenure  since 2007 was increasingly defined  by government scandals characterized by poor management and surprising losses of taxpayer dollars: more than $1 billion on eHealth’s failed attempt to develop electronic health records for Ontarians, ORNGE’s allocation of about $200 million in taxpayers’ money for questionable investments unrelated to running the province’s air ambulance service, and an estimated waste of $750 million to $1 billion in costs associated with the decision to halt construction of  two power stations and move at least one of them to Napanee in Eastern Ontario.

Then there has been the ongoing controversy about the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) which has paid its management team millions of dollars in bonuses during the McGuinty years – even though it is a government monopoly with no competition. The LCBO has a reputation for being secretive and for showcasing expensive brands while Ontario wineries have difficulty accessing LCBO stores to promote their products. In McGuinty’s first term, the government issued a report recommending privatization of the bloated agency, but the report was buried – even though it suggested that Ontario would make over $200 million more annually in tax revenues if the LCBO were privatized. Ontario Ministers are silent on why the agency — appointments to which are controlled by the governing party — is allowed to pay its management team bonuses for a no-risk enterprise.

Furthermore, the government the Premier leaves behind has become embroiled in disputes with various segments of Ontario’s population. Attempts to reduce the government’s nearly $14-billion deficit have angered its traditionally supportive constituency of public workers. One need only think of the ongoing dispute with Ontario’s teachers which has led to province-wide strike action in December 2012 or the unilaterally-imposed, large-scale alternative energy projects in rural communities. However, no policy has alienated Ontarians more than the government’s abrupt decision to end the Slots-at-Racetracks Program, a public-private revenue-sharing agreement between the government and Ontario’s horse racing and equine industry.

In December 2012, Ottawa Life Magazine undertook to interview the seven leadership candidates on issues of importance to Ontarians. All but Sandra Pupatello and Harinder Takhar made themselves available to comment on critical issues related to what they would do if they became Premier.

Cancellation of the Slots-at-Racetracks Program (SARP)

The government’s unilateral and unexpected March 2012 announcement about canceling the lucrative SARP (which, since its inception in 1998, has annually generated more than $1 billion in revenue for Ontario) was a blow to the gaming, racing and equine industries in Ontario. Under SARP, profits from slot machines at the tracks were split between the government, the horse racing and equine industry and the rural municipalities where the machines were located. The demise of this program on March 31, 2013 will decimate the horse racing and equine industry, impacting the 60,000 Ontarians who work directly in the industry or in its ancillary sectors, ranging from saddlers and trailer dealers to farmers and blacksmiths. Each of the leadership candidates interviewed by Ottawa Life expressed an opinion on the demise of SARP.

Kathleen Wynne declared that, should she become Premier, she would assume the portfolio of Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for at least one year to show that her government is taking the concerns of rural Ontarians seriously. She stated: “I think we do need a viable industry. There are thousands of jobs associated with this industry and I think we need sober second thought on the support that needs to be in place for it.” But she did not expand upon what that sober second thought would entail. Asked what the horse racing industry in Ontario might look like in the future, Wynne responded that: “It will go through a transition. It will look different in a few years but I don’t think anyone is saying that’s a bad thing.” However, as to what she would do if the government-appointed Horse Racing Transition Panel were unable to produce an agreement acceptable to all stakeholders, Wynne responded by observing that life and politics can be characterized as a “series of conversations” which she was confident would be given greater priority in her government.

Wynne, a longtime McGuinty cabinet minister who was in cabinet when the decision to end SARP was made, was questioned about the apparent lack of consultation with the industry prior to the SARP announcement. Admitting that the consultation “probably wasn’t as robust as it should have been,” she stated that money and anxiety can be saved “by talking to people first so that you actually know what it is you’re walking into; if we had this to do again, we probably would have had some of these conversations up front so we wouldn’t have been in reactive mode.”

When asked why she thought that Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has repeatedly characterized SARP as a subsidy when it is a public-private revenue-sharing agreement, Wynne provided a theoretical response that quickly shifted to the defensive. She felt that “There was a semantic argument about what exactly the words meant” and that “the subsidy language was inflammatory to the sector.” She expressed confidence that the Horse Racing Transition Panel would be able to develop the proper language in referring to SARP… but: “The reality is that it was revenue that could have been used by the provincial treasury that was being used to stabilize the industry.”

Gerard Kennedy (Credit: parl.gc.ca)

Like Wynne, Gerard Kennedy expressed regret about the lack of consultation prior to the announcement of the phasing-out of SARP. He felt that “ending the Program has had a damaging impact” and that “the government didn’t take the time to examine the likely consequences of its actions.” Kennedy indicated that he is “very curious” to see the final recommendations of the Ontario Horse Racing Transition Panel. On the government’s treatment of SARP, he opined: “There are other options and it’s a mistake that we didn’t get to address these options from the beginning.” While Kennedy was not explicit about these other options, he hinted at what they might be when he addressed the controversial budget initiative entitled Modernizing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG): “I’m not convinced the existing strategy would work and I’m hoping to review it. I’m much more comfortable with slots and gaming being located at designated safe places for gambling in the province — like they were when they were located at the province’s horse racing tracks — than at casino locations in downtown areas.”

Pointing out that he was not a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government when the decision to end SARP was made, Kennedy felt unable to comment on the justification for the language used by the government in referring to the program as a subsidy. While he maintained that “the revenue-sharing associated with SARP was disproportionately beneficial to the government,” Kennedy felt that any solution must allow for “a viable industry” and that “partnerships of any kind require more respect than was the case with SARP.”

Charles Sousa (Credit: mhp.gov.on.ca)

Charles Sousa, the candidate who left a career in Canada’s financial services sector to serve at Queen’s Park, agrees that the horse racing industry is critical to Ontario and, like some of his competitors, maintains that “consultation with the industry is also crucial.” Without describing that consultation process or stating whether or not he would review the decision to end SARP, Sousa explained that he wants to make the industry more self-sufficient by better promoting it at home and abroad through “a successful marketing procedure that can play a role in drawing in more revenue to the province’s horse racing industry, thereby making it more financially sustainable.” When the discussion turned to his thoughts on the framing of SARP as a subsidy, seeing it as a fiscal issue and not semantics, Sousa said that: “What’s important is that we have to get the best value for money. What concerns me is the question of how we are going to continue to grow the industry and reshape things in a way that enables the government partnership to work effectively and efficiently.”

Eric Hoskins, who represents the St. Paul’s riding, is a physician and co-founder and president of War Child Canada, a non-profit organization for building awareness and support for war-affected children. He was the first of the candidates to take a clear position on SARP by referring to the importance of Ontario’s horse racing industry in his Respect for Rural Ontario platform. When speaking with Ottawa Life, Hoskins went further than any other candidate by saying that he “would review the decision to end the Slots-at-Racetracks Program in the first 60 days as Premier” and “would build on what was learned from the Horse Racing Transition Panel’s report.” While not formally endorsing it, he said he would consider certain aspects of the report “to develop a long-term, sustainable solution.”

Eric Hoskins (Credit: ontarioliberal.ca)

However, unlike his competitors, Hoskins pointed out the importance of realizing that “other viable horse racing industries around the world require an investment by the public sector.” And when it came to describing the labeling of that investment by the government, Hoskins lost no time in pointing out that he has referred to SARP “as a partnership that has existed for many years with the sector” and has “committed to developing a long-term sustainable plan that solidifies this partnership.”

While the discussion on the demise of SARP dealt primarily with the fiscal (and employment) impact it will have on the province, there are other negative consequences. A spokesperson for the horse racing industry in Ottawa (who wished to remain anonymous) pointed out that: “Upwards of 13,000 horses in Ontario would need to be euthanized because of the crippling financial blow dealt to the industry and many of the province’s farms and breeders will lack the steady stream of funds required to continue to care for these animals. In other words, with the end of SARP, the cash that is needed to maintain these horses would disappear.” The direct consequence will be the slaughter of thousands of horses — a fact that has been substantiated by research undertaken by the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association (OHRIA).

Two of the candidates, Hoskins and Sousa, expressed their thoughts on this probable outcome. When the number of horses likely to be slaughtered was brought to his attention, Hoskins said: “If that were to happen, it would be a truly tragic outcome. I think that most Ontarians would agree on that. That’s part of the reason why I have directly addressed the horse racing issue in my rural plan.”

Sousa also favors saving the horses: “I am certainly hoping that the industry will be able to take care of these horses. I am confident that breeders and other industry members will be able to safeguard these animals.”

When asked for his opinion, Bruce Roney, the executive director of the Ottawa Humane Society, stressed that: “Everybody who has made money off the horse racing industry in Ontario and the horses themselves — for example, the provincial government, the harness men, the breeders and farmers — now needs to take responsibility for the caring of these horses.” However, the buck ultimately stops with the Ontario government’s Horse Racing Transition Panel. Roney foresees a problem because he claims that, when it comes to the industry stakeholders and the Ontario government: “These don’t seem to be groups of people who are sitting down and working things out. Consequently, I’m not optimistic for the horses. There was a great deal of information in the Horse Racing Transition Panel’s report on everything except the actual prolonged welfare of the horses. The animals seem to be excluded from the thought process.”

What seems very evident is that Wynne, Kennedy, Hoskins, and Sousa have been awakened to the consequences of Ontario’s decision to end a successful partnership that poured billions of dollars into the Ontario economy and supported health care and education programs. What is equally startling is that none of the candidates seemed to be aware, until questioned by OLM, that their decision will cause the death of over 13,000 horses in Ontario and the destruction of one of the most successful breeding and equine businesses in North America. Wynne, Kennedy (who was not in the cabinet and hence not a party to this decision or policy when enacted), Hoskins and Sousa, upon learning about this fact, seemed to indicate a willingness to either press the pause button and rethink the matter or to work with the industry for a solution acceptable to all stakeholders. Puppatello’s silence speaks volumes about her position on the equine and horse racing industry in Ontario. The idea that putting down 13,000 animals is of no concern to Puppatello should be something all Ontarians may wish to reflect upon.

The Ontario Green Energy Act

Since its introduction in February 2009, the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEA) has been the legislative tool used by the McGuinty government to implement its ambitious agenda of substantially increasing the percentage of Ontario’s energy mix founded on the use of expensive alternative energy projects. Through the implementation of the GEA, the purpose of which is to promote energy conservation and create tens of thousands of so-called “green jobs,” the McGuinty government has required the construction of wind and solar projects in many rural Ontario communities. However, there has been little consultation with the residents where these projects are situated and little time to consider the concomitant adverse health effects and the decline in property values associated with living in close proximity to certain types of renewable energy projects. Not surprisingly, the manner in which the GEA was implemented, combined with the robust increase in hydro rates since the McGuinty government first came to power, has not won the Ontario Liberals a great deal of support in rural ridings. The five leadership candidates interviewed by Ottawa Life were asked their opinions on what changes, if any, they would make to the GEA and energy policy in general should they become Premier.

All of the candidates insisted that, as Premier, they would increase the involvement of rural Ontarians in the consultation process for the placement of GEA projects. Wynne felt that communities must be engaged “in a way that makes them feel they’re part of the process, because some of the pushback we’re getting on the Green Energy Act has been because there hasn’t been enough input from municipalities and from community groups.” Kennedy said he wanted to review the Green Energy Act with respect to local decision-making: “There shouldn’t be forced placement of GEA projects.”

Sousa summed up his position:  “I am advocating for more local input.”

Hoskins stressed the importance of greater consultation and said that “when one of these projects does move forward, I would expect it to have the support of the people in the community in which the project will be located.”

Some candidates also suggested the need for a more careful approach to the GEA in general. As Kennedy put it: “People deserve to see clearly how much this is going to cost, how many jobs it will create, and if we are really making viable industries out of the government’s investments. I’m not convinced that we’re looking fully at the costs related to a number of Green Energy Act projects.”

On the high electricity rates in Ontario, the candidates seemed to agree that, as Hoskins put it: “McGuinty inherited an energy infrastructure that was badly in need of repair. Therefore, part of the increase has been from bringing in renewable energy to compensate for the shuttering of the province’s coal-fired plants. However, this came with a cost. It has required us to replace the power previously generated from coal with new infrastructure.”

Sousa said that one of the reasons why rates are so high in Ontario is that “much of the power that is generated [through alternative means] cannot get to the grid,” thus placing an increased burden on the system. “Upgrading our energy sources will allow us, over time, to lower our debt load and contain our rates.”

However, all seven candidates admitted that it would be easier for Ontarians to lower their electricity rates through practicing better conservation by using electricity at off-peak hours.

Transportation/Traffic

The five candidates who spoke with Ottawa Life also shed light on how they would approach the broader challenge of transportation in a society where an ever-growing number of people are on the move. According to the candidates, the most pressing transportation issue facing Ontarians is urban traffic and congestion. All of the candidates stressed the importance of investing more in public transit to reduce traffic in Ontario’s major cities, but there were subtle differences in opinion.

For instance, Wynne pointed out that for decades Ontario has made investments in transit inconsistently, noting that: “We’ve always had a plan to invest in roads. We’ve always had a plan to invest in bridges. We have a five-year highway plan. But we haven’t had that for transit. So, we need an incremental plan.”

To meet the challenge of urban traffic congestion, Hoskins stated that: “We need a national transit strategy that takes a long-term, forward-oriented look at this challenge and guarantees investment from all levels of government.”

But as Sousa pointed out, when it comes to addressing this challenge, “it’s not just literal gridlock but also political gridlock” that is at play. Sousa said he would “reduce costs and get rid of layers of bureaucracy” and would move ahead “with a high-speed rail project from Windsor to Quebec City.” Kennedy argued that “some of our transit isn’t necessarily in the right places” and that he would “like to explore tax incentives to provide an offset to people who live near where they work.” Kennedy also noted that an optimally functioning transit system will be more important in the years ahead when there will be “a greater population of aging people needing to get from point A to point B but who cannot drive themselves.”

Prorogation

The candidates were asked to discuss their thoughts on McGuinty’s surprise decision to prorogue the Ontario Legislature. Since all are current or past McGuinty cabinet ministers, it should come as no surprise that none of the candidates interviewed by Ottawa Life objected to the decision nor did they equate it with the controversy surrounding the two displaced power plants. Perhaps Sousa’s comments best captured their reaction: “Am I happy that the government prorogued? No. Was it necessary? I think so.” Sousa justified his response by explaining that “nothing was getting done in the Legislature and a lot of political games were being played.” All the other candidates echoed this response. In fact, even Gerard Kennedy, who was not a sitting member at the time of prorogation, commented that “a lot of poisonous hyper-partisanship has been going on in the Legislature, thereby preventing any constructive work from being accomplished.”

Nevertheless, the candidates did offer their opinions on the circumstances that warranted the use of prorogation. “It should only be used as an administrative device and should not be used as a political weapon,” Kennedy noted. Hoskins maintained that “prorogation should be used without exception as a tool of absolute last resort.” Wynne believes the decision to prorogue the Legislature has created discomfort, but not for her. “What I know is that there is discomfort among members about being out of the Legislature, and there is discomfort among Ontarians that the Legislature is not sitting when they expect it to be sitting. So, my antidote to that is to get back to the Legislature as soon as possible.” All of the candidates vowed to reopen the Ontario Legislature at the first opportunity, which is likely to be February 19, 2013.

Deficit

With Ontario’s budget deficit projected at $14.4 billion for fiscal 2012-13 compared to the roughly $5.6 billion in fiscal 2003-04 when the McGuinty Liberals formed their first majority government and with commitments from each candidate to pay down Ontario’s deficit by 2017-18, a discussion of the means to achieve this difficult end was pursued. All of the candidates provided responses that emphasized streamlining the approval of infrastructure projects, maintaining public sector wage constraints, and controlling government spending.

Ever the businessman, Sousa emphasized that “The best way to improve revenue is to increase economic growth.” Hoskins stated that “we need to tackle the deficit from the revenue and expenditures points of view.” That end would be achieved by raising more revenue for the province and also by reshaping government ministries and agencies to work smarter and more efficiently — the latter being a particularly difficult task given the McGuinty government’s track record.

Kennedy said the goal of paying down Ontario’s deficit by 2017-18 is “ambitious but it’s also relative” and that “changing the manner of the government’s social programs will save us substantial money.” However, Kennedy did not clearly articulate the nature of those changes to government social programs.

Wynne stated that: “The biggest thing that we can do is health care. We have to find ways to curb the growth of health-care costs.” Hoskins offered two specific ways of doing this: “We can invest more in preventative care and use existing technology better.” Hoskins said he was confident that “we can find the required savings without negatively impacting services.”

Education

Ontario’s educators are at odds with the government over Bill 115 which imposed contracts characterized by wage freezes and the cancellation of lucrative benefits related to the accumulation of sick days upon primary and secondary schoolteachers. The government implemented the legislation on January 3, 2013, and then, oddly enough, announced its projected repeal the very same day. However, the province’s teachers and their labour unions seem unwilling to accept the stricter contracts. Some have even raised the possibility of organizing further labor disruptions despite the fact that, under the terms of the new contracts ushered in by Bill 115, to do so would technically be illegal. Regardless of the virulent opposition from a segment of Ontario’s society that has traditionally been a strong and steady supporter of the McGuinty government, each candidate maintained that the Ontario Liberal government continues to have a deep and unshakable relationship with the province’s educators.

Kathleen Wynne observed that: “We’ve worked for nine years. We have built very solid relationships and we have achieved an enormous amount.” Gerard Kennedy suggested a marginally shorter timeline for the Ontario Liberal’s harmonious relationship with the province’s teachers, citing that “for 8½ out of nine years, this government has had a strong relationship with the province’s teachers.”

And when it came to discussing why the relationship between the government and teachers had deteriorated into the job action seen across the province for the past month, Wynne acknowledged that: “The process as it unfolded early on was not as good as it should have been.” Sousa said: “We could have done a better job in the way we negotiated.” While no candidate specifically outlined what could have been done to prevent the still-smoldering labour dispute, all candidates stressed the importance of having an open dialogue with Ontario’s teachers and of respecting the collective bargaining process, touting their own deal-making skills. For instance, Hoskins felt that to facilitate constructive dialogue between the government and teachers, “we need to pull out all the stops in the time we have left and this may mean the Premier getting involved.”

Children’s Aid Societies

While the labour dispute with Ontario’s teachers may be the most visible new challenge that the government and its new Premier will have to meet, concerns are emerging about the stability and efficacy of government funding for the province’s close to 50 Children’s Aid Societies (CAS), funding that is needed to protect children under the age of 16 from abuse and neglect. Avanthi Goodard, who serves as the Board of Directors’ president at the York Region CAS and who is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), shed some light on the problem. Ms. Goodard explained that: “Society has evolved over time but our funding model hasn’t changed. Changing the funding model to actually meet the new world is what is required.” Virginia Rowden, director of social policy at OACAS, identified the general principle that should underpin the change in funding model to ensure that CAS maintains the financial ability to provide its services to Ontarians in need: “There needs to be a socio-demographic factor built into the model so the funding takes into account demographic changes and population growth” — which has not seemed to be the case under the existing funding model. This is problematic because, as was noted in the OACAS 2012 Child Welfare Report, there is a gap of tens of millions of dollars “between the amount of funding allotted and the amount needed by CAS to deliver child protection services.”

Eric Hoskins, the Minister of Children and Youth Services, pointed out that: “Funding for the CAS is the same as last year. There was no funding decrease. The funding envelope remained intact and stable.” Nevertheless, Hoskins admitted that more needs to be done to ensure that “funds are being allocated to children’s aid societies in the most efficient manner and that they’re having the right and maximum impact on the children involved.”

Hoskins added: “With the support of the sector and a commission looking at the Children’s Aid Society welfare sector, we’re working with the sector to transform everything from the funding formula to focusing on prevention and parenting.”

In one way or another, the other candidates in the leadership race also touched on the issue of children’s aid societies. For instance, Wynne focused on the importance of increasing educational opportunities for children who are under the care of Ontario’s CAS and stressed the fact that far fewer of these children graduate from high school compared to their peers who are not in care. Kennedy voiced his concern that “the cost of children’s aid has been growing much faster than the rate of inflation due to costs associated with foster care.” As Premier, he would launch an immediate inquiry to develop a more effective funding model for Ontario’s children’s aid societies.

As Dalton McGuinty prepares to step down as Premier of Ontario, the narrative about his legacy is yet to be written and the consequences (and cost) of controversial decisions made by his government are yet to be fully absorbed by Ontarians. No matter which of the candidates is selected at the impending convention to become leader of the Ontario Liberal Party — and the new Premier — the challenges that await are daunting. Leading a minority government in as partisan a setting as the Ontario Legislature and facing tough questions about the decisions made by your predecessor’s government on issues that have deeply divided many Ontarians is not an easy task. But, then again, as Gerard Kennedy quips: “Nobody has any reason to feel sorry for politicians.”

____________________________________________

 

The next Ontario Liberal Party leadership election is scheduled for January 25 to 27, 2013 at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

TOP PHOTO: Kathleen Wynne: Paul Couvrette

In Their Own Words: Ontario Liberal Leadership Candidates Weigh in on SARP and Other Issues of Concern

11:11 am
Ontario Liberal

In December 2012, Ottawa Life Magazine interviewed candidates in the Ontario Liberal leadership race (Sandra Pupatello and Harinder Takhar were unavailable and Glen Murray has since bowed out) on the issues that are of concern to Ontarians. A fuller discussion of the candidates’ opinions can be found on here.

 

 

 

Ending the Slots-at-Racetracks Program (SARP)

Kathleen Wynne:

“I think that we do need a viable [horse racing and equine] industry. There are thousands of jobs associated with this industry and I think we need sober second thought on the support that needs to be in place for it.”

Gerard Kennedy:

“Ending the Program has had a damaging impact. The government didn’t take the time to examine the likely consequences of its actions.”

Charles Sousa:

“Consultation with the industry is also crucial but what’s important is that we have to get the best value for money.”

Eric Hoskins:

“I would review the decision to end the Slots-at-Racetracks Program in the first 60 days as Premier” but “it is important to remember that other viable horse racing industries around the world require an investment by the public sector.”

 

The Ontario Green Energy Act (GEA) & Energy Policy

Kathleen Wynne:

“Communities must be engaged in a way that makes them feel that they’re part of the process.”

Gerard Kennedy:

“There shouldn’t be forced placement of GEA projects and we are not looking fully at the costs related to a number of GEA projects.”

Charles Sousa:

“I am advocating for more local input.”

Eric Hoskins:

“When one of these [GEA] projects does move forward, I would expect it to have the support of the people in the community in which the project will be located.”

 

Transportation/Traffic

Kathleen Wynne:

“We’ve always had a plan to invest in roads.We’ve always had a plan to invest in bridges. We have a five-year highway plan. But we haven’t had that for transit. So, we need an incremental plan.”

Gerard Kennedy:

“I would like to explore tax incentives to provide an offset to people who live near where they work.”

Eric Hoskins:

“We need a national transit strategy that takes a long-term, forward-oriented look at this problem and guarantees investment from all levels of government.”

Charles Sousa:

“We need to reduce costs and get rid of layers of bureaucracy and, as Premier, I would move ahead with a high-speed rail project from Windsor to Quebec City.”

 

Prorogation of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Kathleen Wynne:

“What I know is that there is discomfort among members about being out of the Legislature, and there is discomfort among Ontarians that the Legislature is not sitting when they expect it to be sitting. So, my antidote to that is to get back to the Legislature as soon as possible.”

Gerard Kennedy:

“Prorogation should only be used as an administrative device and should not be used as a political weapon.”

Charles Sousa:

“Am I happy that the government prorogued? No. Was it necessary? I think so” because “nothing was getting done in the Legislature and a lot of political games were being played.”

Eric Hoskins:

“Prorogation should be used without exception as a tool of absolute last resort.”

 

Ontario’s Deficit

Kathleen Wynne:

“The biggest thing that we can do is health care.We have to find ways in health care to curb the growth of health-care costs.”

Gerard Kennedy:

“Changing the manner of the government’s social programs will save us substantial money.”

Charles Sousa:

“The best way to improve revenue is to increase economic growth.”

Eric Hoskins:

“Investing more in preventative care and using existing technology better is necessary.”

 

Education

Kathleen Wynne:

“We’ve worked for nine years, we have built very solid relationships and we have achieved an enormous amount – but the collective bargaining process was not as good as it should have been.”

Gerard Kennedy:

“Ontario’s teachers understand the limitations on the treasury.”

Charles Sousa:

“We could have done a better job in the way we negotiated with Ontario’s teachers.”

Eric Hoskins:

“We need to pull out all the stops in the time we have left and this may require the Premier being involved.”

Decoding Gas Prices: Is the Gas Gouge Real? Part 1

January 17, 2013 8:08 am
Gas

Gas prices. If there is one topic that gets the back up of every Canadian who owns a vehicle, it is probably that one. There seems to be a veil of secrecy surrounding the issue. Who determines the cost? How come it fluctuates from day- to-day? Why is gas more expensive in some provinces than others? Is it really all taxes? How come prices are so high in a country like ours that has such an abundance of oil?

There are many factors involved in pricing and it is actually a far more complicated issue than one might guess. While it’s easy to accuse the oil and gas industry of collusion, out to rip off Canadians, it’s just not that simple. That said, the lack of competition in the industry is definitely a very, very big issue. Just ask any local gas merchants trying to make a go of it.

Since the era of the National Energy Program (the one that got Pierre Elliott Trudeau in trouble out West), governments have stayed away from developing any oil and gas strategies, perhaps out of fear of upsetting the industry and by extension their political popularity. Stephen Harper’s government has left the industry to its own devices mostly for ideological reasons, believing in a market- oriented system. However, the result is that the industry is essentially self- regulated. With so few players in the game, real competition and a truly market-governed situation are just unrealistic.

Where the oil is refined is another consideration and, of course that depends on pipeline and refining infrastructure. Historically, much of the oil produced in Western Canada has been shipped to the United States.

Oil produced into gas for markets east of Ottawa and Montreal is generally imported and therefore more expensive. That reality in turn, like a domino effect, raises another issue. Just what is the supply and demand in Canada and is there something we can do in Canada to resolve the price discrepancies?

For years, former Member of Parliament and gas price crusader Dan McTeague has been calling for better transparency in the system. “The problem is that there isn’t an up-to- date and accurate picture of Canada’s petroleum inventory (gasoline, diesel, propane, jet fuel, diesel, stove/furnace oil) as is the case in the United States, which reports this valuable data by compelling the oil industry to furnish such information weekly. It’s called the Weekly Petroleum Status Report and it is made public every Wednesday (except holidays) by the authority of Congress and published by the Energy Information Agency of the US Dept of Energy.”

Does that disclosure result in lower prices? Not likely, but it does keep the fire to their feet. Oil and gas companies are far more accountable for their actions than their Canadian partners.

McTeague explains that “there is no accountability right now to Canadians. It’s crazy that the industry provides information to other players such as the United States but Canadians don’t have access to the same information.” Not only that, and this is something equally disturbing, he says that we are moving towards supply and demand problems in Canada because of the lack of refineries. “Here the government was allowing for the closure of refineries, limiting the supply when what they should have done was just mothball them until more informed decisions could be made.” Problem there? Again, not enough information.

McTeague says that “what we really need here is an industry strategy. Even the industry wants one. We need more refineries, we need more supply. We need more information to develop solutions. Without accurate and reliable information about what we are producing, is it any wonder that the National Energy Board suggested before Christmas there is potential for shortage and Statscan following that up with the reality that Canadians, especially in Eastern Canada are paying far more than ever for fuel?”

McTeague tries to fill some of that information gap, with his web site www.tomorrowsgaspricetoday.com with articles and gas prices across the country. McTeague tries to decodify the issue, making it easier for Canadians to understand pricing. With 1.5 million followers in 195 cities across Canada, he is clearly filling a demand.

Part II will come out with the March issue of Ottawa Life Magazine.

TOP PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

 

Stephen Harper’s Assault on Democracy

January 16, 2013 11:58 am
Gary_Corbett

Last November, hundreds of delegates from across Canada gathered in Ottawa for the 93rd Annual General Meeting of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC). Discus- sions focused on the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ongoing cuts to programs and services that continue to jeopardize the security and well-being of Canadians and cause needless anxiety among affected public service employees and their families, many of them in the National Capital Region.

The government’s relentless assault on public servants and their unions and its use of questionable means to change laws is putting the health and security of Canadians at risk. Food safety, environmental protection and sound budgeting are at the top of a long list of casualties as evidence- based decision making loses out to the ideologically-driven decisions of the Conservative government.

The Harper Government cut 19,200 civil service jobs – roughly 6 per cent of the total federal workforce – while outsourcing over $3 billion to private companies with no accountability, security clearances or oversight. They also cut The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, the First Nations Statistical Institute, the National Council on Welfare and the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science (all highly respected for their evidence-based research and analysis). Cutting these four agencies only saved $7.5 million, while the cost to Canada’s international reputation is immeasurable.

In a clearly undemocratic and bullying process, the Harper government then bundled 68 non-budgetary measures and laws into one omnibus budget (Bill C-38) and used its majority in the House of Commons to ensure that no single item could be opposed

or changed. The hypocrisy is nothing less than profound. In 1994, during his first term in Parliament, Harper spoke in the House against such omnibus bills, saying they were “undemocratic.” He argued that Bill C-17, a 1994 omnibus budget bill from the Chrétien government, was contrary to democracy. Harper said: “In the interest of democracy, I ask: how can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?” He implored the Speaker: “You should rule it out of order and it should not be considered by the House in the form in which it has been presented.” It seems that what Harper views as undemocratic is a matter of who is in power. Certainly, his recent actions amount to a disdain of Parliament and abuse of the democratic process.

This winter, Harper’s most pointed attack against unions so far was realized in a whipped majority vote. Bill C-377, if passed by the Senate, will require onerous reporting of union financial information for all to see, and, because this bill amends the Income Tax Act, it applies to every union in Canada. Not only does it require unions to submit financial statements, but it also asks for a detailed list of all transactions and disbursements, along with the name and address of the payer and payee, and the purpose, description and specific amount of the transaction. This is an astounding request coming from the most secretive and controlling government in Canadian history, which is abusing its privilege in elected office as a means to cull private information from political adversaries.

It is now crystal clear that an attack on organizations that respect the democratic process is this government’s next move. Take democratic labour unions, for example. The Conservatives and their right-wing buddies attacked these democratic institutions with the intent of trying to convince Canadians that these unions and their leaders are the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth and Canadians are just not buying it. As if frustrated, Conservatives are now upping the ante: Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Nepean-Carleton) has proposed legislation that would allow employees working under federal jurisdiction to opt out of joining a union and paying union dues. This anti-labour legislation, if passed, would make the federal government a right-to-work jurisdiction just like Kentucky, Georgia and Texas. Lower wages would follow for highly qualified workers who now earn a decent wage and a respectable living.

What is even more bizarre is that Poilievre is promoting this legislation while most residents in his riding work for the federal government and have benefitted greatly from democratic public service unions. Many of them are PIPSC members! And Poilievre, whose entire career experience is as a politician, seems to think that by taking away workers’ rights, the economy, his constituency and the country will be better off. I have to question if his lack of real- world experience is showing with the introduction of this bizarre ideological and mean-spirited bill. One thing is for sure: in 2013, PIPSC will not stand on the sidelines and watch further assaults on labour unions, as real damage is being done to programs and services that Canadians depend on in communities right across this country.

Kathleen Wynne Ontario’s Premier Candidate

January 11, 2013 12:48 pm
Kathleen Wynne

Kathleen Wynne was first appointed to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Cabinet in September 2006 as Minister of Education. For almost four years in that portfolio, Wynne worked vigorously to bring full-day kindergarten to the province’s schools, while promoting and initiating measures intended to make classrooms in Ontario’s elementary schools more conducive to learning through a personalized educational experience with fewer students per classroom.

In 2010, a cabinet shuffle resulted in Wynne being shifted to Minister of Transportation, a position she retained until October 2011. Wynne’s most recent cabinet portfolios were the two she held simultaneously: Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, both of which she resigned from to enter the Ontario Liberal leadership race.

Wynne is one of seven candidates in the current Ontario Liberal leadership race and she appears to be near the front of the pack when it comes to endorsements, being backed by nine McGuinty caucus members as well as two former federal Members of Parliament. And, like her formidable opponent Sandra Pupatello, Wynne has balanced support in Eastern and Southwestern Ontario, and the Liberal stronghold of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

While campaigning in Ottawa in November, Wynne sat down for an interview with Ottawa Life Magazine. She told me that, although she officially entered politics in 2000 as the public school trustee for Toronto’s Ward 8 and was later elected to the Ontario legislature for the first of three terms in 2003, her motivation for seeking elected office, particularly at the provincial level, was formed years earlier. Wynne, the Liberal Member for Don Valley West, stated that the catalyst for her decision to run for public office was her dissatisfaction with the manner in which Mike Harris – Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier from the fall of 1995 to the spring of 2002 – approached education in the province. Or, as Wynne puts it: “The motivation for me was publicly-funded education. That’s why I got involved.” It should come as no surprise that

education is an issue that is near and dear to Wynne’s heart, since prior to her entry into politics, she had spent most of her professional life working in the education sector in capacities ranging from teaching English as a second language to mediating conflict resolution. Also, her own ties to the education profession are strong in that she holds a Masters degree in Linguistics from the University of Toronto as well as a Masters in Adult Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Wynne has centered much of her candidacy upon the need to make politics in Ontario less polarized, less divisive and more open to the new ideas and opinions of all who are involved in the issues faced by the province. This is no small task, given the challenges that Premier McGuinty’s Liberal government has had to confront in the past and that Wynne (or one of her opponents) will have to defuse should the newly- minted Liberal Ontario Premier hope to hold onto his or her job when Ontarians — and not just Ontario Liberal Party delegates — head to the polls.

The divisive and polarizing challenges  that the winner of the leadership race will have to face are many. They include the backlash from rural voters for what many see as unwelcome and intrusive renewable energy projects and a predominantly urban-focused government that is unaware of the adverse effects that its policies — most notably its decision earlier this year to end the Slots at Racetracks Program — can have on lucrative businesses in rural Ontario. Government scandals characterized by mismanagement of large sums of taxpayer dollars, record deficits and labour disputes with Ontario’s educators that have recently resulted in strike action are also issues requiring attention.

Wynne, however, is adamant that she can surmount these difficulties, should she become the new Liberal leader. And she claims that her collaborative style is how she can accomplish this task. “I bring people together and solve problems. As Premier, I am going to be looking for ways to include people in the life of the province, whether they are living on a farm in an isolated area or in the Far North or in downtown Ottawa.” To mitigate some of the perceived divide between rural and urban Ontarians, Wynne has decided to tackle things head-on by appointing herself as the Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for a period of at least one year, should she become Ontario’s next premier.

Even so, Wynne, a realist, recognizes the gravity of the situation that she and the other six leadership candidates (as well as the Ontario Liberal Party as an institution) must face. Reflecting that “It is an important juncture right now for us in the Liberal Party,” she takes solace in what she considers to be a basic requirement for a Premier of Ontario. “The job of the leader, the job of the Premier, is to work in the best interest of all Ontarians.”

Despite the hurdles awaiting Wynne if she becomes Ontario’s next Premier, she is confident that all challenges can be met because, as she says, “I’m a fighter.”

The upcoming Ontario Liberal Party Leadership leadership election will be held January 25 to 27, 2013, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

 

TOP PHOTO: Paul Couvrette

Ottawa Life Editorial: Win with Wynne

12:41 pm
ministerwynne

Kathleen Wynne is Ontario’s best bet for the future. Dalton McGuinty is the most successful Ottawa-based politician to ever serve in the Ontario Legislature. For nine years, McGuinty led the province through tumultuous times, including the 2008 global economic collapse and recession that cost Ontario over 250,000 jobs. One of the great yet unheralded achievements of McGuinty’s career is how he managed to keep the province from spiraling into a deeper economic depression during that period which saw much of the province’s manufacturing sector disappear.

Within two years under McGuinty’s steady stewardship, his policies ensured that the 250,000 jobs lost had all being regained – many of them in other sectors than manufacturing. The cruel irony is that his term ends with his government in disarray and the province in very much the same state it was in when he became Premier in 2003. The debt is at record-high levels; and there is massive labour unrest among his former supporters in the teachers’ and public sector unions. (McGuinty and Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan imposed a pay freeze on the public sector and decided to go at the teachers’ unions to save $430 million a year for three years.)

One decision that could alienate the Ontario Liberals from their once loyal rural constituents is the hare-brained idea to kill the Slots-at-Raceway Program (SARP). This partnership, which will now be wiped out overnight, provided over $1.5 billion annually and served as a structural beam that supported the province’s equine industry, recognized as one of the best in the world. Tragically, the policy will lead to the slaughter of 13,000+ horses in 2013 alone as owners are forced to put down the animals as a result of the deliberate destruction of their industry. Killing SARP in favour of building more casinos in Toronto and Ottawa is surely the dumbest policy decision in a generation. Ironically, when Ottawa Life mentioned the inevitable horse slaughter to the six leadership candidates who agreed to be interviewed for this issue (Sandra Pupatello declined), none were aware of this disturbing consequence of the policy. All six indicated a willingness to press the pause button and reflect on the SARP decision if they became Premier. This begs the question of who would be the best person to replace Dalton McGuinty.

Sandra Pupatello’s claim that she is somehow an outsider from the McGuinty government is quite disingenuous. Her narrative that she is retiring from the “business community” as if she is a serious businessperson is insulting to most Ontario entrepreneurs. Pupatello had no business record; until she left politics in 2011, she was a career politician. She has the support of the party elites and detached insiders who have led the party away from its base, mismanaged public funds, alienated former supporters and caused an undercurrent of anger with Ontario voters. These elites have all lined up behind her in the hope that, if she wins, their positions will be protected. A Pupatello win will surely spell the end of the Liberal government’s reign as Ontarians have made it clear they are unhappy with the status quo which her candidacy represents.

Contrast Pupatello to Kathleen Wynne (member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, representing the riding of Don Valley West) and a former Ontario Minister of Education Wynne’s observation in an interview with Ottawa Life is very true: “We’ve worked for nine years. We have built very solid relationships and we have achieved an enormous amount.” But Wynne seems to recognize that something is off-kilter. When asked if she would kill Bill 115, An Act to implement restraint measures in the education sector, she said “no,” pointing out that the government debt is large and that all Ontarians, including teachers and public officials must play their part. Wynne acknowledged that the process for how this occurs in crucial and that she prefers a more conciliatory approach with teachers, public servants, rural constituents and others unhappy with the government. But she also makes it clear that this does not mean she will bend on tough issues. It is proof she is no shrinking violet. Wynne looks like a Premier and carries herself like one. She is 100% authentic and Ontario would be well served under her stewardship.

Gerard Kennedy and Charles Sousa (MPP, Mississauga South) are also up to the job of Liberal Leader. They are smart, concerned and fair and have presented plans to get Ontario’s Liberal’s back on track. However it is Kathleen Wynne who has proven she is most in sync with Ontario voters and is ready to step into the Premier’s chair and lead the Liberals to a potential fourth straight election victory. If not a Wynne victory, Liberals should start packing their bags now because the opposition benches are calling.

The upcoming Ontario Liberal Party Leadership leadership election will be held January 25 to 27, 2013, at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

 

First Nations Taxation

January 8, 2013 5:16 pm
Taxation

A message from Ottawa Life Magazine’s publisher Dan Donovan:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet in Ottawa with First Nations leaders this week to discuss treaty and aboriginal rights and economic development. The current state of Aboriginal relations in Canada is at an all-time low and the treatment of Canada’s aboriginal community is surely the shame of our generation. Most agree that the key problem is governance. The Indian Act is an antiquated and obscene tool that should have been renegotiated or thrown in the dustbin long ago. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is the most incompetent department in the federal government and should be permanently shut down. Structures are currently in place that would allow for Canada’s aboriginal communities to run their own affairs either through their national organizations or through a series of Treasury Board agreements. Many such agreements are already in place with all the provinces for the delivery of health care and other services. Money that now goes to AANDC would go to the national associations and they would manage all aboriginal affairs for their communities. As with the provinces, provisions are available for the federal government to hold funds in cases where funds are mismanaged. One of the great myths of our day is that aboriginal communities mismanage their funds or are financially irresponsible. While there are examples of this each year where this happens, the facts are that the mismanagement of funds in aboriginal communities is small and as a percentage is no different from those same problems in non-aboriginal communities. The difference is that when it occurs in an aboriginal community there is a lot more coverage of these incidents.

Over the next year, Ottawa Life Magazine will publish a web series titled Myths versus Facts about Canada’s Aboriginal Community. Today we begin with the Myths versus Facts regarding Aboriginal Taxation.

Roll up your sleeves, nitôtêmitik!  Today we’re tackling First Nations taxation!

The short answer first:

  1. The Indian Act First Nations tax exemption is very narrow and applies only to personal property and income located on a reserve.
  2. First Nations pay all other taxes not covered by the narrow exemption.
  3. The tax exemption only involves about 272,000 First Nations people when you subtract the number of children aged 0-14 from the potential tax paying base.
  4. That number is actually even lower because a number of First Nations have exchanged tax exemption for other benefits in self-governing Final Agreements.

But Indians don’t even pay taxes. Why should they get my tax dollars?

I’m sending you the dry-cleaning bill.  Just saying.

This is one of the most common complaints that comes up in any discussion of any news story concerning First Nations.  I am going to focus on the factual aspects of First Nations taxation more than the philosophical discussions of ‘who should be taxed’ and ‘where should my taxes go’, so I’m not going to answer your question in its entirety.

The first thing you need to know is that most aboriginal peoples don’t get tax exemptions.  The tax exemptions that do exist are linked completely to the reserves, so non-Status Indians, Inuit, Métis, and most Status Indians living off reserve, don’t get any tax exemptions at all.  That narrows down the people eligible for tax exemptions by a pretty huge margin.

In 2006, there were 1,172,790 First Nations, Métis and Inuit.  Out of that, 623,780 were Status Indians (called Registered Indians in the table). Again, I focus on Status Indians (the legal term) because later on you’ll see that only they have access to the tax exemptions being discussed here.

Out of that, about 299,970 Status Indians were living on reserve, give or take based on not-totally complete census results. [Filter by area of residence to see this.]  It is this group that account for the majority of people who are eligible for the tax exemptions under discussion.

But what about the 300,000 – 400,000 Indians that don’t pay any taxes?

I hate to do this to you (no I don’t), but I can’t start this discussion until I whittle the numbers down a little more for you.  I think it’s important we keep in mind the actual numbers at play here before we decide to get hysterical about money pouring out of our pockets like a river of multicoloured polymer substrate bills.

I’m not going to point out that in 2006, [sort by age group to check my numbers] there were 196, 285 Status Indians between the ages of 0-14 for a whopping 32% of the total Status Indian population, significantly decreasing the population of potential First Nations tax payers.

I’m not going to mention that the number of Status Indians on reserve who would even beeligible to pay income taxes absent a tax exemption, was only 198,310 [change the filter on ‘area of residence’ and then filter by age group]. Unless you think kids aged 0-14 should be included in the labour force and paying income tax. (“But their tiny hands are ideal for polishing the insides of shells!”)

Or, if we are more generous and assume there are actually about 400,000 Status Indians living on reserve and 32% of them are under 14, then it’s 272,000 people that would be eligible to pay income taxes absent the tax exemption. That is also assuming you can actually work until you die of extreme old age, paying income taxes all the while.

I’m not going to point out that this number is pretty reliable year after year, given that the birthrate among First Nations people is pretty high, keeping the 0-14 age group amounts steady if not increasing each year.

I won’t finish up highlighting the fact that what we’re actually talking about here is about 272,000 people across Canada who have access to Indian Act tax exemptions, because I suspect the total numbers aren’t the issue so much as the principle of the thing.

I’m not even going to bother with that stuff, because I want you to know that there are more than 120 First Nations communities across Canada that have an on-reserve property tax regime, generating about $70 million in revenues annually.  A list of those reserves can be found here, organised by province.  The taxes are collected by the Bands, and used for the Bands.

In addition, there are communities that have negotiated self-governance and other alternate tax regimes with the federal government so that the Band levies things like the First Nations Sales Tax, the First Nations Goods and Services Tax, and/or the First Nations Personal Income Tax.  In the Yukon Territories, for example, 11 out  of the 14 First Nations are no longer tax exempt under self-governing Final Agreements.  This reduces the total number of people actually eligible for Indian Act tax exemptions even more.

This doesn’t affect the overall question you have about who should pay taxes and where that money should go of course, but I thought you might like to know that out of the 616 First Nations reserves in this country, close to 20% of them have a property tax regime, and some of them have even more comprehensive taxation regimes in place.

So a few of them pay property taxes (and a few other taxes) that don’t benefit me at all, what’s your point?

Well the claim that is often made is that First Nations don’t pay any taxes at all.  That might not be the real issue, but it’s certainly worth addressing so that more people understand the reality of the situation. I hope you don’t mind if I continue then.

I am going to quote INAC here (now the unpronounceable AANDC):

In general, Aboriginal people in Canada are required to pay taxes on the same basis as other people in Canada, except where the limited exemption under Section 87 of the Indian Act applies. Section 87 says that the “personal property of an Indian or a band situated on a reserve” is tax exempt.

Alright.  Do you have your Timmy’s coffee ready?  I feel like using a list format to break this down for you.

  • • This tax exemption applies to both federal and provincial taxes like income and sales taxes.
  • • Non-status Indians are not eligible for this tax exemption.
  • • Status Indians who don’t live on reserve are not generally eligible for this tax exemption, unless they are purchasing goods and services on reserve or are employed on reserve.
  • • Goods that are purchased on reserve are exempt.
  • • Goods that are purchased off reserve and are delivered to the reserve by the retailer’s official agent are tax exempt.  If a Status Indian wants to transport goods back to the reserve, then legally they are not exempt.  Taxes on meals, movie tickets, and a host of other things that couldn’t conceivably be brought back to the reserve are also not tax exempt.
  • • Services provided on reserve are tax exempt.  Services provided off reserve are not tax exempt, unless under Section 90 of the Indian Act, the services were purchased with “Indian monies”.  That means ‘official Band monies’, used for things like off-reserve lawyer fees, accountant fees and so on.  Average Band members aren’t accessing those funds, so the services they purchase aren’t tax exempt.
  • • Income is considered ‘personal property’ if it’s earned on reserve.  Once you work off reserve, that exemption does not apply and you’re paying income taxes…even if your employer is situated on the reserve.  If your duties are off-reserve in nature, it’s off-reserve income and taxable.  Are there some nitpicky exceptions?  With taxation there always are, but this is the general rule.
  • • First Nations corporations and trusts don’t qualify for the Section 87 tax exemption.  INAC explains this pretty well, pointing out that legally a corporation is a separate ‘legal person’ and is not therefore an “Indian”.

Do you have more specific questions about taxation as it relates to investment income or other areas?  Feel free to look into it!

What about those people who are using their Status cards for point-of-sale exemptions and aren’t living on reserve or having goods delivered there?

There are a variety of provincial  policies that attempt to make point-of-sales exemptions less painful for all involved.  Some of these policies were created to deal with confusion surrounding the implementation of  the Harmonised Sales Tax (HST) which blends provincial and federal sales taxes. These policies respect the specific exemption we’ve been discussing here, but may provide more relaxed enforcement policies for the provincial portion.

For example, some provinces waive the enforcement of the delivery rule on the provincial portion of the sales tax, allowing a First Nations person to transport goods to the reserve his or herself.  Part of the reasoning here is that requiring delivery to be made by an agent of the vendor has the potential to negate the exemption, as any savings incurred are eaten up by delivery fees.  Other provinces have harmonised their provincial policies with federal policies.

I mention this because the issue is confusing.  Many salespeople do not really understand the exemption and the limitations on it, and some First Nations people aren’t totally clear on it either.  The implementation of this tax exemption can then run into practical problems when people either intentionally or unintentionally mess up how the exemption is applied.

However, the issue is what the legal exemption actually is versus what many believe it to be.  It is important to understand the actual legal exemption rather than characterising the issue by the instances of ‘cheating’.

Even if every single Status Indian in this country (including infants at the breast) were to abuse point of sale rebates, we’d be talking about 600,000 people at most ‘cheating the system’. How many people cheat the system beyond that, claiming fake work expenses, not declaring tips, not declaring other income and so on?

Tax evasion is not unique to any group of people, it is a wider reality.

That still means a bunch of them aren’t paying Income Taxes, which is big time revenue!

I recognise that personal income tax revenue accounts for over 20% of total revenue federally and 15% on average provincially (with a range from 2.3% to 26.6% depending on the province or territory).

Sales taxes account for 11% of total revenue federally, and 8.4% on average provincially (with a range from 0% to 16.2% depending on the province or territory).

This is what a lot of people think about.  Money that isn’t there because of the tax exemption.  Potentially a lot of money not going into public coffers to help pay for social programs.

This argument dismisses the fact that there are other segments of the Canadian population that do not pay income taxes either.  I am not going to look up raw numbers on this, because I think it is beside the point.

But that IS the point, isn’t it?

Here is why I disagree.

I think there are two possible arguments you are making here:

  • • You think that people who do not pay income taxes or sales taxes, should  not then be eligible for programs paid for from those tax revenues.
  • • You want to have a say in where your tax dollars go.

If you are arguing point 1, then you aren’t just talking about First Nations people.  Not if you want to approach the issue honestly.  If you believe that only people contributing to these particular tax revenues should receive social programming, then you and I disagree on a fundamental philosophical level that is beyond the scope of First Nations taxation.  I’d even suggest you disagree with a general Canadian belief that does not link individual taxation amounts to eligibility for social programming.  That generalised discussion should be engaged in elsewhere, not merely trained on First Nations people.

If you are arguing point 2, then again you are engaging in a topic that is far beyond the scope of merely First Nations taxation.  There are any number of arguments you could make about how you, the individual tax payer, should be able to direct the spending of your tax dollars (“Why should I pay for programs I will never access?” being a common complaint).  However, the fact is the Canadian government has set up a particular tax spending regime that you have minimal individual control over.  Once more this issue should not be narrowed to only apply to First Nations.

Then why do Status Indians living on reserve get this tax exemption in the first place?

Allow me to once again quote INAC on that:

  • • A tax exemption for Indian property situated on reserves has existed since before Confederation.
  • • The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that this exemption is linked to the protection of reserve land and property.
  • • The Court has concluded that the purpose of the exemption is to make sure tax does not erode the use of Indian property on reserves.
  • • The Court has indicated that this tax exemption is not intended to remedy the economically disadvantaged position of Aboriginal people in Canada or bring economic benefits to them.

This may not satisfy you.  If that is the case, then you are going to have to delve deeper into the history of this country to understand why this tax exemption was set up.

What I have just said might also not satisfy you.  Perhaps you came here figuring I would answer all your questions.  So can I ask you a question?

Why are churches tax exempt?  Why are non-profit corporations tax exempt?  Can you provide me with a quick and satisfying answer without a historical and sociological explanation?

My main purpose here was to address the claim that “Indians don’t pay taxes”.  It isn’t an accurate statement at all, and I hope you understand this better now. The various justifications for the narrow tax exemption that does exist are more in the nature of a historical and philosophical discussion that can be had elsewhere or at another time.

If you had anywhere near the amount of coffee I’ve ingested while writing this, you’ll probably appreciate this being wrapped up now!  My thanks for your time.

By âpihtawikosisân 

Read more from her blog at apihtawikosisan.com

Find online applications for work with Canadian companies – http://www.job-applications.ca/

Guns, America and Tragedy: The View From Here

December 31, 2012 10:17 am
Adam_Lanza

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Norway: A Country of Unequalled Equality

December 3, 2012 3:18 pm
norwegian-flag-l

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Time to Refine? Should Canada Refine its Own Oil?

November 24, 2012 9:30 am
page53_Kitimat-Gateway-Pacific-Inland-Coast-2

By Anna May Burke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP PHOTO: KITIMAK TOURISM

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mitt Romney Delivering His Concession Speech. PHOTO: Hollywood Reporter

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

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

 

 

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

November 16, 2012 12:35 pm
Screen shot 2012-11-15 at 12.39.45 PM

By Gary Corbett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

So Unnecessary: Ontario’s Fabricated School Crisis

November 15, 2012 11:09 am
page44_Srike header

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2012 11:45 am
Page29_Jean-Marc Carisse_2012 _1487

By Dan Donovan and Simon Vodrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TOP PHOTO: JEAN-MARC CARISSE

 

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

November 5, 2012 12:05 pm
Minky Worden

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Harper Government’s Disdain For Science

October 15, 2012 11:33 am
corbett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Posts