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

April 9, 2013 12:12 pm
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Continued from Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Investing in Transit Can Take Us

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

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

By Premier Kathleen Wynne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need to get Ontario moving.

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

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

Together we can get this done.

 

Public workers earn 12% more than private counterparts: report

April 5, 2013 11:48 am
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Fraser Institute study says gap drops to nine per cent when unionization included in analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 27, 2013 11:25 am
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By Martti Lahtinen, The Low Down to Hull & Back News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Top Photo: ontariondp.com

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

February 14, 2013 12:47 pm
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By: Delaney Dunlop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

America’s Fiscal Albatross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White House (Credit: MSNBC)

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

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

 

Top Photo: US Magazine

 

Closing Doors on Canada’s History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

All Photos: David Knowles

Andrew Cash: Not Your Typical Member of Parliament

January 23, 2013 12:22 pm
Member of Parliament Andrew Cash

Andrew Cash, New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Toronto-Davenport, serves as the deputy critic for Canadian Heritage and sits on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, but he is unlike many of his predecessors who have held this position in the past. Prior to his running for public office in the 2011 general election, which resulted in his decisive victory over incumbent Liberal Mario Silva, Cash had spent his entire adult life working in Canada’s arts and cultural industries in various capacities. He has been a staff writer and journalist for NOW, a popular news, lifestyle and entertainment magazine distributed in Toronto. More notably, Cash has worked as a professional musician, recording artist and songwriter for more than 25 years. He recorded and released a dozen albums and won a Juno Award in 1993 for Most Promising Group (the Skydiggers). To say that Andrew Cash is familiar with Canada’s arts milieu would be an understatement.

While at first glance, Cash’s transition from being an acclaimed singer-songwriter – writing songs about social justice – to being a deskbound MP may seem illogical, he maintains that, even before his election, he “had always been participating politically and as an activist” and that becoming an MP was part of his logical evolution. He explains that: “Consequently, I tried to make my artistic practice connect in some kind of real way with the issues of social justice and equality.” Cash claims that this evolutionary process became clear to him when observing many of Toronto’s then serving MPs. “I felt that there was a lack of real engagement among elected members in Toronto who had taken their seats and the work they were charged to do for granted.” Cash set out to reestablish a sense of engagement and connectivity with voters on issues that he felt were absent in Ottawa’s “politics as usual” ambience.

To this end, as an MP, Cash focused much of his efforts on advocating for greater employment and retirement stability and security for Canadians who work part-time, on a contract or freelance basis. In the past, artists and journalists were two of the few professions in which employees were not full-time salaried workers with employment benefits and pensions. However, in today’s age of fiscal austerity and corporate belt-tightening, an increasing percentage of the mainstream Canadian workforce is made up of part-time, contract and freelance workers. Or, as Cash puts it: “Many of our employment policies are predicated on a type of reality that for many Canadians doesn’t exist anymore: working at the same job for life and then retiring from that job with a pension, thereby allowing one to have a dignified retirement.”

Not surprisingly, Cash is an outspoken critic of the Conservative government’s reductions in allocated funding for the arts — although it is important to remember that, historically speaking, the reductions in funding implemented by the Harper government over the past few years have been smaller than those initiated by the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin in the 1990s and early 2000s. Cash himself acknowledges that, while the effects of reduced funding to the arts are likely to be adverse and far-reaching, they are anything but a new phenomenon. In fact, he says: “When you make the kind of cuts this government has (and the Liberals before them cut even more money from the arts than the current Conservative government has), it not only affects the programming and other artistic content itself and causes decisions to be made that are quite controversial, it also shrinks the pool of talent and innovation that you’re trying to develop.” In other words, he maintains that a reduced funding environment for the arts translates into a reduced incentive to produce creative cultural works, be they art in its traditional sense or Canadian television programming, news broadcasting or movie production and that, as a result of this reduced incentive to produce, the workforce in these industries necessarily contracts.

This is a cause for concern because, according to Cash, the artists and innovators in Canada’s cultural industry “spin out” a great deal of wealth and contribute in excess of 5% of Canada’s GDP. Based on this reasoning, he maintains that “the arts and culture sector should be seen as a valuable export factor for Canada.” However, he insists that the current government is “failing to recognize that this is an important source of talent generation and innovation.”

Cash is also on the record as vehemently opposing the federal government’s changes to the Interim Federal Health Program Policy, a move which he sees as limiting refugees’ access to health care during what he identifies as “the bureaucratic gap that occurs between when a refugee lands and when they can qualify to collect health benefits from the province they reside in.” When it comes to tackling complicated and politically-charged issues, Cash maintains that there is an inherent similarity between his earlier public life as a musician and his current public life as an MP. Cash sums up this similarity by explaining that: “Purely on a practical level, canvassing, going door-to-door and speaking in the House of Commons isn’t that different from getting up on a stage and performing in front of many people you don’t know.”

RURAL RANT: Living Locally

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.”

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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/

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