Big, big changes in Alberta - what will they mean for the rest of the country? That is up to the voters to decide.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 8, 2015


They used to say that Ontario would only vote Liberal provincially if the government in Ottawa was Conservative. What does that portend for the upcoming federal election, reviewing the results of this week’s provincial elections in PEI and especially Alberta where the voters turned everything upside down.

PEI wasn’t really much of a surprise and the Liberals barely worked up a sweat, sweeping in to a third majority government in Canada’s tiny province. But Alberta, with over four decades of continuous Conservative government was a ground shaker. It seemed like only yesterday that newly anointed (former) Premier Redford held onto her majority in an election the pollsters said she would surely lose to the Wild Rose Party.

Rachel Notley

The voters decide – and in Alberta they did so dramatically. Now to figure out what the Alberta change is going to mean to the rest of the country.

So when these same pollsters started talking about the NDP winning this time, nobody believed them. But chickens do come home to roost, and partisan loyalty only lasts so long before the people have had enough. Expense scandals, failed economic policies, a deteriorating environment, cuts to health and social services, new taxes, rising unemployment, an arrogant leader (Prentice) and a miserable election campaign brought down this once unassailable dynasty. And in so doing restored our faith in the polls, the pollsters and voters of Albertans.

Nobody likes being lied to. And there was this big lie, that you can have it all. Perpetual wealth with no consequences. Albertans were told to trust their government and it would build a sustainable petroleum-based economy that was going to fuel the greatest boom in Canadian history. An impossible dream, Albertans now realize.

The rewards from all the oil extracted from the ground had been squandered. The big oil corporations and the wealthiest Albertans got theirs, alright. And the rest? Well the premier told Albertans, complaining about its dismal fiscal state, to look in the mirror if they wanted someone to blame.

There may be federal repercussions from this provincial NDP zinger. For one thing, the federal NDP can no longer be discounted as a one-hit-wonder- a flash-in-the-pan – as they show off their official opposition hat. The party with roots in Saskatchewan has held government in several provinces now. And Tom Mulcair has proven a tireless and credible political leader.

It hasn't reached a fever pitch yet - it might not but he does know how to pull all the heart strings and both his hair and his children get many mentions.  The bold new ideas? - haven't heard those yet.  what he did assure his audience was that he had very solid values - but didn't make much mention of what they were.

Justin Trudeau on a tour through Burlington – will the charisma hold during the next federal election?

And that could mean troubles for Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals, hoping to win a majority government this time around. Two respected parties competing for the same votes in the middle-left may be one party too many to keep Mr. Harper from coming up the middle for another Tory victory, albeit one that is unlikely to be a majority.

Trudeau has dismissed talk of a coalition with the NDP. Despite many common values between the parties there are fundamental philosophical differences, including Jack Layton’s Sherbrooke Declaration, which would allow Quebec to leave on a 51% vote. So it is not a slam-dunk should the votes come in that way. And the last time there was an agreement on a working coalition, some Canadians felt uneasy about any such marriage of convenience.

The Canadian economy is facing tough times ahead. While the federal finance minister was able to scramble together a balanced budget by fire-selling government assets and raiding the unemployment and contingency funds. He’d have trouble the next time around. The reality is that the cash-cow from Alberta has stopped milking and any future Tory budget would have to go back into the ‘red’ unless somebody reforms our tax system.

To that point Mr. Trudeau has just proposed the first significant reform of our income tax system since Brian Mulroney gutted it back in the 1980’s. The one percent (1%) of Canadians, those earning over $200,000, will see their federal rates rise by four percentage points to 33% – a significant rise, though still lower than in the immediate post war period.

This would free up an estimated $3 million of new federal revenue to be re-distributed through tax breaks for the middle class – those with incomes between $40, 000 and $90,000 a year. Re-distribution isn’t a bad word, even though it is multisyllabic and sometimes hyphenated.

TFSA_amountsRe-distributing the way Trudeau would do it, rather than the way Harper has been doing it will mean new economic growth, driven by the middle class as opposed to being left in the Tax Free Savings Accounts of the one-per-cent crowd. And that makes us all better off. Recall US President Harry Truman’s notable saying that if you want to live like a Republican you’d better vote for a Democrat.

The upcoming federal election is still a crap shoot, but becoming more interesting every day as October draws near. Few people are expecting the NDP to pull another rabbit out the hat and actually form the national government, let alone with a majority.

But look at Alberta.


Alberta Election Issues      How Albertans Felt       Trudeau Tax Plan       PEI Results       Federal Raids

Election Background       NDP Sweep      Alberta Premiers       A Timely Change

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

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Meed Ward convinces developes to meet with the community and talk about what they want to do with their downtown property holdings.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper ParrSmall click here - black

May 7, 2015


Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward has always believed that citizens should be engaged much earlier in the decision making process than the city’s current policies require.

When changes are being made many people feel that the die has been cast and the politicians just want the voters to say they like what has already been decided upon.

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster: both part of the Shape Burlington committee who seem to have forgotten what the report was all about - civic engagement

Councillors Sharman and Lancaster: both part of the Shape Burlington committee who seem to have forgotten what the report was all about – civic engagement

That is the style we see from Councillors Craven, Sharman and Lancaster. Councillors Taylor and Dennison tend to show some flexibility.

The Mayor tends to sit between the two groups. He gets keen on an idea and sticks with it – but when there is significant blow back – he backs away. Bicycle lanes on Lakeshore Road is perhaps his worst example – taking the wind turbine was another.

Burlington’s approach to civic engagement hasn’t gotten far beyond approving, unanimously, the Shape Burlington report and putting an “in principle” community engagement document in place but then never acting on it.

Vanessa Williams + Woodruff Budget meet

Vanessa Warren on the right wanted to know why residents were not permitted to have real input on the creation on the city budget – she didn’t like the idea of reading through a document with decisions already made set out for her.

During the public budget deliberations in 2013, Vanessa Warren, who was just beginning to come to the attention of the public, asked at a meeting at the Art Gallery, why the public wasn’t seeing the numbers when they were being put together. She objected to having to look at numbers and get to make a comment and then go home – with nothing changing.

Meed Ward wants to do it differently. Her first reference is usually to her constituents – who meet almost as community council. She listens, is frequently surprised at what she hears from her constituents and then makes changes.

Attend a ward 1 or a ward 6 community meeting and watch the flow of information and ideas – they go in just the one direction. These are the fundamental differences in how Councillors Sharman, Meed Ward and Craven see their jobs.

The older members of the population are content with leaving everything in the hands of the politicians – that was their experience and they are comfortable with that approach.

There is a younger generation that doesn’t buy into that top down approach. They are comfortable with searching out their own information and will debate with their council member.

The two groups in ward 5 who were very unhappy with the way their Council member represented them with the sewer back up problems that did serious damage to their homes made their views known frequently.  They didn’t believe they were being heard and went off on their own.

Sharman for his part was very sincere in his efforts to do something for his constituents – it was a matter of very different operational styles. Sharman prefers command – the residents prefer collaboration – not Mr. Sharman’s strong point.

Meed Ward has invited residents to participate in a series of workshops that will see major downtown land owners, city staff, businesses and residents meet to discuss the future of their downtown.

Big on providing services. Political enough to be on the winning side?

Meed Ward used up her postage budget for the year in her first three months as a Council member.  Her style is to get information out to people.

What Meed Ward has managed to do is pull the people who own the land into the discussion – let them hear what residents would like to see. The smarter developers listen to residents and bring them on side – it does away with loud, noisy contentious public meetings.

The Molinaro’s learned the hard way with their Brock Street condominium that it is better to work with residents than fight them. When they moved forward with their Fairview Road – five tower – Paradigm project they worked with the community and with the residents – guess what – no noisy contentious public meetings.

The ADI Development Group decided from the GetGo that they would bull their way through the city planning department and city council and get themselves before the OMB where they think they have a better chance of getting a 28 storey tower on a plot of land less than an acre in size approved.  They just might be right.

Meed Ward arranged for a public meeting on the expansion and significant upgrade to Brant Square Plaza. The project met all the zoning requirements; they could have asked for more height but chose not to.

Meed Ward takes the view that all the decisions and as much information as possible should be run by the citizens. Petty power politics isn’t her game.

The workshops will allow participants to provide input into what they think the downtown should look like in the future.

The first workshop takes place on May 13 at Burlington Lion’s Club Hall beginning at 7 p.m. and will have city planners sharing information about existing city policies and what’s up for review.

Participants will also start to map out principles around design, compatibility, height, density, heritage, jobs, and more.


Citizens at a public budget meeting – they get to comment – they don’t get to demand that changes be made.  The meetings are more of a public relations exercise.

“Residents want to be involved in downtown development early on,” said Meed Ward. “This approach brings together all stakeholders to collectively and collaboratively shape the future of our downtown.”

Seating is limited for the May 13 workshop. For more information and to register, please contact Georgie Gartside, Assistant to Councillors, at or 905-335-7600, ext. 7368.

This is an approach that most of Burlington doesn’t benefit from – with the exception of Councillor Taylor who has a long standing working relationship with his community.

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Operation Tag and Tow comes up with the same lousy numbers as last year - the lesson isn't getting through.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

May 6, 2015


It’s always close to the same number – something around the 35% plus number. That being the percentage of the trucks pulled over for safety inspection.

Small - click here whiteWhen more than a third of those pulled over fail the tests and 15 trucks are actually taken off the road – those roads are not safe.

Police are busy investigating and laying drug charges in the city.  Is there a serious drug problem and should there be a different approach to handling drug offences?  And who is buying the stuff?

Lots of paper work when a truck gets taken off the road – money well spent.  Get tougher.

Yesterday the Halton Regional Police Service in partnership with Peel Regional Police, Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of the Environment and the Region of Halton conducted a Commercial Vehicle Safety Initiative.

The focus of the blitz was to identify vehicles that may not be properly maintained and could pose a danger on our roads.

In total 40 commercial vehicles were inspected resulting in:

• 70 provincial offence notices issued
• 15 vehicles removed from service
• 38% failure rate

Tougher crackdown on these people – raise the stakes – impound the trucks for a week. Let the carriers unload the products they are hauling and send a warning letter and a liability notice to the company that hired the truck – make it clear – this is not going to be tolerated.

The association of police chiefs are not shy when it comes to getting their message out. Get this message out – our roads are going to be safe.

car driver on the phone

When police catch this – take the car off the road and send the driver home in a cab.

Don’t get me going on the nut cases that drive with the cell phone in their hands. $2500 fine and they have to call a taxi to get home; impound the car and if there are children in it – call Child Services.

The police want anyone who kills a police officer in jail for life – that issue is important to them. Safe roads are important to the people who drive them.  Crack down

Day two of Operation Tag and Tow will take place in Oakville on May 7th, 2015.

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Resident think the Rule of Law trumps political expediency.



Joe Gaetan is a Burlington resident with no political affiliation that we can find but he does have an issue with what the provincial government wants to do with Hydro One.
He wrote a letter to the editor of the Spectator and asked if we would also publish it. Given that more Burlingtonians read the Gazette than they do the Spectator we are pleased to let you hear what Mr. Gaetan thinks.



opinionandcommentBy Joe Gaetan

May 6, 2015


If I am not mistaken, the government of Ontario is the sole shareholder of Hydro One. In the 13 years the Liberal Party has been in power, the government has been the benefactor of $6.2 billion of income generated by Hydro One.

My problem with that is, the government could have taken less income to reduce the debt load imposed on the taxpayers and it could have provided a more reasonable cost of electricity to consumers. Our electricity cost is among the highest in North America and that is hurting our ability to attract business.

Instead, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli’s government chose to spend it otherwise. We don’t know where it all went, but it seems about $1 billion was wasted to save two Liberal seats in Mississauga and Oakville. The government has been spending more than it earns for 13 years, to the point where Ontario is $267 billion dollars in the hole. Now the government is selling a valuable asset.

Hydro One is a jewel, it is fabulous, drool-worthy, net income generator, in part thanks to the exorbitant electricity costs that have been passed on to ratepayers. Perhaps it could generate more income under a different ownership arrangement, but that’s not the point. The point is, the Liberals did not campaign on selling Hydro One and, therefore, do not have a mandate to do so.

The Rule of Law, among other things, is there to deter individuals or groups and government from assuming or exercising powers they do not legitimately possess. That is what this is about.

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Is it the parents who need sex education?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

May 1, 2015


Was Dr. Benjamin Spock the father of us all? His ‘Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care,’ published simultaneously with the birth of the first postwar baby boomers, set the path for child development for my generation and, at least, for the one that followed. Spock held that sex-education, including its spiritual aspects, should be part of a broad health and moral education, from kindergarten through the end of high school, ideally carried out harmoniously by parents and teachers.

Sex education pictureIsn’t that exactly what the updated provincial sex-ed curriculum is trying to do? Spock has his detractors but there have been scores of pedagogical disciples who mostly followed in his footsteps and adhered to his general principles. And after a couple of generations it is hard to criticize what we have grown to know and appreciate.

Of course the ‘spare-the-rod’ clan, and those newer-Canadians who were steeped in a traditional authoritarian family cult, object to what they see as the self-actualizing child. They consider sex-education, any of it, an insult and a case of the state interfering in their personal lives. Some hold, and others worry, that what they call ‘juvenile permissiveness’ will lead to a more violent and sexually perverted society, even if the numbers don’t support that linkage.

But the elephant-in-the-room is whether sex-education encourages sex? Spock and his disciples argue that the more children learn about sexuality from authoritative sources (parents, teachers, accurate literature), the less they will feel compelled to find out for themselves. We’re talking about where they get their facts (friends, violent movies, the internet, sexting or worse).

G. W. Bush ushered in an era in US education where sex-education became nothing more than preaching abstinence. A decade later, the results have been shown to be dismal, at best. In the US there are 750,000 teen pregnancies each year, 82% unintended, and almost 60% percent of these result in children bearing children. The rest of the teen pregnancies are either aborted or were miscarried. And then there are the sexually transmitted diseases.

Obama overturned Bush’s failed initiative, and now the US only funds programs which have been proven effective at reducing teen pregnancy, delaying sexual activity, or increasing contraceptive use. Abstinence, no doubt, remains a topic of discussion within these comprehensive sex-education programs, but their primary purpose is to prevent negative sexual health outcomes.

Ontario’s new sex-education curriculum is to be implemented starting this September, which will land it just in time for the expected federal election this autumn. Some pundits have speculated that this might be a factor among voters who are unable to distinguish between federal and provincial policies and responsibilities.

Birds and the bees

For many parents talking about sex is just not something they can do – a classroom can provide the information young people need – we cheat them if we fail to inform them.

I recall canvassing, when I ran provincially in Burlington, and being accosted by voters angry over the implementation of the federal long-gun registry at that time. So that should be a consideration for the Liberal leaders. Though, the push-back on the curriculum is coming mainly from the religious-right, who identify mainly with the Conservative party anyway. And then there are the new Canadians who often find common ground with the Tories on this issue.

Of course if the parents could all be trusted to objectively teach their kids the essentials about sex, this might not even be an issue. But they don’t, do they? How many parents take the time or have the courage to discuss sex in the context of a modern diverse society – and beyond the elementary birds and bees?

Parents have no prepared curriculum and generally no training. And even if they did, the topic is likely way too personal for most of them to handle it in an objective and balanced manner. Kids find their way through the internet, on the streets or in somebody’s recreation room when the parents are still at work.

As for those angry, complaining parents who think they know better than professional educators and psychologists, the apple usually falls near the tree. Tolerance and respect for others is as important in sexuality as the lessons on anatomy, I would think – but what do I know.

I’m an economist, went to a one-room school, was raised on a farm and I got my education out behind the barn.

Background links:

Notable Quotes Dr. Spock       How Dr. Spock Destroyed America      

Effectiveness of Sex-Ed Programs       Teen Sources of Sex Information      Anti-Sex Ed Coalition

Wynne and the Federal Election   Conservative Protests    Canadian Pregnancies


Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

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Resident claims there are very good reasons for the province to continue owning hydro - changing technology for one.

opinionandcommentBy Phil Davis

April 28, 2015


In the discussion of the Hydro-One sale the focus has been on its impact on customer cost. There is another reason why the sale is a bad choice, flexibility for adding future technology. We are currently on the cusp of a revolution in power electronics that has the potential to reduce pollution, increase jobs, increase energy diversity and reduce cost.

Nuclear plant with hydro towersThe ability to use new generation like solar and wind and new transmission technology will critically depend on the flexibility of the transmission system as an active part of the total system. The transmission system of the future will be a distributed system and have imbedded energy storage, ‘smart’ energy switching and remote load sensing and similar technology to optimize the total energy system; not the ‘top down’ system we have today.

We don’t know exactly what the future transmission system will look like and that is why it needs to be under public control, so that it will adapt as new energy sources become available.

If the transmission system is privately held there will be no incentive to invest or take the risk needed to modernize the system. It is likely the new owner of a privatized transmission system would also control generating plants and would protect their generation equipment profit by not modernizing to allow new generation equipment.

Hydro transmission linesThis would mean that Ontario would not only lose access to improving technology but would be locked in to higher energy prices for both ‘old’ power generation and distribution. We only need to remember the Enron debacle to see where this could go.

If electric transmission is privatized then Ontario will be stuck with a highway407 like energy infrastructure which will be optimized for the short term benefit of the few against the potential of new technology and the needs of the many. The proper approach is private generation competing to generate electricity at the lowest rate and public transmission to insure that all generation sources have access to customers.


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A Grey Power Budget? Rivers suggests that without the seniors vote the Harper government is toast.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 25, 2015


Last week Canada’s premiers met to brag about each other’s achievements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Alberta, whose increases negated everyone else’s reductions, was absent, presumably busy with a provincial election. Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall argued for business as usual, since our greenhouse gas contributions amount to a small fraction of the global total, thereby challenging Ontario’s Premier Wynne on her government’s successes.

Iceberg melting

Climate change is real – except to those who wrote the last federal budget document.

And Mr. Harper’s government with an historic legacy of denying climate change and otherwise doing squat, blamed the provinces for Canada’s crappy performance. With that outburst from the federal environment minister, and given an impending federal budget, even a pessimist might have expected something, even anything, about climate change action in the budget. Sorry pessimists!

When international oil prices tumbled, along with federal income projections, finance minister Joe Oliver panicked, delayed the budget and dumped Canada’s GM shares (bought to save GM in 2008) for a whacking loss of over $3 billion. Next, he robbed the government’s piggy bank, its fiscal reserve for as much as $2 billion, and then pulled some sleight-of-hand around future employee contract negotiations to manufacture a small surplus.

Canada’s economy is heading into recession, led by the faltering Alberta economy. So one would have expected some new measures to stimulate the economy. But there is scant discussion of economic drivers in Joe Oliver’s master plan, unless one considers new corporate tax cuts, or re-announcing the tired old federal training, innovation and infrastructure initiatives.

This budget is arguably the most ideological document to come out of Mr. Harper’s decade of governance, notably excepting Bill C-38, also called the environmental destruction act. It is a common belief among the extreme right-wing that government, itself, is the problem and smaller government is always better government. One wonders why people who believe that government is so insignificant try so hard to get elected into office.

Councillor Sharman has held two public sessions with Senior's as part of his effort to understand their needs and develop policy that Council can put in place to serve this vital community.  At most of the sessions Sharman holds his Dad is often in the audience.

Harper needs the votes of the greatest democrats in the nation – the people who always turn out on voting day – the seniors.

This federal budget is about buying votes in the upcoming election. Mr. Harper’s promised tax break for the highest income Canadian families through income sharing is now formalized. But to win his next election, Harper needs the votes of the greatest democrats in the nation – the people who always turn out on voting day – the seniors.

It was only a couple of years ago that Mr. Harper denied seniors their Old Age Security by raising the retirement age to 67. And by blocking provincial demands to upgrade the Canada Pension Plan he angered seniors groups. So, to make amends, he is upping the contribution limit for TFSAs (interest tax-free savings accounts) to a whopping $10,000. And the well-heeled will no doubt be appreciative.

There was another budget announced this week. Though unlike the feds, Ontario hasn’t yet balanced its budget. Ontario’s finance minister, Charles Sousa, is privatizing electricity generation, going back to the future and completing the job even Mike Harris and Ernie Eves couldn’t get done. The money from this dis-investment will be allocated to infrastructure and building transit and roads for the GTA, in particular.

The Province is finally allowing beer to be sold in supermarkets, albeit with some antediluvian rules to discourage customers. And there is good reason for that since expanded provincial beer consumption might, inadvertently, put a dent in Premier Wynne’s climate change initiatives.

Beer Festival logo

Will Burlington’s Beer Fest benefit from the change in beer selling policy the provincial government put forward?

Apparently global beer consumption in 2004 was 150.392 billion litres, resulting in a significant 9,354,382 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions. Save the planet, drink whiskey.

These are two completely different budgets from two very different governments. Yet, Ontario could get to balance if they only increased progressive income taxes. Instead, the only provincial tax hike is a recessionary ‘buck-a-box’ for beer – likely a concession to the trans-national oligopolies controlling our Beer Stores. The benefits of the planned investments in infrastructure will be almost immediate and broadly felt. And, eventually the rest of the public will appreciate the economic benefits from faster commute times.

Joe Oliver’s budget, on the other hand, has done little but widen the spread between the haves and have-nots. It is understood that the vast majority of benefits from the family income-splitting scheme will go to the wealthiest families. And this interest tax-free account makes no economic sense. Since the average deposit into Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSA)  was about $3000 when the limit had been $5500, who do we think will benefit when the limit goes to $10,000?


Rivers suggests our economy is heading for a recession.

Savings are essential in order to fund new investment. But without consumption there is no demand for investment. All of our income is either spent on consumption or saved. So were that new limit on TFSA’s to be actualized, there could be at least $4500 less consumption per saver per year – which is highly recessionary. And the last thing this faltering Canadian economy needs is to be pushed faster and further towards recession.

I have heard some call this federal budget a blow to generational equity – primarily by young people. Perhaps it is, but at a minimum it is a clear case of ideology trumping sound economics. I always believed the time to reward yourself (with tax breaks) is when the economy is booming – not when you are likely heading into a recession.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Provincial Climate Change       Federal Budget      TFSA Changes      Contingency Fund

A Tax on Future Generations       Retirement Savings     Tax Breaks     GM Shares    Bill C-38

Provincial Budget      Provincial Budget Priorities       Beer in Stores      Beer and Climate Change

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Tracking our MP while he works on our behalf in Ottawa.

opinionandcommentBy Staff

April 24, 2015


Burlington MP Mike Wallace spoke yesterday in the House of Commons and said:

Wallace at Caucus meeting

Burlington MP Mike Wallace at a Conservative Caucus meeting in Ottawa

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate the member’s honesty. He was clear in his speech that his party is in favour of increased taxes to pay for a number of the programs the New Democrats have indicated they are interested in. I am actually looking forward to debating those issues at election time also.

However, I am a little confused. On one hand, in his speech he talked about corporations needing to pay their own way, and then the previous speaker from his party was taking credit for the small business tax rate going from 11% to 9%. Ninety per cent of the businesses in the country are small businesses.

Are the New Democrats for increasing taxes on business, or are they against taxes going up for business? It is a very confusing message. I do not think they know what they actually stand for. I would be interested to hear what he has to say about that.

Wallace was responding to remarks made by Jack Harris, the NDP Member for St. Johns East in Newfoundland who had said previously:

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak to the Conservative budget. The budget is no pleasure, but to have a chance to talk about what is wrong with it, where it is lacking, the negative direction it is taking the country and some of the things that my party, the NDP, would do instead is something I cherish.

The Conservative budget would spend billions in handouts to the wealthiest at a time when the government should be investing in accessible child care, affordable housing and supporting seniors who are struggling to get by. Places like Newfoundland and Labrador and the people there and the Atlantic who have critical issues that need to be addressed, like regional economic development and supporting communities, issues such as the constitutional obligation of the government to support Marine Atlantic, are absent from this budget.

Absent as well are the $280 million that the government promised the government of Newfoundland and Labrador in a fishing industry development fund in response to the consequences of CETA and the request to remove its powers to expect local processing in fisheries. Where is that? All of these are absent.

Things get a little testy at time in the House of Commons. When Wallace was finished speak Harris stood again and responded with

Mr. Speaker, we have noticed over here that the hon. member is confused on many occasions. He did not actually need to tell us that.

If he had been listening, he would have known that the leader of the NDP gave a major speech several months ago in which he called for a decrease in small business tax rates down to 9%. That was very clear. He also called for an increase in the capital cost allowance for manufacturers. This is desperately needed in the member’s neck of the woods, in Ontario, because of the hollowing out of manufacturing that has happened during the government’s administration. We are trying to fix that.

We do understand what needs to be done, but we do not support the notion that major corporations, highly profitable corporations, can have tax cuts and sit on that cash for years and years and not use it to create jobs.

Both New Democrat Harris from Newfoundland and Conservative Wallace from Burlington were commenting on the federal budget that was handed down the day before.  Fine men representing their constituents.

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Mayor to speak about intensification: One hopes there will be vigorous debate and a fulsome exchange of views – both are needed.

opinionandcommentBy Pepper Parr

April 22, 2015


Later this month we will see, for the first time, a policy initiative that the Mayor has put his mark on.

During Rick Golding’s first term, much of the thinking was done during his election campaign. He produced a number of excellent position papers that we will review once we hear what the Mayor has to say on intensification.

Mayor Goldring has realized that his constituents, to a significant degree, do not fully understand what is meant by intensification and how Burlington is going to face that challenge – and for Burlington this is a challenge.

Burlington flagsThere are parts of the city where any form of intensification is not going to get past the first sentence. The backlash in some communities will be so strong that the Mayor, and every member of this Council, will quickly move on to a subject that leaves smiles on the faces of the voters.

Ontario is changing and Burlington is going to have to change with it – it will not be an easy transition and the Mayor has decided this is a subject he can show some leadership.

During his first term of office Mayor Goldring sponsored a series of talks on subjects that he felt were important to the city. He brought in some excellent speakers, including Andre Picard one of the foremost thinkers in the country on health related policies. Goldring brought in Ken Greenberg, a noted planner who works out of Toronto for the most part and has been instrumental in changing some of the thinking on how municipalities relate to developers and how the two can work together.

This time the Mayor is going to make the presentation – it will be his show. He will pull together the content and decide how he wants to present the data he will have collected.

He will, we assume, explain the policy guidelines within which the city has to work and what he feels are some of the directions the city can take as it works to meet the population increases the province has imposed on the city.

“Intensification is an issue that has captured the interest of many Burlington residents” said the Mayor on his web site. “People want to know why our community is seeing more buildings, particularly in the form of mid-rise and high-rise structures. Hear about the federal and provincial policies that are driving intensification and how Halton and Burlington are managing these pressures. Learn where we are growing, as well as innovative ideas we are investigating.”

The event is titled: Building Burlington: Where to build in a city that is built out. Problem with the title is that the city is not built out. There are hundreds of acres of land left for residential properties and more than we need in the way of employment lands.

The free event is “sold out” ; with the room full the Mayor will be speaking to an audience that wants to hear what he has to say. One hopes there will be vigorous debate and a fulsome exchange of views – both are needed.

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Resident suggests public was kept in the dark about a developers plans for a part of Plains Road near Waterdown in Aldershot.

News 100 blueBy Greg Woodruff

April 21, 2015


On March 24th city staff held a meeting to discuss possible zoning changes to a large section of Plains Road. The area discussed was on the South side of Plains Road positioned East of Waterdown Road. Later residents discovered a developer is already advertising to sell 75 condo units at 40-58 Plains Road East in violation of current zoning character provisions.

Though it was casually mentioned the city had been “approached” by a developer; no indication was given that a specific plan was in motion.

Aldershot mobility hub study area

The public meeting was an information gathering occasion for the city planner who said he was there to listen to the community and what they wanted. He did make mention of an project that was not formal yet – the residents think the project is well along the development path. The graphic above shows the portion of Plains Rod that was under review and its proximity to the Aldershot GO station and the suggestion that the pink area could be developed as a “mobility hub”

This leaves the distinct impression that this meeting was in bad faith. It seems like the purpose of the meeting was only to say the public was “consulted” on an issue staff already had a plan to change. I realize that staff may not have been in a position to mention this specific development. At minimum the staff could have indicated that if the zoning was changed they would expect to see condo buildings in the “range of 70 plus units”. Why they did not could be anything from simple lack of communication to an outright attempt to misslead the public.

I think traditionally the public has considered staff as neutral parties implementing zoning regulations and changes in a balanced way. To some it seems like staff have now been co-opted into provincial employees with “intensification” as the decisive factor in decision making. If staff failed to mention this development or the like because someone judged that residents would have a negative reaction; then they are no longer operating in a neutral way. This is unfair not only to residents and developers, but also to the staff themselves.

Some basic questions now need answering:

1) What exactly is the current function and purpose of staff in regard to planning and development?
2) Was the city made aware of this 75 unit proposal from the developer?
3) Was there any conversation among or direction to staff about hiding the nature of probable developments if the zoning was changed?
4) Did any staff indicate that they would work for the developer to get the zoning changed?


1) All communication between staff and this developer on this matter needs to be made public.
2) Staff are “trading” zoning violations for attributes to buildings. “Horse trading” zoning violations needs to be made into a transparent public process.

In this area we have less trees, less businesses and more congestion.

I reject outright the suggestion that the liveability of our community needs to be sacrificed for the provincial “intensification” mandate. Intensification is designed to spur positive changes in our community; not serve as a rationalization for negative ones.

Greg Woodruff runs the Citizens for Responsible Development.  He was a candidate for the office of Chair of the Region of Halton.  There is more about that organization here.

The Gazette reported on that March meeting. 

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The Duffer - someone who did something stupid or made a stupid mistake. Rivers on the Duffy trial.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 16, 2015


“A politician that has been caught mishandling public funds and who then engages in political subterfuge in an attempt to cover up the error is doing a Duffster Dive”.

It is possible that the suspended senator, Mike Duffy, will avoid going to jail on any of the 31 charges against him. But, at least in the court of public opinion, he is guilty for his ambition, arrogance, avarice – and his duffster diving.

Duffy Mike

All on the public dime?

Does it really matter that Mr. Duffy, having been appointed to represent PEI, actually parks his duff in Ontario. It is not like he was elected by real PEI residents so he is accountable to no one, except possibly the PM who appointed him. But that quaint historical rule about residency allowed him to claim expenses he shouldn’t have, since Ottawa was his home, not a temporary residence. Don’t we all wish for a job with a fat salary as well as money for the groceries?

The Senate, itself, is an historical mistake – a solution searching for a problem, and in due course becoming the problem itself. And so this trial will be as much about the Senate as it is about Duffy getting a free ride at the public trough. How can there be clear rules about what one does or doesn’t legitimately do in the absence of a clear understanding of the role and purpose of that organization?

Though he has not been called to attend yet, this trial is also very much about Stephen Harper, his judgement and his back room boys. After all, the PM appointed Duffy to the Senate, when even Duffy now must doubt the legitimacy of his appointment. And a chunk of the questionable expenses were rung-up attending those Tory events, in which Duffy had proven himself to be a heavy-weight, when it came to fundraising for the PM’s party.

Harper and Duffy

Stephen Harper and Mike Duffy – pals forever?

On one hand it is hard not to feel a little sorry for Duffy. He was, presumably, only doing what he thought he could get away with. A jovial fellow who now appears to understand the error of his ways and who was happy to pay back what he’d wrongly accepted, with somebody else’s money. And he must be suffering emotionally, since those whose favour he sought so badly to obtain have now turned their backs and shun him.

On the other hand Mike Duffy isn’t a decent fellow who deserves our pity. This was apparent to anyone who witnessed the fiasco which occurred on Duffy’s political broadcast during the 2008 election. Then Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, whose first language is French, was asked an illogical, possibly trick or set-up question – “If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?”

Nobody could answer that question, though Dion tried and stumbled, asking repeatedly, for the question and the interview to be restarted. Duffy aired the entire interview, including all of the false starts, and then later editorialized his view that Dion had just demonstrated his incompetence.

Duffy was playing partisan politics. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that Duffy had violated broadcasting codes and ethics and that the interview was not fair, balanced or even-handed and, in fact, had significantly misrepresented the interview and its participant.

Though Mike Duffy had won several awards over his lifetime in broadcasting, this sad episode was unprofessional. Worse than unprofessional, it was mean and brutally unfair to Mr. Dion, sealing his fate in the 2008 election and beyond.

Duffy in the Senate

Senator Mike Duffy – currently under suspension.

And, of course, the destruction of Mr. Dion as a contender helped enable Mr. Harper to win the election. Duffy, if he didn’t already have the affection of the Tory leader, sure did after this little trick. And it was shortly after the 2008 election that Mr. Harper appointed Duffy to the Senate.

Background links:

Duffy Diaries      Duffy and Harper      Duffy Biog      Duffy Realizes His Error

Senate Oversight       Crown VS Harper      Broadcasting Standards Rebuke


Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

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Budgets, budgets, budgets - does anyone actually understand them?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 9, 2015


Ontario’s finance minister, Charles Sousa, boasted that the government had beaten down its projected 2014 deficit target by $1.6 billion, and was on track to eliminate the deficit by 2018.

He was speaking at a Greater Toronto Board of Trade meeting last week, when he announced this good piece of news. And another bit of good news is that a carbon tax doesn’t appear to be in the works.

And why would it be? The McGuinty/Wynne governments already have an outstanding record in fighting climate change. While Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sky-rocketed from 1990 levels, (18% increase to 2012), Ontario’s emissions plummeted by an impressive 6%.
And besides, Ontario electricity customers are already paying a ‘de-facto’ carbon tax through our utility bills, which have increased over the years, in part to pay for the conversion of Ontario’s dated and dirty coal plants to cleaner energy.


Ontario’s Minister of Finance Charles Sousa – watch the hands, they are quicker than the eye.

So rather than hit consumers with another carbon tax, Ontario’s Premier Wynne has decided to join Quebec and California in a continent-wide carbon trading system. Also called cap-and-trade, emissions trading is actually an Ontario-born solution to pollution. A University of Toronto economics professor, Robert Dales, back in the sixties was credited with defining the concept. Ontario’s formal entry into this continental cap-and-trade block will create a market of over 60 million people encompassing almost two thirds of Canadians.

The finance minister noted in his remarks that an additional half-million new jobs have been created since the 2008 recession, and that Ontario has become the top destination for foreign direct investment among jurisdictions in Canada and the U.S.A. Lower oil prices and a falling Canadian dollar are like gifts from heaven for our manufacturers. And with two thirds of our students exercising post-secondary options, the province is leading the country in skilled labour.

So why do we still have this deficit? Ontario already has the lowest per capita spending of any jurisdiction in Canada and, with a predicted growth rate of only 0.8% per annum, it is likely to stay that way. So perhaps the government needs to be looking somewhere else for a solution to its financial predicament. Premier Wynne is apparently exploring the sale of some crown assets, such as Hydro One, which might be in the public interest to divest, and provide some much needed cash to boot.

Shell game

You see them on the streets of New York – with three walnut shells on a make shift table and asking you to bet on which one the pea is under – it’s a game of the hand being quicker than they eye – the politicians do it all the time – with your money.

But sustainable financing requires more than a fire-sale of crown assets. That would involve re-engineering of the income side of the balance sheet. Alberta, has finally abandoned its ideologically driven flat-tax experiment, conceding that progressive income taxes are essential just to keep its deficit down to $5 billion dollars – a deficit greater than Ontario’s on a per capita basis. Alberta’s premier, Jim Prentice, a former minister in Mr. Harper government, has decided to increase income taxes rather than introduce a sales tax which would unduly penalize those in the middle and lower income classes.

Mr. Sousa tried to make the case that part of Ontario’s income problem lies with the federal government short-changing Ontario, by re-jigging equalization rules over the last few years. He claims that Ontario now contributes $11 million more than it receives in services from the federal government. But that is a hard argument to sell.

How does one measure the benefits Ontario derives from national defence, foreign affairs, national parks, and so on? And the equalization formula, itself, is a moving target, changing with the economic circumstances of each jurisdiction and over time. So the fairness aspect has to be tempered in the context of the leadership role Ontario has always wanted to play in confederation.

But it is true that the feds have been missing in action on a number of fronts, as former finance minister and PM, Paul Martin, noted in a recent article. He cites the neglect being accorded ‘innovation’ and science in general, and the deficit in infrastructure spending, of course. Mr. Harper had announced a $75 billion multi-year infrastructure fund back a few years ago, a program that has turned out to be more effective at advertising his government than actually delivering money for needy projects. And what is $75 billion spread across the nation when Ontario’s needs, alone, total well over a hundred billion?

Keynes quoteAccording to the great economist John Maynard Keynes, governments should run surplus budgets in good times so they can pay down the debt they need to run in the bad times. Yet the Canadian government has been running deficits ever since the recession ended in 2010 and Ontario is still three years from getting to a balance.

So the PM has determined that the federal budget, coming down in two weeks, will be accompanied by a spanking new ‘balanced budget’ law. This law, ironically, will mandate the federal government to ‘not do’ what the Harper government ‘has been doing’ for the last four years – running a deficit.

Since the early 1990s most of Canada’s provinces had also enacted balanced budget laws of one kind or another. And since then, almost all of these jurisdictions have either repealed or ignored these unworkable laws. Mike Harris introduced his balanced budget act after running deficits for over half his term in office, and McGuinty repealed the law when he came to power. But McGuinty and Harris each had about the same number of balanced budgets at the end of the day. Quebec, with the worst debt to GDP ratio in the country, has just announced a balanced budget – and this without a new law.

Managing the budget is one of the most important responsibilities for an elected government? Is our PM saying that he can’t be trusted to balance the budget without a new law requiring him to do so? Or is this just a another piece of political gimmickry which he will observe only when it suits. We should recall the ‘fixed elections date’ law which Harper also introduced a number of years ago, then broke, in 2008, when he thought it opportune to try to win an election.

Background links:

Ontario’s Upcoming Budget

Ontario GHG Targets       Carbon Tax       Ontario Cap and Trade       Cap and Trade

Canada’s Emissions      Federal Budget Expectations       Fed Budget More

Paul Martin on Federal Budget       Canada’s High Tech Deficit      J.M. Keynes

Balanced Budgets       More Balanced Budgets      Even More Balanced Budgets

Election Date Law



Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.




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Aldershot residents Muir and Woodruff comment on what the Planners are thinking - they don't like what they are hearing.

opinionandcommentBy Pepper Parr

April 7, 2015


Tom Muir has been a consistent critique of many city council decisions and an advocate for his community – Aldershot.

Greg Woodruff, a generation or two behind Muir, has also been a critic and an advocate for Aldershot.

WO yellowBoth had comments on some of the ideas that were floated by the Planning department at a recent community meeting in the community.
The proposed revision” revision said Muir in a note to one of the city planners, “has long been, historically, one of the biggest fears of Aldershot people – policy and wording revisions that can lead to wholesale block-busting and creeping destruction of a prime section of Aldershot character, heritage and history.

While this is technical, Muir sites a section of the Official Plan policy:

Part III. 2.2.3. h) Notwithstanding the policies of Part III, Subsection 2.2.2 d) of this Plan, the lands designated “Residential Medium Density” on the south side of Plains Road, between Cooke Boulevard and Filmandale Road, shall be subject to site-specific zoning regulations designed to protect the existing character of this portion of Plains Road and provide compatibility with the abutting neighbourhood to the south. Any exterior alteration or addition to the property shall maintain the residential appearance and character of the property.

Aldershot Plains Rd at WAterdown

Recently completed retirement home improves the look of the intersection but brings nothing to the community in terms of a place to go – no public amenities

“Changing this wording, and supporting zoning bylaws, so as to remove the requirements for site-specific zoning requirements – “shall” – to protect the existing character, provide compatibility with the abutting neighborhood to the south, and maintain the residential appearance and character of the property, is a sure recipe for just such a future. This is what a majority Aldershot residents have consistently expressed objections to. I live on Townsend Ave., immediately south of these lands.

“If these protections were desirable, warranted, and defensible in the present OP” asks Muir, “then what has changed that makes such protections not so in the present. These lands are certainly not realistically needed to meet any other superseding goals that I can think of. All I can see is that such revisions reward speculation and profiteering.”

“Such wholesale changes I cannot support. Notwithstanding that not all of the properties are equal, how does one choose which to protect and will that be defensible, among many judgemental factors? This is a very slippery slope.

“I think that in short order, given other redevelopments that are already underway on Plains Rd in general, this is exactly what appears will happen following such revisions. I already see signs of this, such as development/real estate companies speculating in properties in the subject section. I don’t want to see a replication of that recent redevelopment form in the subject area.

Planters along Plains Road have given what used to be a provincial highway a much more suburban look.  Hasn't slowed traffic down enough for most people - except for those who drive through the community.

Planters along Plains Road have given what used to be a provincial highway a much more suburban look. Hasn’t slowed traffic down enough for most people – except for those who drive through the community.

“It will destroy what is left of the low density residential, with some employment or commercial uses mixed in, and with green spaces and mostly attractive streetscapes. It will be replaced by concrete, brick and asphalt right to the street.

This is not an Aldershot Village Vision, but rather a Nightmare looming. This seems to me a critical juncture in the process.

Greg Woodruff, who ran against Gary Carr for the office of Regional Chair – more to have a platform that to win the office asks the politicians to “Stop saving the greenbelt and start saving us.”

Woodruff says he is “in favour of development and smart growth – that is not what is under way in Burlington. We are embarked in the stupidest type of growth seen yet. Let’s review the last several years in Aldershot.

Does the street look slightly nicer with newer buildings – yes.
Trees – less.
Businesses that are open at 7:00 pm – less.
Places for people to work and shop – less.
Dependency on cars – more.
Congestion – more.

Aldershot Village sign Plains Rd

Councillor Craven described the sign that was set up at the western end of his ward as “beautiful”.

The result is a kind of “bimbo” street that looks slightly nicer, but is devoid of actual value to residents. This trend is growing and accelerating across Burlington.

In the past developers chewed up cheap farmland and converted it into housing. Now that farm land is off limits they are just doing the same with commercial space. The city has just identified areas that can be redeveloped at the most profit – not areas where intensification makes any sense.

Previously the suburbs spread everything out and made the car king. Now we are moving to large swaths of apartment blocks completely devoid of any local services and placed around roads that were never designed to service so many. This is a far worse situation.

Aldershot Old Mercedes site

Greg Woodruff describes much of the development as giving a “kind of “bimbo” look – slightly nicer, but devoid of actual value to residents. This trend is growing and accelerating across Burlington.

City planners seem to have settled on religious devotion to a single formula imposed by their provincial masters; more density is better. Seemingly now freed from servicing the wishes of actual residents and backed up with “saving the green belt”; the agenda is to slow boil residents like frogs in water.

Chipping away local greenery tree by tree. Blocking out the sun building by building. Increasing congestion day by day. This is the only future offered to existing residents – endless and perpetual construction, greying and densification. Welcome to the intensification zone.

A better end game is to end up with a much greener and localized city than we started with; that is the point of density.  We want larger parks, more restaurants and things to walk to – you can’t make things greener by chopping down trees or get more businesses by putting houses where stores were. Yet that seems what city planners are pitching.

Population density doesn’t solve problems in your community if your community is merrily downgraded into endless apartment blocks. Sorry “Saving the green belt” cannot justify ever worsening living conditions for the rest of us.

Here is how we start turning the current direction around. “Smart growth” is when the increased density brings amenities into the community for the benefit of all – including existing residents.

1) Modify the zoning rules so that when redevelopment occurs the zoning stipulates that amenities come in with the development. In most areas this means high quality commercial space. 45% maximum lot coverage, 45% high quality parking, 10% green. Must have commercial venting and transport truck accesses.

2) A percentage of development fees must go into a fund for new park land – local to the area of development. This will enforce localized services and new localized greenery as redevelopment occurs.

Halton escarpment - long view up slopeThe only way to secure the “green belt” is to make sure that most people would prefer to live inside the “intensification zone”. This requires a focus on improving the liveability of the areas under intensification. Every development which brings in people without an obvious improvement to the community is negative.

“Dispense will the endless rationalizations presented by the city” suggests Woodruff. “If a development results in less trees, less shops, more people and more congestion – then the city is developing your area into a grey high density mess.”

The Planning department is in the process of testing ideas and listening to the residents in different communities. The Mayor is gearing up for a talk on intensification – his stab at helping people understand what is taking place.

If what Muir and Woodruff have to say is any indication on how the intensification debate is going to go – we are in for some feisty debate.

Neither of these man could be referred to as uninformed slouches.

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The Enemy of my Enemy’s Enemy is…. and Harper’s War

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 1, 2015


Canada’s former General, Rick Hillier, has struck out at those MP’s who didn’t show up to vote for ‘Harper’s War’ – the resolution extending Canadian bombing of ISIS into Syria. Hillier was the guy who oversaw Canada’s most active role in Afghanistan, so he should know about the costs of war and the value of war’s benefits.

And Harper’s War, like the one his government inherited in Afghanistan, has nothing to do with self-defence, despite our PM’s protestations to the contrary. Although there are potentially all kinds of enemies out there in the shadows, only a fool would believe that ISIS poses an imminent military threat to Canada. We are half a world away. How can they bomb us without an air force or invade us without a navy?

Hillier General

Canada’s former General, Rick Hillier, has struck out at those MP’s who didn’t show up to vote for ‘Harper’s War’

ISIS is a consequence of GW Bush’s extrajudicial invasion of Iraq in 2003. Yes, that was the war which Mr. Harper believed we needed to also fight. Bush’s people won the war but lost the peace. Or more accurately, they won the battles and lost the war – since peace was never an outcome.

Defeated, demobilized and shut out, Saddam’s political and military organization, the Baathist Sunni party, re-grouped and re-engineered themselves as ISIS, then went to work taking back what Bush had taken away. History shows us how it gets more complicated, in that part of the world, with each new wave of outside intervention. I mean, just ask the Libyans, whom we helped liberate from Gaddafi with our CF-18s, how much they are enjoying their freedom.

Of course ISIS is nasty group of people and I wouldn’t want them as my neighbours – but they’re not. And some of their neighbours are almost as evil as they are. For example, Syria’s dictator Assad has murdered over two hundred thousand of his people, some with chemical weapons. And Iraq’s Shias have done their fair share of slaughtering their Sunni brethren.

ISIS seems to be killing everybody. Iran and the Kurds are fighting ISIS. And once this skirmish is over, Iran and Turkey will be gunning for the Kurds who have long sought their own national state in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkey, with the largest land army in the area, has refused to fight ISIS unless the US completely obliterates Syria’s Assad.

Syria, supported by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, is also fighting ISIS and other rebel groups, including al Qaeda and the ones supported by the Americans. The Americans are bombing in Iraq, as we are, but also in Syria, where we are going. But at least the Americans have apparently got some deal, brokered by Russia or Iran, granting them immunity from counter-attack by Assad’s still intact forces, though we haven’t

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

ISIS seems to be killing everybody

Jordan is also bombing in Iraq and its neighbour and former enemy, Israel, has offered to help should ISIS invade the kingdom. Egypt has gone from dictatorship to Islamic quasi-democracy and back to military quasi-dictatorship, and has been bombing its neighbour, rebel-dominated Libya. Iranian backed rebels have taken over Yemen and are now being bombed by the Saudis, who are in the process of creating a twenty-plus nation pan-Arab army, with America’s blessing.

Israelis may remember, without fondness, the last pan-Arab army, which nearly drove it into the ground during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. We should always be careful what we wish for. And what about Hamas and those west-bank Palestinians, besieged by wave after wave of invading Israeli settlements, and who now know for sure that Israel will never agree to a two-state solution?

Harper on the ISIS vote

Prime Minister Harper speaking in the |House of Commons during the debate of the the resolution extending Canadian bombing of ISIS into Syria

Into this hornets’ nest, Mr. Harper’s government has decided to extend our ISIS bombing mission into Syria, with no military objectives, no timelines and no authority to invade a sovereign state (Syria). Syria used to be a real country in every sense of the word. Even besieged by civil war as it is today, it still has enough powerful high-tech Russian supplied anti-aircraft weapons to take down one, or all, of our CF-18s, if they wanted to.

It’s crazier than a flea circus, and nobody should know that better than former military chief of staff, Hillier. But he is the guy who said “we’re not the public service of Canada. We’re not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.” Over a hundred of our soldiers died in battle during his watch and our reward is the chaos that still characterizes Afghanistan today.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Syria’s Moral Maze     Injured Soldiers     ISIS Alliance Infighting     Shaky Ground

Saddam’s Old Party     Pan-Arab Army      General Hillier’s Anger     Rick Hillier

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We do apologize - an error was made in the Sunshine list numbers that were published Monday.

By Pepper Parr
March 31, 2015
It does happen – mistakes are made.

You fix them, you apologize and you hope it is the last mistake the staff member makes.

Earlier this week we posted the list of who gets paid more than $100,000 provided by the province’

A staff member started early in the day, downloaded the data and began to format it.

She downloaded the 2013 data by mistake.

It was an observant reader who saw the error.

We scrambled and corrected the mistake.

The corrected numbers can be found here.

This was embarrassing.


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The Greenbelt, the automobile and urban sprawl - we actually made all this happen.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

March 27, 2015


Urban sprawl – it even sounds like a dirty word. Sprawl has gobbled up more potential farm and natural lands than any other form of development.

Urban sprawl - HUGE

Gas and land were cheap and it was the way people wanted top live. It will take several decades to unwind all this urban sprawl – perhaps Burlington could become a leader in the change.

Because of the distances involved in servicing subdivisions and the inherent low population densities, sprawl is also the most costly form of development. And sprawl is dependent on the automobile as the primary (or sole) means of transportation, resulting in gridlock and the consequent lengthy commute times.

These downsides were recognized soon after this ‘California’ lifestyle became the dominant form of development in the fifties and sixties. But once adopted, going back was a tough call. There is so much more profit for developers in buying up cheap farm land and converting it to houses, than in expanding housing in existing built-up areas.

Back in the day, before immigration swelled our urban envelope, most of us hardly thought twice about the suite of problems associated with these ‘burbs’ popping out all around us. But Ontario’s Premier Bill Davis did. He, no doubt, had observed what had been happening to the US rust-belt cities, as suburban development swallowed up prime farm land and hollowed out the inner city core in the process, until nobody wanted to live downtown anymore.

So as early as the 70’s the Davis government sought to keep Ontario’s canvas painted more green than black. Putting an end to paving paradise and putting up more parking lots, as the folk singer Joni Mitchell had warned, was a timely ambition. So he undertook to create Ontario’s first greenbelt, setting out the Niagara Escarpment Commission to ensure protection from development.

Bill Davis had problems learning how to balance a budget; never really did learn.

Bill Davis made decisions while he was Premier that made possible the protection of the environment that is being done now.

And Davis didn’t stop there, he established the most advanced municipal planning system in North America. To help implement the system, he created new higher-tier regional governments to implement broad scale regional plans, which would permit stable and progressive development over a generation, while protecting farm and natural lands.

But it didn’t really work. The development industry is a powerful lobby and whether through their persistence at council meetings, campaign contributions for municipal candidates or sound arguments, they have been able to sway many development decisions in their favour – decisions that always involve more sprawl development.

And regional plans themselves became a catalyst for accelerated development. Once a land parcel was designated, developers pushed for early approvals in order to get their money out of the projects. And if that didn’t work there was always an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

The OMB is a quasi-judicial institution which is an anomaly in Canada. Composed of political appointees, this unaccountable body acts as both judge and jury, and frequently overrides the authority of our elected representatives, making a mockery of municipal democracy. The Canadian Senate comes to mind, except that the OMB has real power.

In the end Ontario, with its fancy planning system ended up with about as much urban sprawl as did the bordering US jurisdictions with their more basic laissez-faire systems of municipal planning. It turns out politics, not planning, was at the heart of the issue.

Greenbelt Ontario graphic

The Greenbelt – in place as a boundary to protect natural space

My Conservative friends would prefer to remember Dalton McGuinty for the unfortunate billion dollar gas plant fiasco of a few years ago. But history will record the creation of Ontario’s current Greenbelt as one of his greatest achievements. Following the visionary lead of Mr. Davis, three decades before him, this is the single most important instrument the province now has to hold back the forces of urban sprawl.
Of course, even this initiative could not quash those development plans already underway, such as the ones which have transformed Milton into the textbook case of what not to do. The recent orgy of development there has transformed the once quaint town such that it is now unrecognizable. And as anyone driving on the 401 will attest, this development has also made the roadways largely impassable.

Last week I attended a meeting in Milton, sponsored by the Friends of the Greenbelt. The topic was preserving prime agricultural land and the meeting was well attended by urban planners, farmers and other business people, keen on making their thoughts known.. Listed below are links to other sessions in which the public can have their say on the Greenbelt and its future in Ontario.

Whether you are a farmer concerned about city-folk moving next door and then complaining about your hog operation; a nature-lover craving more opportunity for environmental diversity; or a developer wanting to build more houses on a farm you have just purchased, this is your chance to have your say.

Of course I drove to the meeting, but I did take the backroads to avoid sitting on that parking lot we call the 401. And there you have it – this time using the automobile to fight against urban sprawl.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Premier Davis

State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference

Provincial Policy Statement


The Greenbelt Review

Greenbelt Events

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Cardinal rules aren't being adhered to; standards are slipping - shoddy values setting in. We are better than this.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

March 23, 2015


There are a couple of cardinal rules in the way people in positions of some authority must conduct themselves.

One of those rules is that you cannot have a personal relationship with a person that you have or can be thought to have some authority over.  Another is that one cannot be abusive in their behaviour to people that report to them

Council while VW speaks Aprol 7-14There is a situation on city council where the first cardinal rule has not been observed. At the least it calls for a discussion between the member of council and the city solicitor on what the rules are and how they are to be observed.  Some have asked: Is there not a code of conduct?  Apparently not – quite why one needs a code to regulate decency is beyond me.

A staff member’s integrity has been compromised and perhaps the trajectory of their career shortened.

The public looks for integrity and character from their elected leaders.  We expect them to reflect the values of the community.

When they don’t there does not appear to be any redress.

There is a situation at the Seniors’ Centre where the behavior of a volunteer has and is making life close to intolerable for city staff.

The public has a right to expect nothing but professional service from the people employed by the city. There are very few instances of unprofessional behavior – those that do crop up are dealt with quickly and expeditiously.

Seniors CentreThe city administration doesn’t have the same authority with volunteers. Investigations can take place and copies of reports made available to the offending party. But it is up to the members of the Seniors’ community to police themselves and set out the standard they want to see met.

If you don’t like what you see – stand up and say something.

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Guns and Niqabs and Tongue-In-Cheek - Premier goes on the offensive to defend his government - there is an election in the air.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

March20, 2015


It’s not new – this debate about that piece of face-cloth some women have to wear when they leave their domiciles. Canada’s immigration minister had ordered up veil-free citizenship services a couple of years ago, but a court had overruled him. So while the federal government is appealing the ruling, our PM has jumped in with both feet, calling the ‘niqab’ anti-woman, baiting the opposition, and driving up the volume as we move forward to this year’s election.

Muslin full head covering - niqabs

Is this an acceptable form of identification?

And why was this ever such a big deal? Isn’t becoming a citizen a prelude to being able to hold a Canadian passport? As with a drivers’ licence or a health-care card, don’t passport requirements include a full-face photo. That means that if the new citizen wants only to be able to travel, she’d need to drop her veil at least twice – once to get the photo and again to board the plane, so what is the big deal at the citizenship office.

On the other hand there is no longer a debate in France. Wearing the ‘niqab’ (or the even more extreme ‘burka’) in public places was banned outright a few years ago. And Quebec’s PQ government was ready to follow that European country’s lead before they were toppled by the provincial Liberals last year. Banning the public display of a cultural icon might be seen as racist under most definitions of the term, but the French law has withstood scrutiny by the European Commission.

While I’m pretty cool with how anyone decides to dress, I’d be a little uncomfortable boarding a plane knowing that another passenger boarded without a confirmation of her facial identity. So perhaps the PM came to the right conclusion but for the wrong reason.

Elections Canada raiding Tory offices

Election Canada official raiding the Conservative Part offices in Ottawa – just politics?

Or maybe he’s just playing politics. And who could blame him for looking for diversions. First of all he wants to extend the ISIS mission, even into Syria, and that smells like an invasion. But even worse, this decision is being made just as we’re putting to rest one of our own – a military trainer – supposedly not involved in direct conflict, but who was killed while serving on the front line.

And then, having jumped the gun and announced an income-splitting tax break for the wealthy, the PM now finds himself unable to afford it. His promised election year balanced budget is evaporating faster than the price of oil and the Canadian dollar are falling. So the PM is stalling, hoping and waiting for a miracle.

But Harper doesn’t need a miracle, he is a shrewd tactician and knows that there is no defence like an offence. And what could be more offensive than attacking new Canadians for their little cultural niceties which most of us don’t really even want to understand. If the ‘niqab’ is anti-woman, what does that say about the person wearing the garb?

Harper in chair - Star photo

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expounding on a policy.

And then there is this recent gun narrative in which the PM seemed to be telling folks to go ahead and use your guns instead of waiting for the police. If this was a message to his base, or a call for funding from the gun organizations and companies, you can bet it worked. And then just to placate those nervous 905’ers, he now claims he was mis-interpreted. It’s an old trick, and he is performing it brilliantly.

Had his new anti-terrorist act, Bill C-51, been the law of the land, the recent terrorist scenarios we experienced would still have taken place The bill is a Trojan-horse, an excuse for the government’s security failures. It is disguised as an anti-terrorism weapon, but is really just another roadblock to freedom of expression and the curtailment of other civil liberties. The right-wing generally sees itself as a strong advocate of free speech… but then it really depends on what is being said, doesn’t it?

So what is next on the PM’s offensive agenda. So far he has stayed away from capital punishment and a woman’s right to choose. Indeed he has been consistent in dodging these topics, despite the pressure he must be getting from some of the really regressive members of his party and caucus.

Skinny models

The French banned skinny models appearing at fashion shows – they also banned certain types of head dress. Is Canada going to restrict what people can wear at public events? Should a full face be revealed for the purposes of identification when boarding an aircraft or appearing in a court room?

So perhaps he might want to try something completely different. The French seem to have settled on going after super-skinny models for their next social mission. Banning them from fashion shows and off the runways until they ‘fatten-up’. Of course this might just be a ploy to reduce the huge quantity of surplus French agricultural produce. I wonder if that would also work here to help out oil-depressed Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:
Passport Requirements    French Ban     Harper’s Rant

More Harper’s Rant      Harper and Guns      Super-Skinny

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Keeping Our People Safe: how many civil liberties are we prepared to surrender?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

March 11, 2015


Is Bill C-51, Canada’s proposed new ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation, more onerous than the government’s Emergencies Act ( formerly War Measures Act)?

Some readers will recall the controversy when Former PM Trudeau introduced this instrument, back in 1970, to quell the terrorist threat posed by Quebec separatists. Well, at least one civil rights organization in the country is putting it in those terms.

How many civil liberties are we prepared to surrender?The question this new legislation begs is how many civil liberties are we prepared to surrender in the hope that the mitigative measures, specified in this bill, will prevent potential acts of terror. Yet perhaps the real question is whether these new measures will make much of a difference at all. Bluntly put, is moving towards a police state the most effective approach to dealing with the seeds and buds of the kind of discontent that motivates an individual, or group, to strike out violently against fellow Canadians?

Take Parliament shooter, Zehaf-Bibeau, whose actions have led to this bill, though it wasn’t the first time someone had tried to commit an act of terror on the Hill.  Still, his gunfire did force a sitting PM, for the first time in history, to take refuge in a closet. And what about the hunting rifle he used? Nobody seems to know because the PM had abolished the long gun registry some years ago.

Michael Zehaf Bibeau

The RCMP have defined Zehaf-Bibeau as a terrorist. Here he is seen running into the House of Commons where he was killed minutes later.

Oh the sad irony of it all. First the government kills the registry over a few complaints concerning the right to gun owners’ privacy. And now, the government introduces draconian rules that reduce all of our civil liberties, because of a crime committed with an unregistered gun.

And would the police have been able to stop either Zehaf-Bibeau or Couture-Rouleau, (who ran down soldiers in Quebec) had they been equipped with the new powers given in C-51?  Both of these men were already well-known to authorities. And yet neither could not be kept in detention forever, even with this new law.

Nobody said that building a multi-cultural society would be easy. Each new strand of diversity necessarily brings with it some baggage, whether that be an historic Irish Catholic/Orange squabble, anti-Semitism or Islamic terrorism. In the latter case, world events, and especially the emergence of this barbaric ISIS, who have created a creed of terror out of a religion of peace, has made Canadians wary.

So perhaps that is where the government should start the process of keeping us safe. But preventative measures such as education and the establishment of cross-cultural linkages are not on the cards in this bill or in anything else this government is considering. Instead we see greater powers of surveillance, police detention and censorship – the kind of restrictive measures we want to criticize other nations for deploying.

And greater censorship of the airways (internet) has broader implications, particularly when we observe the absence of any provision in the bill for meaningful oversight. It seems that judges and ministers of government, rather than Parliament, will call the shots and do the accounting. The executive excluding the legislative arm of government from oversight, in political lingo, is a dangerous departure for a free and open society.

charter_ofrights Queen signing

Queen Elizabeth II signing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Does one lone-wolf terrorist Justino the close to wholesale loss of basic rights without significant oversight? Or is this a ploy to frighten citizens and win an election? It’s been done before.

The NDP would scrap this bill if elected and the Liberals, hoping to diffuse a potential Tory campaign issue, will support its passage. But Mr. Trudeau has promised, if elected, to alter the law to make it better subscribe to our Charter of Rights and less likely to suffer a challenge at the Supreme Court. But then, this PM and his minister of justice seem to dwell in their on-going irreverence for the highest court in the land. It is as if they, themselves, have subsumed that role.

In the end, the government will pass this law with or without the support of the other parties. And while everyone agrees that we need to do more to prevent the kinds of terrorist activities we’ve seen recently, the harshest criticism may be that just ramming in new police measures to quell terrorism is simply not doing enough to keep us safe.


Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran as a Liberal against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.


Background links

War Measures Act Better?      Anti-Terrorism Act      Bill C-51      B.C. Concerns

Defending the Bill      Totalitarianism?       Censorship      Big Data

Dangerous Legislation      Parliament Shooter      Soldier Attack

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City planner gives his viewpoint on Planning Act changes; it will be a lengthy process.

backgrounder 100By Staff

March 10, 2015


The province recently announced changes it wants to make to the Planning Act and the way Development charges are to be implemented.
Everything the city does in the Planning and Building department is impacted by these changes – getting the views of the Bruce Krushelnicki, the city’s director of |Planning then are useful – what does he think this is going to mean?

“Of course this is a Provincial legislative proposal and will be the subject of wide review and debate. This will I am sure, evoke an important conversation, one that has been expected for some time following the announcement last year that the Planning Act was undergoing a scoped review.
My initial comment is that there is a lot more detail necessary before we can understand the impact of the changes that are proposed. The note identifies a “stakeholder working group” that will assist in implementing some of these changes, so the details may be some time yet in coming.

The proposed changes that would enhance public engagement are welcomed and I look forward to some additional information about the proposed “community permit planning system”. Planning Advisory Committees – which can even now include citizen membership – have been part of the Planning Act for many years and I await the details regarding the changes that are proposed. It appears that when such committees are formed, citizen membership may be required.


What will the revisions to the Planning Act mean to citizen input on what gets built?

The change to a ten-year review requirement for Official Plans is very welcomed. When the Act was revised some time ago, the previously optional five year review was made a mandatory requirement. As Official Plans have become more complex, the five year review (including OMB appeals) was often scarcely completed when a new review would commence. Some in the planning profession expressed concerns that plans were almost constantly under review. Some argue that this has resulted in a lack of stability in the policy framework. This may be intended to address this concern.

Providing more stability over planning documents addresses the concern expressed by some that it is too easy to apply for amendments and if unsuccessful, too easy to appeal an Official Plan, even one that has been recently approved. The two year moratorium on private appeals as they are called – that is appeals lodged by persons when an private application for amendment is refused or ignored – means that councils can expect their plans to remain unchallenged for a period of time.

According to the proposal as described, a council will nevertheless be able to amend their Official Plan on their own initiative.
The proposal also seeks to remove the opportunity to appeal some issues to the OMB. Removing appeal opportunities cuts both ways. That is, appeals can be made by citizens against a decision of council and appeals can also be made by developers against a decision of council. How appeal opportunities for all parties will be affected will be important to learn as details become known.

New City park - bulldozers

What will any Development Charge changes mean to the cost of housing?

It is also proposed that more clarity will be provided in determining what constitutes a minor variance to the zoning by-law. Minor variances are decided by the Committee of Adjustment, an independent body appointed by council.

Currently there are four long standing “tests” for a minor variance. Presumably the criteria for approval by the Committee will be clarified by the stakeholder working group. This is yet another is area where much more information is need before the implications can be assessed.”

This process of revising two very significant pieces of legislation has clearly just begun.

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