Rivers on Baird - what a smack down.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

February 4, 2015


I never cared for John Baird. I remember sitting in the public gallery at Queen’s Park watching with disgust as he single-handedly created disorder, yelling at the Liberal government from his opposition bench like a spoiled three year old. He was one of those over-zealous immature partisans who liked to hear himself yell, mistaking noise for progress. Even with age and the experience of senior governance, I believe that little spoiled boy is still in there. People like that just don’t change.

So I’m betting that this walk in the snow is all about taking a break, a hall pass, so he can recharge his batteries, organize his supporters and get ready to come back refreshed, if not fresh - after Harper gets the big heave-ho. His first Cabinet role was as a pit bull in the Harris government, oppressing the poorest and most vulnerable Ontario residents during the mid 1990’s recession. As Minister of Community and Social Services, he was the ruthless Tzar of Harris’ reactionary WorkFair program.

As Minister of Energy in the Eves government, he totally mismanage the energy file. He was responsible for Hydro One (remember Eleanor Clitheroe). The file was so badly bumbled that the Eves government had to subsidize and re-regulate electricity rates, which had sky-rocketed to record levels and had been accompanied by rolling power blackouts. And then there was that huge province-wide blackout in the summer of 2003.

I always found it strange to see Baird welcomed into Harper’s Cabinet. After all there were so many homophobic Tories engaged in a rear-guard action to ban same-sex marriage, which the Liberals had made law. It is to Baird’s credit he managed to turn the PM and the rest of the party around on that issue. And it took courage, as he has shown on occasion to vote against most of his party on this issue.

Baird - red tie finger point

Baird’s legacy is a wasteland of de-funded and disempowered agencies and non-profit organizations.

His first responsibility in Harper’s Cabinet was introducing the much heralded ‘Accountability Act’, only years later to watch the Tories become the most secretive government in modern history. Despite his passion for human rights, Baird’s legacy is a wasteland of de-funded and disempowered agencies and non-profit organizations, which had ostensibly been pursuing that very objective.

He was an embarrassment as federal Minister of the Environment. Canada’s environmental agency put an end to undertaking much research and scientific knowledge, climate change in particular. Hear no evil, see no evil – ignorance is bliss. Columnist Andrew Coyne summed up Baird’s job in the environment portfolio, referring to the new Minister as “the man sent to kill the issue”.

Baird was the trigger-man who ended Canada’s commitment to climate change by taking us out of the Kyoto Protocol. Not only was Canada no longer interested in trying to reduce greenhouse emissions, it was opposed to developing serious alternatives to Kyoto. Government policy now included obstruction and subversion of any collective international action on climate change (Bali and Cancun climate change conferences).

Baird - blue suit finger point

Under Baird Canada’s foreign policy underwent a more partisan self-serving transformation.

Perhaps that is what qualified him in Mr. Harper’s mind, to be promoted to Minister of Foreign Affairs. And he didn’t disappoint. One of his first actions was to close the Iranian embassy, to the puzzlement of just about everyone. Baird has been praised for his strong protestations against Ugandan and Russian attacks on the GLBT community, which is consistent with his record on this issue.

But most importantly Canada’s foreign policy underwent a more partisan self-serving transformation. Foreign affairs became subservient to domestic political pandering. Supporting Israel was seen as the key to attracting the Jewish vote in Canada away from the Liberals. There was not a single Israeli military act which the Harper government didn’t fully endorse. And almost before Israel did so, Canada rejected Palestinian efforts at statehood, notwithstanding our official two-state policy.

With over a million Canadians of Ukrainian descent, the largest diaspora of those folks anywhere (except Russia), Canada unleashed its vitriol on Russia’s Putin. In fact Canada was so strident in its criticism of the Russian leader that we were shut out of participating in NATO’s Ukrainian policy (too scary), and dispatched to fight ISIS in Iraq instead.

John Baird will be best remembered by his last posting and he has received a number of very positive accolades, from his staff, his caucus colleagues, opposite members, journalists and even members of the public. It’s true that Canada has climb back a little from those early Harper days when our application for a seat at the Security Council failed, and no doubt the minister has built up some international credibility after four years in the job.

But there are no Pearson, Axworthy, Mulroney or even Joe Clark break-through moments in foreign matters which would merit anyone calling him great. I’ve heard that he was disappointed that his boss wouldn’t let him go further in support of Ukraine, so he is quitting. More than likely he may just be tired of public office after 20 years. Life is short and there are many opportunities for someone who has built a career the way he has. Whatever the reason, at 45, he would be a very marketable commodity in many other sectors.

Leaving now would qualify him for the early (55 years) MP pension before it changes to 65. It is in his economic interest to leave now, if that is his heart’s goal – but I don’t buy that. This is a man who has spent his entire life wanting to get to the top of the political ladder – and he is so close – with only one thing stopping him.

Baird - clenched fist

Baird: He can read the political polls and tea leaves. It is probable that Stephen Harper will not win a majority in this coming year’s election.

He can read the political polls and tea leaves. It is probable that Stephen Harper will not win a majority in this coming year’s election. And it is possible that the Conservatives will end up in opposition. In either of these scenarios the famous Tory knives will come out and Mr. Harper will be on the plate.

So I’m betting that this walk in the snow is all about taking a break, a hall pass, so he can recharge his batteries, organize his supporters and get ready to come back refreshed, if not fresh – after Harper gets the big heave-ho. This was the game that worked for Jean Chretien and Jim Prentice. I’d mentioned that I never cared much for John Baird, neither as MPP nor MP. How do you think I’d feel about him as P.M.?

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Protecting Baird      Open Secret     More Baird    Hydro One

Harper Needs Him     Even More Baird    Post Retirement      Five Facts

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Candidate wants the long form census brought back - thinks getting rid of it was a dumb idea.

opinionandcommentBy Karina Gould

February 4, 2015


Every baker knows that making a cake is easy and predictable so long as you follow the recipe. It took me a number of years while growing up to figure this out. One day, however, when I was away at school, I decided to bake banana bread by the book. I precisely measured each ingredient in the recipe and voila – perfect banana bread.

Gould - direct serious look

Karina Gould is a very direct person – little doubt what she thinks on a subject. Public will get to know her better when the federal election campaign begins in the Spring

Now you may wonder why I’m telling you about my baking habits in a piece about the long-form census. Good question. Here’s my question to you: Could you imagine making banana bread with only 68.6% of the ingredients? You could argue that you’ll just make 68.6% of the recipe, right? Fair point. So how about we completely change the recipe and give you 68.6% of the total ingredients, but don’t give you proportional quantities to the recipe. You’ll take something out of the oven, but it certainly won’t be banana bread and it will be very hard to compare to your previous banana breads for which you followed the recipe.

That’s the issue with the abandonment of the long-form census: the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) had a response rate of 68.6% and changed the questions asked; neither are we getting all of the ingredients or the right proportions when it comes to one of the most fundamental aspects of a well-governed country: understanding our societal make-up.

Recently, I spoke with the director of a local community development organization. The first issue she brought to my attention was the long-form census. “We don’t know who we are as a country anymore,” she lamented, “we can’t tell who needs services in our communities and whether those services are adequate.” Shortly thereafter I spoke with a high-ranking businesswoman, “I can’t identify potential clients because I have no idea what the current market make-up is.” The NHS results weren’t worth a penny she explained.

The elimination of the long-form census has had a significant impact on our country’s ability to make and plan good policies for the future. This isn’t an issue that impacts one particular segment of our society. This is pan-Canadian. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Medical Association and numerous other organizations have endorsed a return to the mandatory long-form census.

The current government will tell you it’s about privacy. That was the argument they used in 2010 when they axed this basic foundational instrument of policy-making. It is ironic then that they are so keen to introduce their anti-terror legislation as well as their internet surveillance legislation neither of which seem particularly concerned with an individual’s privacy… it is noteworthy that Jennifer Stoddard, Canada’s privacy commissioner at the time, found the census was exemplary when it came to dealing with privacy concerns.

Gould - beside tree full length smile

Karina Gould is the federal Liberal candidate for Burlington.

Finally, let’s think about costs. You’ve made your not-so-delicious, far from perfect banana bread and you now know you can’t serve it. So what was the point of wasting $22 million more than the cost of the long-form census on a voluntary survey with a low response rate and poor results? For a government that is committed to cutting cost and reducing waste, it seems they missed the mark on this file.

But TODAY, Tuesday, February 4th, there is an opportunity to fix this mess. Bill C-626, a Private Member’s Bill, will be up for second reading in the House of Commons. The opposition parties have committed to supporting it. Let’s hope a few government members will as well.

Not bringing back the long-form census, to me, is bananas. Bringing it back makescensus.

Karina Gould, is the Liberal Party of Canada candidate for the constituency of Burlington

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Burlington Gazette to be part of major academic study about on-line publications.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

February 4, 2015


An email from a colleague said he was going to be in town – and could he buy me lunch.

The immediate answer was – of course you can buy me lunch – the follow up question was: What did he want?
James McLean, holder of a PhD in communications studies currently on a Sabbatical from Concordia University in Montreal, is working on his next book: Minority Media and the Journalistic Entrepreneur.

Lunch was relaxed; two old time media types swapping tales and working at impressing each other. I noticed there was a grey file folder on the table we occupied at Spencer’s on the Waterfront; it wasn’t very thick.


Academic wants the views and thoughts of an on-line publisher. Does he have any idea what he is getting into?

Dr. McLean wants to include the Burlington Gazette as one of four or five on-line publications he will be researching. He is using on-line sites in both Canada and the United States doing in depth interviews a couple of times a year during which he certainly took us to task on some of the approaches we used. He also digs into the analytics and who our readers are; what they read, how long they stay on line and some detail on the demographics of our readers.

The waiter asked if we wanted our beverage glasses re-filled – McLean was picking up the tab so my answer was a quick yes – but I wanted to know what was in the file folder. McLean opened it up – he had a release he wanted me to sign giving him permission to use quotes from me in his book and to refer to some of our data.

The waiter was serving 9 oz. glasses of a very nice California Chardonnay so I of course said yes, reached for my pen and signed on the dotted line.

No publication date yet – but when the book does come out we will do what we can to get Dr. McLean back into the city; perhaps he can be a guest speaker at those Insight Burlington events the Mayor used to hold.

Heck – a book about Burlington’s on line media will help us keep that title of the Best Mid-Sized city in Canada. That should help – shouldn’t it?

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Did Harper believe the vast ‘tar sands’ was a way to manage the Canadian business cycle - he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

February 2, 2015


It’s a nice change to see gasoline prices down. We’re pretty used to them going the other way and tired of all the excuses offered by the oil folks for why they have no choice. Global political instability or natural disasters are the classics. When hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans the oil industry got to double-up on excuses, blaming both the natural disaster and the storm-related destruction of the refineries and oil platforms.

Oil pipeline being laid

Pipeline capacity was sometimes the reason for higher gas prices.

Typically the oil giants claim their hands are tied, blaming inflated selling prices on the tax man, or the speculators – derivatives, futures and hedge funds. They spit out this line as if they are innocent, even though they do much of the speculating themselves. And when the economy is healthy and growing, it’s inadequate refining capacity, depleted oil fields and limited pipeline capacity that are to blame – as if the industry has no control over these factors.

The price of oil is currently of huge importance to us. We are a free-trading, transport-intensive economy built on the automobile. The price of oil can mean the difference between economic boom or bust. Those of us old enough will recall how the late 1970’s Arab oil embargo gave us third-world-style gas pump shortages. North America and the world were plunged into recession and then wrenched back into near hyper-inflation – and then into something called stagflation.

More recently in the run-up to the 2008 recession, oil prices skyrocketed towards $150 per barrel, becoming the proverbial ‘straw breaking the camel’s back’, and triggering the debt-driven economic collapse that year. But what goes up also comes down and the price declined to one third of its value as quickly as it had risen. Then, as night follows day, prices rose again in sync with the recovering economy.

Today most of us are cheering the prices at the pump. Some experts attribute this phenomena to Saudis flooding the market in an attempt to drive American horizontal drilling hydraulic fracturing (fracking) entrepreneurs out of business. Others speculate it is the Yanks and Saudis collaborating to inflict damage on the oil-export dependent Russian economy. Since almost a fifth of Russia’s GDP and half of its budget come from oil revenues, falling oil prices may be more effective than sanctions have been at stopping the armed aggression in Ukraine.


Fracking has certainly had a huge impact on where Americans get the gas from – the damage to the environment is becoming a little clearer and it doesn’t appear to be good news.

America used to be the world’s biggest oil producer, until the low-hanging fruit in the oil fields was nearly exhausted and cheap middle-east oil came begging for a market. Thanks to ‘fracking’ the US is poised to regain that title and become self-sufficient. Of course that has implications for Canada, given that the US is virtually our only export market.

The very first oil in North American came from a well in Ontario in 1858. Today production is largely from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland. The federal government has supported the oil industry in one way or another over the years, including the governments of John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau and Stephen Harper. In addition to direct subsidies and accelerated capital write-off, the government plays a significant role in oil transport, exploration, investment, international trade and environmental management.

But, if Stephen Harper saw the development of the vast ‘tar sands’ as a solution to the vagaries of Canada’s business cycle, he couldn’t have been more wrong. Oil is as volatile as… well just look at it today. And as the US becomes self-sufficient and even competes with Canada for export markets, that volatility will just get worse and markets dry up. And then there are the new supply-side technologies, such as ‘fracking’, which will enable countries from China to Ukraine to start producing more of their own oil.

What is really exciting, though, is demand-side technology. Electricity is a better alternative for propelling an automobile, whether in pure or hybrid vehicle format. Electric motors are safer, cleaner, virtually maintenance-free, more reliable, quieter, and more powerful – as we see with the Tesla all-electric sports cars or the economical Nissan Leaf. Electric vehicles were common-place in the mid 19th century, even holding the land speed record until the turn of that century.70% of all the petroleum used today is for transportation. And those days are limited.

Oil will always be part of our economy – for fertilizer, plastics, and the other myriad of uses – but 70% of all the petroleum used today is for transportation. And those days are limited. Even the lower pump prices we see today should not forestall the inevitable move away from petroleum. The smart money is on the alternatives.

We know the roller-coaster ride in petroleum pricing will continue, lifting prices again once the industry gets its act together following this current crisis. The oil industry is a largely unregulated oligopoly (limited number of sellers), and so long as they can work together (collude), and avoid political minefields, they will manipulate the market to their financial advantage. And we can expect to hear those old excuses crop up again as they do.

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Energy 101
Oil Busts
     USA Oil     Price of Oil

Shale Gas   US Energy Reserves   Canada’s Energy Policy

Oil Sands Environment     Tesla

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Rock Bay - a castle like mansion burned to the ground - all we have left are some pictures and some memories.

Who Knew 100x100 2015By Mark Gillies

January 22, 2015


Part 2 of a 2 Part feature

Pic 1 Peter Carroll

Peter Carroll 1807-1876 was a wealthy man, a land surveyor, a co-founder of The Great Western Railway, and a businessman who served on many corporate boards.

When Rock Bay opened, it was spectacular to see. Peter Carroll had selected an ideal location for the mansion, overlooking Burlington Bay from the north shore line located at the far western end. Below the mansion sitting high atop its high ground, was a jut of land that ran way out into Burlington Bay. This land was to be known as Carroll’s Point, and the name is still in use today.  You could say that Peter Carroll’s closest neighbour, towards Hamilton, was Sir Allan MacNab, who lived in nearby Dundurn Castle.

Peter Carroll loved to entertain. His wife was the former Henrietta Martin. They married in 1836. Together they entertained the wealthy and put on countless lavish galas. Most guests at the time lived in Hamilton, and they would ride to Rock Bay Castle in their fancy carriages from the city out to Peter and Henrietta’s estate, horses prancing along York Boulevard, across the Burlington Heights, turning right at the Valley Inn Road, proceeding down the hill, and then driving up to the front gates which were located just about where the Woodland Cemetery main entrance is now.

Pic 2 Rock Bay Castle

Rock Bay Castle was a mansion in Aldershot owned by Peter & Henrietta Carroll, a venue for high society galas. Guests, in this photo, can be seen enjoying themselves at Rock Bay Castle.

The lane way to Rock Bay was long and it was winding. Colourful gardens adorned both sides of this beautiful lane. Peter had oak trees planted on either side of the lane. Over time, the oak trees provided a covered arch, all the way to the handsome port cochere. Many of these trees can still be seen on the Woodland Cemetery grounds.  Stepping out of the carriage upon your arrival, there were many servants tending to your every need. As you walked up the steps to the front entrance way, the great wooden door would be opened for you, and then you entered into a beautiful wood paneled hall, and proceeded to one side into a circular reception hall, graced with a large fireplace. In the fireplace would be a fire, well-seasoned oak logs would be crackling and burning. This reception hall was 2 storeys high, and to one side was a circular staircase that led you up to a balcony with a window that overlooked the estate’s property.

From this same balcony room, several doors would lead you into the bed chambers. Rock Bay had a beautiful drawing room, and within it was something quite rare for Upper Canada at that time. It was a beautiful grand piano. The windows in the mansion were adorned with heavy curtains of brocade. To light the estate in the evening, scented candles were found to be everywhere. Beautiful family portraits painted in oil were hung on most walls inside this magnificent home. Rock Bay was breathtaking.

The focal point of Rock Bay was the exterior’s large square tower, similar to one seen on Scottish baronial castles.
When you were either entertained at Rock Bay Castle, by Peter & Henrietta Carroll, or at Dundurn Castle by Sir Allan MacNab, guests knew they were in a special circle of the elite, and from this, they had a chance to enjoy the benefits of high society.

Pic 3 Peter Carroll Monument

Peter Carroll’s monument is in historic Hamilton Cemetery. Peter died from small pox in 1876. His legacy is now forgotten.

While Peter Carroll was on a business trip to France in 1876, he managed to contract small pox. When he returned home, he tragically died a few days later on September 18th. Henrietta, herself contracted small pox from Peter, but survived this attack. Peter was buried in Hamilton Cemetery. However, the importance of Peter’s death and his funeral were overshadowed by another event that captured all of the headlines in Canada and the United States. A man from Hamilton, named Cyrenius Chapin Roe, a machinist by trade, unveiled his invention that totally captivated everyone. Cyrenius was more commonly known as C.C. Roe, and his invention was patented as “Steam Man”.

Pic 4 Steam Man

C.C. Roe from Hamilton invented the world’s first robotic man, called “Steam Man”. It took North America by storm. Many events of real importance at that time were relegated to the back pages of newspapers.

This was the world’s first robotic man capable of walking upright, and “Steam Man” could perform feats of strength. The world was captivated by this man’s invention, spawning many articles and stories everywhere.   C.C. Roe and his family travelled all across Canada and the United States with “Steam Man”, as people flocked to see this marvel of modern technology for themselves.

Pic 4A Steam Man Back of CardHenrietta, after recovering from small pox, continued to live at Rock Bay. When she became too elderly to live there on her own, she went to live in Hamilton.

There, Henrietta died of senile debility on July 20, 1907.  While Henrietta, as a widow, was still alive and living at Rock Bay, my own grandmother Mabel Henrietta Hunter and her sisters, Lydia, Maud, Nellie, Ethel, Edna & Jessie, as young girls in the 1880s and early 1890s would play at Rock Bay with the jovial elderly lady. Henrietta Carroll taught the young girls how to make various crafts.

My great grandfather, Arthur Hunter, was an original Aldershot market gardener, and the Hunter family lived in Peter Carroll’s Bay View cottage as tenants. When my grandmother was born in 1883, it was at Rock Bay mansion. My great grandparents, Arthur & Elizabeth Hunter gave Mabel, my grandmother, the middle name Henrietta, in honour of Henrietta Carroll, a lady who was quite adored by the Hunter family.

Pic 6 Rock Bay after fire

Rock Bay Castle suffered the fate of a devastating fire. Henrietta Carroll lost everything. The building was eventually demolished. The stone walls were crushed into gravel.

And what became of Rock Bay? Sadly, this beautiful mansion burned to the ground around 1908.  The stones from the building were crushed into gravel. Some say, that this same gravel was used for the new roads winding throughout Woodland Cemetery. This could be true, I do not know.

As for the name Rock Bay, where did that name come from? No one knows for sure. Some say, it was named after Peter Rock, who owned the Maple Leaf Hotel, located in the Market Square in Hamilton. I don’t believe that is true.

Peter Rock did not arrive in Hamilton, until around 1890, many years after the death of Peter Carroll. My own theory is, it was a combination from two sources. “Rock” could have been in reference to the stone from Queenston, used to build the mansion’s walls, and “Bay” would have been the reference to Burlington Bay.

What’s really unfortunate is Rock Bay Castle, this beautiful mansion from the 1850’s is no longer with us. We lost a beautiful jewel from the past.

Mark Gillies will next tell you about Harry Lorimer, another forgotten person from Burlington’s colourful historical past. A humble man, Lorimer made a huge impact on Burlington, not just once, but twice. Lorimer’s house at 504 Burlington Avenue was recently removed from the City’s Heritage Registry for lack of historical significance, a decision many find totally incomprehensible, myself included.

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How do You Solve a Problem Like the Budget ?

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

January 29, 2015


Writing this year’s budget is a challenge for federal finance minister, Joe Oliver. His predecessor, the amiable Jim Flaherty had left us believing the government would be finally riding its way to a balanced budget, with possibly some new tax cuts thrown in this year. But the PM, hoping to counter negative polling, jumped the gun and offered up almost $5 million in new cuts and spending, including $2 billion in cuts mostly for the wealthiest families.

Joe Oliver

Minister of Finance is in way over his head – Prime Minister may have pushed him under a bus.

The problem is the price of oil. Oil is vital to the functioning of today’s modern economy. One would think we’d all welcome a drop in its price, especially those who drive cars. Falling oil prices are actually better than a tax cut for consumers, since it is immediate. I will be discussing this in more detail in my next column.

Suffice it to say that, generally, if the cost of a factor of production, like oil, falls, corporate net income (profit) should rise, except for the oil companies. And consumers with more money in their pockets after filling-up, can be expected to spend it, thereby boosting the economy and creating new taxable employment. All of this should make the budget balancing act easier, and maybe even generate a surplus, you’d think.

But it isn’t working out that way. For one thing the Conservatives cut the corporate income tax rate from 19% in 2009 to 15% today, presumably to encourage greater investment. But that was money for nothing, because investment in Canada has fallen rather than increased, and with it so has productivity. Cutting corporate taxes was a failed proposition federally, as indeed it was here provincially – also contributing to Ontario’s deficits.

When oil prices were flying high, at over $100 per barrel, the taxes from the oil industry more than made up the shortfall – but that was then. Today the oil companies are barely breaking even mining the tar sands. Still the silver lining of low oil prices is that our falling Canadian dollar should make us more internationally competitive. However, as I outlined in my last column, it may take years to revive the non-oil economic sectors of the Canadian economy.

Governor Bank of Canada

Governor of the Bank of Canada gave Oliver a gift recently by cutting the bank rate.

So with federal revenue down, how does Mr. Oliver balance the budget? Financing Canada’s debt costs us almost $30 billion annually. The Governor of the Bank of Canada gave Oliver a gift recently by cutting the bank rate, thus potentially lowering the cost on new financing. But our declining US exchange rate neutralizes much of that because some of the debt is held by foreigners in US denominated securities- and that costs us more as our dollar falls.

Having just cut taxes, this government is unlikely to raise them again, so the Finance Minister has to look at the cost side of the equation. We should expect more service cuts, further compromising services in immigration, veterans affairs and the military. Don’t be surprised if new taxes appear disguised as user fees, such as more costly park permits, passport applications, etc.

Most likely there will be further deferrals of major capital investments and acquisitions, such as fighter aircraft and arctic patrol ships. Lumping this year’s expenditures into next year’s budget is a favourite shell game of a government in trouble – it’s called creative financing. And expect to see whatever is currently left of the departments of Environment and Natural Resources get further hollowed out.

Of course the Minister may decide it is time to sell off more Crown land, airports or other physical or intellectual property. We have started bunking-in at some foreign embassies, and we should expect that trend to continue, despite the obvious complications for diplomacy and sovereignty. Foreign aid, such as it exists today, might be further wound down – after all U2’s Bono was Paul Martin’s friend.

Tar sands - Alberta

It was the tar sands that were going to save our economic bacon – then the Saudi’s changed the game.

It could happen – Mr. Harper might claim a balanced budget, even with the extra billions he prematurely slashed from the revenue side. Balancing the budget is a point of principle for the PM, one that he expects will define him and his leadership. But unless the price of oil rises substantially to somewhere close to $100 a barrel soon, showing up with a balanced budget would just be a lot of smoke and mirrors. And the longer the PM waits to announce that budget the harder it will be to justify the numbers.

Keynesian economics says we should pay off the debt in good times so we have borrowing room in the bad times. It has been almost seven years since the 2008 recession hit and this PM got to preside over the largest deficit in the nation’s history. So it has taken a long time to even get close to his goal of being in the black, notwithstanding all the chatter.

In the end, Mr. Harper may well claim a balanced budget, even taking us back to the kind of surplus he inherited when he first became PM. Of course the real question is whether the electors are better off now than they were in 2006? For some the answer is clearly yes. But for the many who find themselves on the other side of that ever-increasing spread between the wealthiest ten percent of Canadians and the others, the answer is not so simple.

Economic pie

How does the Minister of Finance create an economic pie big enough for everyone to eat?

For those middle and lower income Canadians, who make up the vast majority of our population, it is the size of the economic pie and their share in it that matters. And so it is high time that our government started addressing the issue of economic inequality – the distribution of wealth in this country. We could look to Mr. Obama’s recent ‘State of the Union’ address as a starting point for that discussion in Canada.

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Harper Tax Cuts     More on Harper Tax Cuts    Pay Back the Debt

More on Debt     Investment

Previous Rivers Column on how the PM sees the Canadian economyObama’s Take on Equality

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Three men create the economic foundation for Hamilton and surrounding communities - and build castles to live in.

Who Knew 100x100 2015By Mark Gillies

January 27, 2015


Part 1 of a 2 part feature

Pic 1 Sir Allan Napier McNab

Sir Allan Napier MacNab was a wealthy lawyer, a Prime Minister, a co-founder of The Great Western Railway, including business partner and close friend of Peter Carroll.

Here’s a question for you. When Hamilton’s Sir Allan Napier MacNab the wealthy Prime Minister of Upper Canada, from 1854 to 1856, went dining at a castle in Aldershot, where did he always go?

If you said, Rock Bay, consider yourself a genius. If you have never heard of Rock Bay, don’t feel bad, you are not alone. This is just one more of Burlington’s greatest treasures, regrettably, forgotten over time.

Rock Bay was the first stone castle-like mansion built in the Aldershot area during the early 1850s, by one of Canada’s wealthiest men, Mr. Peter Carroll. Many at the time referred to his residence as Carroll’s Castle, because it did resemble a castle.

Pic 2 Dundurn Castle

Dundurn Castle was built for Sir Allan MacNab and completed at a cost of $175,000 in 1835. This artist’s impression shows us what Dundurn Castle looked like in this same year.

Dundurn Castle, which we are more aware of, is located at the western end of Burlington Bay on land named Burlington Heights. This beautiful grandiose home built for Sir Allan MacNab, over a 3 year period, was completed in 1835, at a cost of $175,000.  We just don’t know about its neighbour, Rock Bay Castle, nor do we know much about Peter Carroll.

What was it that these men had in common? Allan MacNab and Peter Carroll both attained enormous wealth and great power. They were best of friends and business partners. Allan MacNab was a lawyer, but amassed his wealth in land speculation. Peter Carroll was a land surveyor by profession, eventually retiring from this field, in favour of establishing a construction company that built and owned major toll roads across the colonial province. To say the least, this career move was extremely lucrative. Road construction and tolls were the catalysts that launched Peter Carroll into new wealth. Among the many roads in Upper Canada that Peter constructed and owned were these familiar local routes; Waterdown Road, Plains Road (then called the Hamilton and Nelson Gravel Road) and Carlisle Road, plus most roads surrounding Hamilton. Before retiring from land surveying, Peter was responsible for the creation of the grid pattern street layout in Hamilton, a contract offered to him by his good friend, George Hamilton, the founder of Hamilton, Ontario. Peter, under a similar contract, also surveyed the entire Burlington Bay.

Three great minds work together to amass their fortunes
Allan MacNab and George Hamilton were already longtime boyhood friends, both born and raised in Niagara-on-the-Lake. These two men rose to prominence mainly from their efforts in battles during the War of 1812. Helping to defeat the American invasion at Queenston was their crowning achievement in the military. Allan MacNab was knighted by Queen Victoria. Peter Carroll served as a lieutenant-colonel in the militia in these same battles. This is most likely where he first met the other two men, prior to all three setting out seeking fame and fortune after the war ended.

It was basically these three men, after the war, who worked together to shape the future of Hamilton, plus the surrounding areas, including Aldershot. All three men acquired massive tracts of land in this same area, and even abroad. Peter Carroll for one, had extensive land holdings in Iowa and Illinois. All of this land provided the three landowners with unbelievable wealth. These three men influenced the future direction for the Province of Upper Canada, mainly through politics.

Peter Carroll selects a beautiful setting to build his mansion
A spectacular view from Burlington Heights looking east towards Lake Ontario, was the best property for Allan MacNab to build Dundurn Castle. Peter Carroll, not to be outdone, one day, also wanted to have a palatial home with a view overlooking the same Burlington Bay. Unfortunately, the Dundurn Castle site was already taken. As Peter continued to work his way into the power brokers’ circle, with his wealth continuing to dramatically increase, he finally decided it was time to build, and purchased a 40 acre tract of land on the northwest side of Burlington Bay.

Pic 3 Peter Carroll Map

This old land map shows us where Peter Carroll’s property was located in Aldershot. Today, the same property is where Woodland Cemetery, the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Plains Road curve are located.

It was not uncommon for men of great wealth to showcase their success with massive homes. Peter was shrewd enough to not upstage his friend and mentor, Sir Allan MacNab, by building a larger mansion, despite possessing enough wealth. Peter’s home would be on a smaller scale, but would resemble a castle in England. Peter hired an English architect who specialized in manor homes. The architect was brought over to design his new home. The land that Peter Carroll purchased is now occupied by Woodland Cemetery, the Royal Botanical Gardens, and the Plains Road curve in front of the RBG headquarters. The massive stone structure began its construction in the late 1840s. Cut stone was shipped in from a quarry located in Queenston. The mansion was finally ready for occupancy in 1855. The beautiful estate featured a port cochere, stables, outbuildings, a mammoth entrance gate, and small guest lodges located just inside the gates.

Pic 4 Bayview Cottage  Advertisement 1855

The Bayview cottage was put up for sale by auction in 1855 when Rock Bay was ready for occupancy. The advertisement describes the building, and the grounds available for purchase.

Part of the estate was set aside for farming. Peter Carroll has been identified as one of 2 people to introduce commercial peach farming into Upper Canada. Oak trees were planted on either side of the long winding drive heading towards the mansion, beginning when you turned off from the Hamilton and Nelson Gravel Road. Many of these same oak trees planted on Peter Carroll’s estate are now over 160 years old, and if you position yourself correctly on the grounds of Woodland Cemetery, it is possible to follow the route of the original laneway right to the front entrance of Rock Bay. Peter’s first home in the area, was an oversized board & batten wooden cottage, called Bayview. This building was located on the same property, and was constructed a few years before the mansion was built. When Peter was ready to move in to the larger premises, Bayview was put up for sale by auction.

Pic 5 The Gore Bank, Hamilton

Peter Carroll was on the Board of Directors for several corporations, including the Gore Bank. This drawing is the Gore Bank office in Hamilton.

Peter Carroll sits as a Director on two different banks
As Peter became more influential and powerful, he was invited to be on the Boards of several corporations, including the Bank of Brantford and the Gore Bank. In those days banks issued their own currency in the form of bank notes, but they were actually promissory notes.

A Great Western Railway “Founding Father”
While the mansion was still under construction, and even after Peter Carroll moved in, Sir Allan MacNab and Peter Carroll continued to move along fairly quickly in the business world. They believed a railway was needed to help open up southwestern Upper Canada for more European settlers who were arriving in increasing numbers.

Pic 6 GWR 1860

The Great Western Railway built train stations, bridges and track all across southwestern Upper Canada. This is a rare photograph of a very early Great Western Railway locomotive, tender and cars.

One of the greatest achievements for these men, was to finally receive a charter from The Parliament of Upper Canada in 1845, to create the Great Western Railway, 7 years before The Grand Trunk Railway was incorporated in 1852. The new railway company began construction of trains stations, rail lines and bridges, mainly in southwestern Upper Canada.  Rail service began in 1853. Sir Allan MacNab became President, and a group of men, mainly prominent lawyers, including Peter Carroll formed the first Board of Directors.

Pic 7 Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge

The Great Western Railway was the first in Upper Canada to establish itself as a major player in the market. The drawing of the suspension bridge, a marvel for its time, shows a GTR train crossing. Peter Carroll was on The Board of Directors for the Niagara Suspension Bridge Company and The Great Western Railway Company.

The Niagara Suspension Bridge
Even back in the early 1840s, before their railway charter was awarded, these men realized accessing the bigger American market was going to be key for their financial success. The Great Western Railway Board believed the rail line should one day connect to the United States by a bridge.  With that decision made, Peter Carroll became a Director of the Niagara Suspension Bridge Company of Canada. The International Bridge Company of New York was the second company involved with the bridge construction. The two companies would have joint ownership. This first railway suspension bridge in North America was built across the Niagara Gorge, an expanse of 800 feet. The suspension bridge when it opened in 1855 was considered to be an engineering marvel, for its time.

In part 2 of this 2 part feature find out what happened over 100 years ago to this beautiful castle-like mansion. over 100 years ago? See 2 very rare old photographs of what Rock Bay Castle looked like. Whatever happened to Peter Carroll? Why is he not in the history books?

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Mayor thinks a pilot private property tree bylaw restricted to Roseland community an

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

January 26, 2015



There just might be an opportunity for pilot private tree bylaw in the Roseland community.

Last week the Roseland residents met to learn what the city planning department was going to do with the recommendations made by the consultants who conducted the community character study that is now complete.

The character study done in Roseland was one of two the city had done. It wasn’t possible to arrive at any sense of consensus on the Indian Point community character study but there was much to work with in Roseland where residents resent developers buying up properties, clearing the land, demolishing a home and then seeking a variance at the Committee of Adjustment to sever the lot and build homes that many feel do not fit in with the look and feel of the community.

Roseland woodland tree - full trunk

A tree close to 100 years of, `honoured`by the community was cut down. The property owner has plans to seek a severance of the property. Roseland residents furious that things like this are allowed to happen.

One of the issues is the cutting down of trees that are on private property. City council was not able to get a private tree bylaw passed during its last term of office. Mayor Rick Goldring was on for such a bylaw and there were several cogent, persuasive fact filled presentations made at the time but it wasn’t enough to get the four votes needed.

The Roseland residents might have created an opening for the Mayor who sat in on the meeting last week – and got more than an earful.

There was a superb opportunity for the Mayor to put forward his belief in the need for a private tree bylaw. He was given close to the last word during the meeting of residents and he made his typical comments; that he heard what they were saying and more yada, yada, yada. He did say a pilot tree bylaw was an intriguing idea. There was not even polite applause for the Mayor.

Jack Dennison, ward Councillor for the community then stood up and made his comments; thanking the planning staff and adding that it had been a productive meeting.

Roseland Woodland tree down with saw #2

Nothing unhealthy looking about this tree.

Dianne Bonnell said “the level of residents’ frustration was palpable”,  while another resident called the cutting down of trees an “absolute travesty” and left the room minutes later.

The residents at the meeting believed that the cutting down of 100 year old trees devalues the property of all the residents in the community and they are left feeling helpless. Some are beginning to move out of the community – they think the end of the Roseland they had chosen to live in was in sight.

What our Mayor could have done was this – told the community that he understood their frustration and that he was going to put a motion before council asking for a pilot private tree bylaw that would be restricted to the Roseland community and be in place for a number of years – three should do it.

The Mayor could have then turned to Councillor Dennison and asked him publicly if he would support such a motion.
But Rick Goldring doesn’t have that level of political chutzpah and for the next while majestic oak trees will be felled in the Roseland community.

It was a lost political opportunity for a Mayor who appears to have a tin ear when it comes to listening to the residents.

Related articles:

Council votes against a private tree bylaw.

Community survey doesn`t convince city council that  private tree bylaw is needed.


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Gazette columnist chooses fishing in New Zealand over shoveling snow in Ontario.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

January 26, 2015


Ray Rivers, our political columnist is in New Zealand – spending as much time as he can fishing.

Rivers goes fishing  NZ - Jan 2015

Gazette political columnist heads for the ocean hoping to catch enough fish for a family dinner. He kind of likes the idea of not having to shovel snow.

Through the magic of the internet he is able to keep up with events in Canada and will write next about the difficulties a delay in delivering the budget means to everyday people.

Budgets are complex documents and involve every department of the federal government. The change in world oil prices has created close to total havoc with the budget the federal government was expected to deliver in March.

Rivers was a federal bureaucrat for more than twenty years – he has worked on putting together the operating level of budgets for several departments. Later this week he will talk about just what is probably going on within the federal bureaucracy. His political experience allows him to explain how a government puts a spin on a budget.

The impact of those oil price changes are spinning everything for governments around the world. They just might force Alberta into creating a sales tax – and once that tax is in place it might never get lifted.

Big changes – Rivers will write about them in his next column.

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Rivers points out to the Prime Minister that it is really about the economy - not just the Alberta oil sands.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

January 20, 2015


For a long while now I have criticized the federal government’s approach to managing the economy – focusing on energy exports to the exclusion of the rest of the economy.

Given the recent collapse in the global petroleum market and the United States move towards energy self-sufficiency, it is now apparent, even to the Prime Minister, that such a narrow-minded economic policy was short-sighted and dangerous.

So a new Stephen Harper is emerging, one desperately interested in doling out economic subsidies to a forgotten domestic manufacturing sector. Incentives to encourage a more diversified economy, which he now appears to appreciate, are crucial, not only for the economic health of Ontario and Quebec, but for the entire nation as a whole. So much manufacturing capacity has been lost over the past decade that today’s manufacturing sector is simply unable to make up the shortfall in national income lost by the oil exporters.

Alberta oil sands

Massive trucks haul earth that is laden with oil that has to be processed before there is a usable product. Low oil prices make this kind of operation uneconomical.

Harper wasn’t the only one sleeping at the switch, thinking he could slip his way to prosperity on the petroleum gravy train. His nemesis, Russian president Putin, used his vast oil money to build his military instead of diversifying the Russian economy and now is in an even worse pickle than Canada. And then there is Mr. Harper’s former environment minister, now Alberta’s premier, who is facing a budget deficit and considering an Alberta first – a sales tax.

Not long ago, Canada had tried to bully the US into building the Keystone XL pipeline, hoping to reach Asian and European markets easier that way. But US :President Obama resisted our PM and it turns out he knew what he was doing. Nobody is going to buy dirty Alberta oil which costs more to produce than the $50 a barrel price today.

The new Republican controlled congress may still force Obama into that pipeline anyway, though I’m betting on Obama.

Pipes waiting for the Keystone go ahead

Will these pipes every get buried and carry gas or bitumen to Texas or the Gulf of Mexico. The Alberta government certainly hopes they will – the environmentalists hope they get carted off somewhere else.

It’s a legacy thing with the US president. Stopping Keystone, and slowing oil sands development, could be one of the few things Obama would have accomplished to help mitigate global climate change, after doing so little on that file during his eight years in office. On the other hand, Stephen Harper has done absolutely nothing about this issue.

Oh sure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada dipped thanks to the 2008-2010 economic recession – but, as Bill Clinton would say, that was the economy stupid. The PM likes to claim Ontario’s renewable energy and coal phase-out reductions as his, though they were made without a lick of federal support.

This PM treats anything to do with the environment as anathema. For example, the Canadian government has recently shocked the rest of the world by objecting to the protection of 76 species being added to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

alberta oil sands - bitumen

Doesn’t look like oil – but once filly processed it will fuel your car – the question is at what cost to the environment.

The environment should not be an ideological issue. A sustainable global environment is no more right or left than is a healthy growing economy. Yet climate change deniers continue to dominate conservative media and politics, denying what is plainly in their faces; that last year was the warmest on record, that the polar ice caps are melting faster than ever, and that ocean water levels are rising quicker than anyone ever predicted.

It was this PM who shredded the federal Environmental Assessment Act and gutted the time-honoured Fisheries Act in order to expedite more oil-sands development. And having promised to regulate oil-sector GHG emissions, again and again, he has repeatedly refused to do so. In fact, Canada, for the third time in a row, is trying to stop our North American free trade partners (NAFTA) from investigating the environmental effects of the huge tailings ponds created for Alberta’s oil sands.

Canada’s overall contribution to global GHG emissions is relatively modest, given our small population, but those emissions are more than proportionate when compared to many more populated nations. Brian Mulroney, one of Canada’s most environmentally oriented leaders, set this nation on a course to lead the world on the climate change issue back in 1992. Today’s Conservative government has relinquished that leadership and abdicated our responsibility to the planet by pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol and attempting to disrupt other international efforts to cut GHG emissions.

Manufacturing - vegetable_processing_facility

Manufacturing and product processing can become a solid core for the Ontario economy – if the needed investments in technology are made.

It was during Mulroney’s time that Canada embraced the concept of sustainable development, originally defined by the Brundltand Commission in a report to the UN, titled “Our Common Future”. ‘Development that meets our needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The rate of development of the oil sands is spectacular and it would be even more so were the Keystone in place and the price of oil higher.

As the PM now realizes, tempering the energy extraction business and promoting a diverse and balanced economic growth and development strategy would have made the nation and his government less vulnerable to the vagaries we are seeing today. It would also have helped in meeting even the modest climate change targets we have set for ourselves.

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Canada’s Economy    Economy    Manufacturing Sector   

Alberta Recession

Economy and Interest Rates    Potential Carbon Pricing     Hottest Year   

Endangered Species

NAFTA and Oil Sands    Rising Oceans    Sustainable Development

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Wither city hall: Is there a new one in the cards; part of a real vision perhaps?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

January 19, 2015


The city did another photo opportunity last week.

City Hall BEST aerial

Opened in 1965, expanded later the structure no longer meets the space needs of the city. Are there real plans for a replacement? There is a report being worked on that sets out the needs and the possibilities.

The occasion was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of City Hall’s opening as the Civic Administration Building in 1965. A plaque was unveiled telling of the founding of Burlington.

The brief ceremony took place on one of the coldest days of the year when Wayne Kelly, Manager of Public Education and Community Development at the Ontario Heritage Trust delivered some remarks. Residents were invited to attend the event.

It is doubtful if there was any mention of how inefficient the building is or that it can’t hold all the people the city employs.

The Gazette didn’t cover the event – this Council didn’t need another photo opportunity.

City Hall in fall from south

The building was a big deal back in 1965 – today it is too small and inefficient.

What we are waiting for is the report that has been moving from desk to desk at city hall on the study of what the city has in the way of space it either owns or rents and what it is going to need in the way of space for the next 20 years.

The city currently rents space in the Sims building on the south side of Elgin where Human Resources, Finance, Purchasing, Legal and Capital Infrastructure beaver away on your behalf.

At one point it looked like the report was going to be made public before the election. Keeping that information away from the public was a smart political move and it maintained the practice of being opaque rather than transparent alive and well.

Former city manager Jeff Fielding had all kinds of ideas about where a city hall should be located and, had he stayed and completed his contract, there would have been all kinds of activity – that was just the way Fielding worked.

The file has been in the hands of the Capital Infrastructure people – once Council decides on who they want as a city manager it might see the light of day. For the time being the best citizens are going to get is some words from Wayne Kelly about how the city hall we have now came to be.


The Sims building is more efficient than city hall.  The city has leased space in the structure for some time; paid enough in rent  argues Councillor Jack Dennison to have paid for the thing.

The lease on the Sims building is due for renewal this year. There will probably be a short term lease renewal while the city gets its act together. The owner of the Sims building will push for a bit more than a short term renewal; they need the city as a tenant – at least until the Economic Development Corporation brings a company to town that will hire people for those high-tech, high paying jobs the city drools about having.

Hive on Elizabeth

The HiVe, one of the smartest ideas to settle in the downtown core has found that its costs are more than its revenue – they plan to move. The support they could have and should have gotten from the city just didn’t appear.

Meanwhile The Hive over on Elizabeth Street, one of the smarter ideas to settle in the downtown core, has found that the rent they have to pay is more than the revenue they are bringing in – so they will be leaving the core and looking for digs that are less expensive.

None of this got mentioned during the plaque unveiling or while people were enjoying the refreshments at city hall.

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Time to Go ? Rivers thinks Harper has passed his best before date. Is the

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

January 12, 2015


Stephen Harper has been PM since 2006, almost a decade. Although there have been longer-lived governments, his is looking particularly tired these days. The enthusiastic thrust to re-engineer Canada’s Senate, by a younger-day Stephen, has fallen off the face of the earth.

Harper - fists

Harper can be very combative – he gives as good as he gets. Canadians have a very significant decision to make in October of this year.

Likewise, the PM’s zeal to transform Canadian society and re-mould it into the image of the US Tea-Party has mostly run out of steam. And the consequences of ideologically-driven gutting of the Public Service, to make it smaller, are coming home to us in the form of dangerously poor food inspection, back-logged immigration files, failing rail safety and neglected war veterans.

With an economics graduate at the helm, one would expect Canada’s economy to be cruising along closer to an A rather than the middling C we see today, or the D we expect in the future as oil prices continue to tank. Putting so many of our eggs in the petroleum basket has turned out to be a foolish ploy, even for oil-rich Alberta.

And despite all the ballyhooed cost-cutting, this government has run up as much debt as Pierre Trudeau did in all his years in office, though still not as big a hole as the one Brian Mulroney left us. Should the PM manage to balance the 2015 budget he would still have presided over 7 years of deficit budgets. And the Tories’ only two surplus budgets were handed to them on a platter by former Finance Minister, Paul Martin.

Senator wallin and Priome Minister Harper during better times.

Senator Wallin and Prime Minister Harper during better times.

Yes, there was a recession and Mr. Harper reluctantly opened the national purse when our economy hit the skids in 2008, giving Canada its highest deficit ever the following year. Harper became a convert to Keynesian economics as did other nations which came out of the recession relatively quickly. And Canada’s banking system was able to withstand the kinds of shocks that crippled inferior systems in other places, like the Eurozone.

Stephen Harper in Calgary earlier in his career.

Stephen Harper in Calgary earlier in his career.

But Keynes would never have advised shameless waste, such as Canadians experienced with the $1.2 billion Harper poured into the one- week G20/G8 party for world leaders in 2010. And the money? Well It pretty much went into that artificial lake, built right on the shore of a real Lake Ontario; into lavish pork-barrel construction projects in Huntsville; and into all that shameful repressive policing that stained Canada’s civil rights record so badly even Rob Ford complained.

G20 tanking

It’s called “tanking” – a procedure the police used to restrain people who just happened to be in a part of Toronto during the G20 conference. It is seen as a major stain on Canada’s civil rights record.

The policing alone cost one hundred million dollars, and was overseen by OPP commissioner, Julian Fantino. Fantino, for some reason, had become hot political property after being released as Toronto police chief in the mid-2000s. Both major political parties chased after him like foxes after a rabbit, hoping to snare his apparent star quality. But Fantino was destined to end up in Mr. Harper’s camp. After all, he is the Stephen Harper tough-cop.

Perhaps neither Harper, nor McGuinty who appointed him provincial police commissioner, had spent much time reading his full resume, highlights of which include various accusations of illegal wiretaps, corruption, harassing the LBGT community and incurring the wrath of Ontario’s aboriginals.

But Fantino pleased Harper – he was a lone voice among law enforcement professionals as he opposed the long-gun registry. The two had colluded on Harper’s signature ‘retro’ Safe Streets crime bill. And it was Fantino, of course, who oversaw the security debacle for the federal government’s G8 summit.

Fantino Julian

Julian Fantino served as a police chief in several major Ontario communities; went on to become the Commissioner of the Provincial Police and then got himself elected to the House of Commons and became a Cabinet Minister. It all looks good on a resume – but there wasn’t much done that should be remembered.

So it is little wonder that Harper welcomed Fantino into Cabinet immediately after he won a 2010 by-election for the Tories. And Fantino dutifully served his master in a number of minor portfolios. That is until he was promoted to be the Minister of Veterans Affairs, a natural and deserved placement for such an experienced security professional.

But last week the PM had to fire his appointee and reassign him back to where he could do less harm. Although Fantino had a nasty habit of insulting his clients – our veterans – it took a scandal, where a billion dollars slipped through his hands while veterans were left in need, to get him removed.

Julian Fantino is symptomatic of what is wrong with Mr. Harper’s government and why the Tories are puttering in the polls, except in Alberta, of course. It’s not just the thuggish behaviour or the lack of compassion, which unfortunately characterizes this Conservative government. It’s about the government’s performance.

Fantino - hand to chin

Now in a minor Cabinet role, Fantino will have to pull in the Italian vote in the province – can he even be re-elected?

Today’s Conservative political platform is really just so yesterday. After nearly a decade with the same old gang in Ottawa, voters are looking for the ‘refresh’ button. Despite all that budget cutting and public service bleeding, voters are asking where the benefits are.

This upcoming election will be about fairness; about reducing the ever-increasing spread between the rich and the poor; and about the place of the middle class. It will be about building much needed infrastructure and restoring economic prosperity across all regions of Canada. And it will be about preparing to meet the demands on our society from an aging population.

Julian Fantino fits that demographic but he still plans to run again in 2015. Should the voters give him another chance and the Tories win again, it is questionable whether he would be given a new Cabinet position. And if he didn’t get re-elected? Well he has had an outstanding career for someone who started out as a mall cop, and someone who had to volunteer before the police would even hire him.

Fantino should know, however, that he may not even get re-nominated. After all his boss has a nasty reputation for cutting his losses, and throwing those who screw up under the bus – just ask Duffy. So I’m guessing we’ll hear a swan song at an upcoming retirement party, sooner than later.

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:


G20/8     Veterans Affairs    Demoting Fantino   Top Ontario Cop

G8 Secret Law   G8 Civil Liberties    More G8   Even More G8

Fantino in Cabinet    Latest Polls    Alberta Oil


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Scobie gives it his best shot: Council doesn't hear what he has to say; the city has passed the bylaws to close the old Water Street road allowance - the land will soon be sold.


By Gary Scobie

 January 5, 2015


A four part feature on the city’s decision to sell small parcels of land that it owns that fronts on to Lake Ontario between Market and St. Paul Street. Part 2: The Scobie delegation.

I come here today with some hope in my heart. We have a new Council in session, and though the names and faces remain the same, we on the Waterfront Committee are hoping that perhaps, in the spirit of renewal of your vows to do what is best for all citizens of Burlington, you rethink this issue of selling public waterfront owned by all of us to a few chosen citizens.

Gary Scobie

Gary Scobie delegating on behalf of the Burlington Waterfront Committee to stop the sale of waterfront property owned by the city.

We have a grand vision; it’s actually a hundred year vision, not unlike the vision of the Waterfront Trust and their Ontario Waterfront Trail. Their vision is to link the public to their waterfront and to establish a contiguous walking trail along the shores of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario first and next Lake Erie, followed by all the Great Lakes on our border. Theirs is certainly a long term vision.

Our vision in Burlington is to have a contiguous walking trail along our Lake Ontario and Burlington Bay shorelines. Each Window to the Lake is like a pearl; each trail between them is like a strand, so the end result would be like a strand of pearls along our shoreline. It could be magnificent.

This vision may seem unrealistic, yet big visions have been hatched and developed in our area before, with great success over time. My wife and I belong to the Bruce Trail Conservancy. The Conservancy is celebrating its 50th anniversary of inception in 2014. In 1964, a small group of dedicated visionaries imagined a natural walking path along the entire length of the Niagara Escarpment, from Queenston to Tobermory.

An “Optimum Route” was mapped out and volunteers began to work with local governments, landowners, conservation authorities and other naturalist groups to create this path on a protected from development basis. Their vision was certainly long term and audacious. Fifty years on, half of the 880 kilometer trail is secure in Conservancy hands or in the hands of government agencies.

The other 50% is either trail on private lands with landowner permission or routes on public roads where permission or ownership has not yet been attained. Will it take another 50 years to secure the whole trail? Perhaps, and maybe even longer, but the vision is still intact and progress toward the goal continues every single year.

This is what can happen when there is leadership and there is a grand vision. The same thing can happen over the next hundred years if we in Burlington dedicate ourselves to this mission.


Gary Scobie thought this could become one of the strands in the string of waterfront pearls that would become a complete Burlington Waterfront Trail.

We thought last year that we had a chance to put a strand in place between the Market and St. Paul Street Windows to the Lake. It didn’t even seem bold, since the land was already in public hands. A staff recommendation, with advice from the City’s Legal Department, recommended that the lands be retained for a future parkette and Waterfront Trail between the Windows.

This future trail would be similar, yet different to the Waterfront Trail at Sioux Lookout Park between Guelph Line and Walkers Line. It would have a good length, about two-thirds of that at Sioux Lookout, but would be quieter and more natural because it would be away from Lakeshore Road noise and activity, buffered by the houses between the trail and the main road. And instead of having two static “no exit” Windows at St. Paul and Market, the public would get a through trail whether coming from east or west.

An ideal place to walk or cycle through or take a break on a bench beside the trail and the shore while moving along the Waterfront Trail. Again, similar but different than the experience at Sioux Lookout.

But something unexpected happened. For reasons still not adequately explained to the public, the “old” Council discussed the issue in a closed session, then voted to sell the land, against staff and legal recommendations to retain it. Before our first strand had been completed, we saw a knife slice it and dash our hopes for the future.


Gary Scobie, second from the left, was part of the city’s Waterfront Advisory Committee and went on to be part of the Burlington Waterfront Committee. Councillor Marianne Meed Ward is on the far right.

Despite overwhelming numbers of delegates appearing here on October 13, 2013 to ask you to retain this shoreline land versus delegates asking to sell; despite overwhelming emails received urging retention versus sale, the “old” Council reversed the proportions and overwhelmingly voted 6 to 1 to sell the land, without any evidence given whatsoever that the broader public endorsed this view and the denial it imposed, possibly forever, of a public shoreline pathway there.

But a “new” Council may yet listen to our voices and the voices of neighboring residents and citizens who can see and share this vision of a start to the string of pearls that parkettes between Windows can be. We ask that you do not approve the sale of these lands to private interests and that you dedicate yourselves to preserving, not selling public waterfront. We ask that you look to ways to make use of other Water St. shore lands to form future strands. We ask that you look at ways that new development and re-development along our shores can create Waterfront Trail sections for the public. We ask that you consider what Burlington could be a long way down the road and that you buy into this long term vision, not put a dagger in its heart at its very inception.

Yesterday I received up updated advisory email from Marlaine Koehler, Executive Director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, amending her Jan 20, 2014 memo to Council. In it she states their position might not have been clear then, in light of newer information.

The Waterfront Regeneration Trust’s position today is:

1. Public lands on the Great Lakes waterfront should stay in the public realm and accommodate the Waterfront Trail. Burlington was one of the founders of the Trail.

2. If in fact, the land sale can be revisited, The Waterfront Regeneration Trust urges the City to do so, and retain ownership/interest in the lands so that they may eventually be incorporated into Burlington’s Great Lakes waterfront system.

So today you will decide to send a clear message that Burlington either supports the Waterfront Trail or that it doesn’t.

No city signage on this piece of city owned property.  Plans are in place to make a proper Window on the Lake at this location.

No city signage on this piece of city owned property. Plans are in place to make a proper Window on the Lake at this location.

Burlington – Best Mid-Size City. Burlington – Family Friendly. Burlington – Urban and Rural. Burlington – Lake and Escarpment. In Burlington, we celebrate and boast of our waterfront. A decision now to sell means we will be adding a new moniker – Burlington – Public Waterfront For Sale.

Please stop these sales and approve your original staff recommendation to retain the land.

Gary Scobie has been around election issues for a long time. He was raised in Dundas, stayed there until graduating from McMaster, and considers Dundas his   home town. He began working in Burlington in 1979 and has resided here since 1980. He has been involved in waterfront issues for the past six years and is a member of the Burlington Waterfront Committee.

Scobie was the lone delegator on the matter of the recommendation to stop up and close Water St. land parcels and sell the property to the three abutting property owners.


Part 1  How the decision to sell the waterfront property got made.

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Columnist will write from New Zealand for two months; has chosen to avoid Canadian winter.

Rivers 100x100By Staff

January 4, 2015


Ray Rivers will not be with us this week. He is in New Zealand pondering what he wants to do in 2015 and doing some R&R with his wife who is a New Zealander.

Rivers reading a newspaper Jan 3-15

Gazette columnist Ray Rivers checking out local media in New Zealand.

Grandchildren, family dinners with copious amount of wine and good conversation will keep him busy until we see him back in Canada at the end of February.

He will write his column from New Zealand and will appear every second week.

Meanwhile he peruses the local media.

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Columnist Ray Rivers re-charges his batteries in New Zealand; adds his comments to a Globe and Mail editorial.

backgrounder 100By Staff

December 30, 2014


The Globe and Mail editorial of December 27, 2014 sums up the year and the ongoing performance of our Prime Minister.  We saw that editorial as significant enough to re-print it.

Rivers on a beach in NZ

Columnist Ray Rivers on sabbatical enjoying a beach in New Zealand – that is really green grass in the background.

Our regular political columnist, Ray Rivers, is currently on a short two month sabbatical and will be writing once every two weeks.  He wanted to comment on this editorial.  His remarks are shown in a different typeface,

From the Globe and Mail: I can’t even get my friends to like me,” Stephen Harper said this year. A joke, obviously, delivered during a moving eulogy for his close friend and political ally Jim Flaherty in April. But more than a joke, too.
The Prime Minister has never been the cuddliest of humans; he was once photographed shaking his young son’s hand as he dropped him off at school.

It is a mistake for us to believe Canadian’s falling support for Mr. Harper is about his personality. He is an introvert, which is not his fault. His trailing Trudeau in the polls has more to do with most Canadians feeling we are going in the wrong direction and could be doing better. It is more about his policies (than his personality) which are divisive – pitting the west against the east, a cynical foreign policy based on ethnocentric values, and stale economic policies which are serving to widen the wealth gap among Canadians.

That formality can be a strength in crises. After the two attacks on Canadian soldiers in October, Mr. Harper’s natural gravitas was reassuring to Canadians. It even gave his party a noticeable bump in the polls in November.
But the ring of truth in Mr. Harper’s quip reverberates less because of his solemn demeanour than it does because of the unyielding way he plays political hardball. The Prime Minister is not someone you want as a friend, politically-speaking, and much less someone you’d want as an enemy.

Not a friend and not an enemy – what does that leave us with? There are times when his demeanour makes us admire him, as in his response post the Parliament Hill fiasco. But then his lack of breadth of vision leaves us to wonder if he gets it at all. Somehow It doesn’t sink into his think skull that the shooting is the kind of thing that should be expected when you abolish the long gun registry, or jump into a war. Oh and Mr. tough guy hid in a closet during the incident, mimicking his own ‘Bush-like’ 911 courage.

He fights ruthlessly and without remorse. He dumps inconvenient allies, sows division with abandon, treats Parliament with contempt and works 24/7 to control what Canadians know and hear about him, usually through the hearty application of muzzles and misdirection.

I’d agree that he governs in an autocratic manner and is control-freak possessed, banning public contact with the public service, for example. Sometimes I wonder if he has not been understudying Mr. Putin. And his lack of loyalty to those who did his dirty work does not wear well on him. I’d add Duffy, Wright, Wallin to that list.

That’s not news, and nor is it all that peculiar to one politician. But, in 2014, the Prime Minister’s bloody-mindedness began to feel like a liability. With him as leader, the party has consistently trailed Justin Trudeau’s kinder, gentler Liberals in the polls in spite of the country’s relatively stable economy. If the Conservatives under Mr. Harper lose the general election next fall, this year may be remembered as the one when Canadians, including members of the Conservative Party, decided their leader’s ruthlessness was no longer worth the cost.

If Harper loses it will be because Canadians want a fresh face and a fresh approach to governing – out with the old divisiveness and back to some core Canadian ‘liberal democratic values’ such as fairness (e.g. how the PM mis-treats Ontario and Quebec).

One of the more telling moments of 2014 came the day after an armed man had stormed Parliament and been killed within metres of a room where Mr. Harper was meeting with his caucus. The morning was marked by sadness and courage as MPs returned to the House of Commons in a display of solidarity; the Prime Minister spoke movingly about the symbolic importance of Parliament, and he even gamely walked across the floor to hug the Leader of the Opposition, Tom Mulcair, and Mr. Trudeau.

And then, several hours later, the Harper government dumped another monstrous omnibus bill onto the Commons, an act knowingly contemptuous of the Parliament the Prime Minister had just praised as the lodestar of Canadian democracy.
Omnibus bills are designed to defeat Parliament’s oversight role. The thick bills allow majority governments to push through major policy changes with little debate by combining multiple unrelated issues into one over-sized turkey. They are an abuse of process; the Conservatives have tabled four since 2010, and the most recent was the second largest.
Mr. Harper was also a repeat offender in 2014 with regard to the dispatching of belligerent junior ministers and hapless parliamentary secretaries to defend problematic legislation in the House or derail Question Period. Pierre Poilievre’s smarmy sales job of the flawed Fair Elections Act and his subsequent climb-down in April were the low points of the year. Or would have been, had not Paul Calandra reduced himself to tears in September after a demeaning display of question-dodging on Mr. Harper’s behalf.

That is a good point, that while previous governments have employed omnibus bills to move milestone, ‘sea change’ policies, Harper appears to use the approach more cynically, to hide stuff. Former justice minister Trudeau used omnibus legislation to make Canada a world leader in social policy under the Pearson government – but it was consistent and transparent.

Both incidents embarrassed some Conservatives as much as they outraged opposition MPs.
This was also the year a former Conservative MP, Dean Del Mastro, was convicted of overspending his campaign limit and trying to cover it up, and a former party staffer, Michael Sona, was convicted in the robo-call scandal. Mr. Harper has distanced himself from both men and their actions, of course, as he did with his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who somehow believed it was appropriate to pay off the ineligible expenses of a Conservative senator in 2013. No one would dare say that the Prime Minister endorses unethical activities, but there are people in his party who think that anything goes.

And why wouldn’t they? Mr. Harper showed in 2014 that he will play with his elbows out even in the most inappropriate situation. That brings us to Beverly McLachlin, the respected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court whose integrity the Prime Minister deliberately impugned in an absurd and indefensible fashion. He raised a doubt about whether Ms. McLachlin had interfered with the appointment of a new judge, and was then exposed for being completely and knowingly wrong. His grievous misjudgment demonstrated once and for all that there is no Canadian institution he considers sacred if it stands in his way.

There is no excuse for Mr. Harper’s attempt to embarrass the senior justice of the country – in the end he only embarrassed himself. If he so lacks respect for our fundamental institutions – why should anyone respect him or his?

Other consequences of Mr. Harper’s antipathy to Parliament and to Canadian institutions in 2014 included but were not limited to two crime bills that were sent to the Senate containing serious errors, the use of taxpayer dollars on government advertising that happens to align with Conservative election promises, and a new prostitution law that is likely to fail a Charter challenge, and which police forces across the country have little intention of enforcing, thanks to the government’s refusal to listen to contrary opinions while the bill was in that former house of debate we know as Parliament.

It is remarkable that having seen the existing prostitution law thrown out by the courts as dangerous to the security of sex workers, his justice minister brings in a replacement which is even worse. A clear case of ideology trumping competence.

Ask Mr. Harper how it’s going after almost nine years in office and he – along with every single member of his party – will robotically respond that his government is continuing to fight for hard-working Canadian families and lowering their taxes. It’s a spiel that talks past his government’s many flaws. Mr. Harper is responsible for those flaws, which are mirror images of his own, and gets the credit for his party’s successes. Those include an economy that is not great but better than most, shrinking deficits, a real attempt to reform immigration and native education, tax cuts targeted at core constituencies and the effort to help defeat Islamic State in Iraq.

Not a bad record. The question in 2015 will be, Is it worth it? Or could someone else, inside or outside the party, achieve results on the same scale while respecting Parliament and setting a higher ethical standard?

No its not a bad record, except for all the deficiencies the G&M notes. Mr. Harper set out as PM to transform Canada, to make it a nation that more closely reflects his own values, some of which we agree with. And to some extent he has been successful in shaping attitudes and developing a following. How many followers we will only know after the next election, when we put to the real test whether his lagging poll numbers mean anything at all.

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

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What Lies Ahead for 2015? A federal election - sooner than you think and a budget that will have a pretty thin surplus.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

December 26, 2014



Canada faces an important federal election this year. There will be clear choices for the voters because the philosophies of the Liberals and Conservatives are so different. The NDP has been an effective opposition, but few Canadians are convinced that the party has much to offer, and expect the NDP to almost certainly fall back to its traditional third place standing.

The Harper government introduced a fixed-date election law back in 2007, which ordinarily would mean an election be held on the 3rd Monday of October this coming year. But a debate is emerging Harper election law: An election be held on the 3rd Monday of October this coming year.about whether the PM will go to the voters earlier, arguably breaking his own law in the interests of political expediency.

Driving that speculation is consideration of Canada’s external rather than internal environment. I’’m not talking about ISIS, Iran and North Korea. These are merely distractions from the important global geo-political conflict – the one looming in eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin’s latest aggressions have plunged the world back into cold war mode with a potential for much more significant consequences.

Mr. Harper was foremost among world leaders in condemning Putin’s actions. And he will find enhanced electoral support among Ukrainian Canadians for his strong stand, much as he has found among some Jewish voters, who support his one-sided pro-Israeli policies. But it is the economic consequences of this conflict which will determine his timing on the election.

Pipes waiting for the Keystone go ahead

Pipes waiting for US government approval before they can be buried and used to carry oil from the Alberta tar sands.

It’s mostly all about oil prices. The Saudis and Americans are flooding the market with cheap oil, Russia’s main export and the basis of that nation’s economic strength. Since the price of oil has fallen to less than $50 per barrel, the Ruble has been cut in half and the country is now facing a major recession. In this way, oil pricing has turned out to be even more effective than sanctions at hurting Putin’s Russia, though neither appear to be able to curb his aggressive tendencies

Keystone pipeline cartoon

Harper government waits patiently for some movement on the Keystone pipeline that is supposed to carry oil from Alberta to US markets.

Canada’s economy is also dependent on oil prices, though to a lesser extent than Russia. Since becoming PM, Harper has made the export of oil the central pillar of his economic policy, while jeopardizing our agriculture sector through new trade initiatives, and virtually ignoring Canada’s industrial base. Labelled the ‘Dutch Disease’, we have watched manufacturing and other industries in Ontario and Quebec die-off as oil exports lifted our loonie, thereby making Canadian goods and services less competitive globally.

Having cut corporate and other taxes, the federal budget has become more reliant on oil patch revenues than ever. And it was income from oil that was going to take Canada into the ‘black’ just in time for the PM’s 2015 budget. But, now, that is unlikely to happen, and the longer oil prices stay depressed, the bigger the deficit we can expect in 2015.

Harper has put a lot of his eggs into demonstrating his prowess at managing the economy, so showing up at election time with a big deficit in the basket is not what he wants. The betting is that he’ll call a spring election rather than risk facing the public come October when he is deeper in the red.
A spring election would also keep him ahead of the investigations into Senate-gate (Duffy, Wallin). And the Tory election machine is reportedly better funded, staffed and organized than either of the opposition parties. So why not?

Lower oil prices are good for consumers, the folks voting, balanced budget or not. It’s no secret that contented voters often share their good will by voting for the status quo. After-all, when you can put the savings from that last fill-up towards your child’s new I-Pad life looks more pleasant.

Harper’s throw-back social policies (mandatory jail, drugs, prostitution) or his assault on the environment (environmental assessment, Fisheries Act, Climate Change) may seem more academic than material when gas prices are lower and the man in charge seems to look like he knows what he is doing.

The situation in Europe seems relatively stable, if uncertain, but it could change rapidly as these things do sometimes. Recall how nobody expected the first world war to last very long – but it did. And Mr. Harper has cultivated a ‘tough guy’ image which would benefit him were we suddenly thrust into some kind of serious conflict over there.

The truth is that Canada has been criticized by NATO for underspending on its military and has cut defence spending even more – in order to achieve what now appears to an elusive balanced budget. And perhaps, in a time of war, people might reflect on just how poorly this government treats our veterans in need.

So it sure looks like a spring election is in the cards this New Year. Have a happy New Year however you decide to cast your ballot.

Background links:

Fixed Elections Law   Russia Conflcit   Dutch Disease

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Ray will be having his Christmas Dinner in an airport somewhere as he wings his way to New Zealand where he will vacation, ponder and continue working on his second book,  His regular column will appear every second week; in between will be a short photo essay on life on the other side of the world.

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Limiting what public service employees spend on entertainment and travel - keeping noses out of the trough.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

December 20, 2014



The federal government spends $43 billion (2011/12), which is about half of all direct program spending,  on human resources. That averages out to an annual $115,000 salary for each of the 375,000 full time employees who make up your federal government.

Those salaries, according to the Parliamentary budget officer, have been growing at a faster rate than either the private or the provincial public sector, notwithstanding the federal government’s promised austerity program.

Payday Workers in payrill lineupWorkers in the Ontario Public Sector also do well, receiving higher pay and bigger raises than their private sector counterparts. This can be a bit of an unfair comparison, given the extensive breadth of private employment.

Still the difference is striking, with an average hourly pay rate of $34 for the public servant as opposed to $25 across the private sector. And, this gap has been widening over the years.

Nobody objects to value for money and most of us believe that a better educated employee should generate improved productivity. So part of the reason for the gap may be that Ontario public servants, on the whole, are much better educated than their private sector counterparts, with relatively twice as many holding university degrees (41% to 20%).

The Harris government introduced the ‘Sunshine List’ which identified those public servants earning over $100,000. Today that list includes almost 90.000 employees, having grown by 39% since 2009. While public sector incomes were once said to be pulled-up by the private sector it is evident that the reverse is true today. Generally one can assume that the public employee is as well or better paid than most equivalent jobs in the private sector, including many non-government senior executives.

So what about all those outrageous and improper executive expense claims? The 2015 Pan-Am games are an important economic event for this province and for Canada. There is a 17 member organizing committee, which will have been paid about $21 million of your hard-earned dollars by the time the games are on. The CEO, alone, pulls in over half a million a year.

Expense claim cartoonIn spite of what most people would consider generous compensation these characters have been submitting their personal expense claims as if they were understudying Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin. Hundreds of airline flights over were made the last four years, including one to watch a wake-boarding championship in the Caymans . Three thousand dollars was paid for fourteen limo rides from the airport ($238 per trip)?

And why do we have to send this ‘high-priced help’ back to school to take courses in strategic planning and writing – at public expense? What were they thinking when they purchased over a thousand dollars worth of Harry Rosen dress shirts, ostensibly for team uniforms? There was a wine tasting, loads of lunches with alcoholic beverages, and don’t forget the overpriced orange juice. Though, caught squirming in the cookie jar, they eventually paid-back some of the claims, again taking a page out of the Duffy/Wallin playbook.

This expense claim business is not limited to the Pan-Am crowd. The Hamilton Spectator uncovered that our Hamilton-centered health executives (including Burlington) had racked up over $2 million dollars in expenses over the past seven years. Fully a quarter of these expenses were claimed by the top executives, including the CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) who earns close to $700,000.

Corruption might be too strong a word but greed pretty well sums it up. We have been taught that money is the major motivator for an individual to perform; and that high salaries are the price we have to pay for good executive decision-making. Yet, we paid over a million dollars to the CEO of Hydro One whose organization was brutally criticized for incompetence by the provincial Auditor General in her latest report. So much for that theory!

So if paying big bucks to a CEO doesn’t guarantee a well run organization, what does it promote? Entitlement? I’d be very surprised if HHS couldn’t find someone else who could run that organization at least as well, for half the salary they’re now paying – much as Burlington’s Joseph Brant does.

Lofty titles, fat salary packages and lavish expense accounts might be very comforting to the recipients of these perks, but personal achievement, peer competition and helping the public likely play a much more important role in motivating public leaders and getting results. Mike Harris was on to a good thing in creating the ‘Sunshine List’ and it is unfortunate he didn’t go the extra step of capping all public service executive salaries, as the Province is rumoured to be considering today.

Yet, the truth is that Ontario’s public sector is already leaner than every other province in Canada. And the government actually has fewer public sector workers and spends less on them per capita than any other province. After all, being the most populous province in the union gives us the advantage of economies of scale.

Ontario’s public sector is already leaner than every other province in Canada.But Ontario is in the process of fighting a massive deficit and combating an overbearing public debt. So while reducing senior executive salaries will not solve that problem on its own, it would be a good start. And better expenses management should be a no-brainer.

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

Federal Employment     Provincial Employment

Pan-Am Games    Pan-Am Expenses

Pan-Am Expenses    More Pan-Am Expenses    Still More Pan-Am    Even More Pan-Am – 

Sunshine List     Average Earning by Province

Capping Exec Salaries     Motivating Employees     Capping Exec Salaries

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What is the rush? Are they ashamed of the decision they made and want to to make sure the public doesn't have a chance to protest?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

December 17, 2014



What’s the rush?

Has your city Council let the holiday schedule deprive you of an opportunity to review what they have done at their Standing Committees before they rubber stamp their deliberations at Council where bylaws get passed?

The Standing Committee of Development and Infrastructure met on Monday and got a solid briefing on what the Economic Development Corporation has planned. There was a public meeting on a sub-division application for Twelve Mile Trail.

Doug Brown wants an affordable, frequent, reliable transit service.  Is the city prepared to pay for it?

Route 6 and 52 will stay as the are for now. Took close to an hour to make that decision.

There was a review of transit service for the Headon Road part of town – routes 6 and 52 during which Councillor Dennison managed to use more than half an hour trying to work out all the twists and turns the buses on that route should take.

There was a lot of huffing and puffing over what a municipal council can and can’t do with development applications.

The following day, Tuesday, the Corporate and Community Services committee met and accepted the staff recommendation to sell the lands along the edge of the lake between Market and St. Paul Street.


Mayor Golding mastered the art of the photo op during his first term of office. He is photogenic and that is apparently enough to get elected.

We heard, for the first time, what the Mayor’s thinking was on that momentous decision. It was kind of wishy washy.

The Standing Committee approved 56 pages of changes in rates and fees – those are dollars that you will pay for the use of facilities that your tax dollars paid to have built.

The chair of each standing Committee diligently explains that the Committee does not make final decisions – they make recommendations that go to Council where final decisions are made and by laws are passed.

The practice in Burlington has been for there to be a full week, usually more, for the public to make themselves aware of what has been recommended before it goes to Council.

The public then has some time to think about was has been recommended and appear at Council if they want to offer a different opinion.

In a democracy the elected would welcome – maybe even encourage the public to appear and make their views known so that the elected could make decisions informed by the public.

Some might suggest that the media is in place to inform the public. And it is – but there has been a strange twist. The Burlington Post usually has a reporter at the media table covering meetings.

Tina Depko –Denver covers city hall for the Post – she is a good reporter – she frequently does a better job as a reporter than I do.

She wasn’t at the media table on Tuesday. Why?
We learned at the end of the Standing Committee meeting that Ms Depko –Denver has been hired by the Mayor as his Manager of Communications.

We congratulate Ms Depko-Denver and hope she serves the Mayor well and that she chooses to take direction from the Junius quote atop the Globe and Mail editorial page: “The subject who is truly loyal to the chief magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures”.

Junius, a pseudonym, wrote letters between 1769 and 1762 to inform the public of their historical and constitutional rights and liberties as Englishmen.

The Depko-Denver appointment probably means that the Post will not carry much in the way of news coverage unless they pick up the meeting from the webcast.

The Gazette will publish several pieces on the two Standing Committee meetings and go into some depth on the atrocious decision to sell waterfront property.

City Hall will close down at the end of the day on Tuesday, the 23rd and we won’t see anyone other than the people who keep the building secure until after the New Year. The holiday schedule for city hall is CLOSED between Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, reopening on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. Sweet!

City hall is CLOSED between Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, reopening on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. Sweet!Is there a good reason for not deferring the Council meeting until after the New Year? Well one reason is that would be a lot of time for people to become informed and perhaps “mad as hell” and decide they don’t want to be treated this way anymore.

We did get the municipal government we apparently wanted less than 60 days ago.

What have we done to ourselves?

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Nothing wrong with the Broken Hydro petition; the people behind it are the concern.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

December 11, 2014



One of the things the internet does is give those with something they want to say a much bigger megaphone.

Hydro costs have been a bugbear for Ontarians for some time – one of the Harris government’s gifts to us.

The natives are still biting back – another petition. The organizers of this one ask:


Hydro in Ontario has been broken for some time. It is essential that it be fixed – the solution is not yet clear,

“If you have a billing complaint with hydro one, please make sure you file a complaint with the Ombudsman as he begins his investigation into Hydro One. Click here to file your complaint.

“And if you haven’t yet, please make sure you share your concerns about Ontario’s broken hydro system directly with the Premier, the Minister of Energy, the Ontario Energy Board and Hydro One.

The problem with the petition is its source. Randy Hillier was part of the government that created the problem we have today. Is the petition part of his drive to at some point lead the Progressive Conservative party in Ontario? His views and solutions to some of the provinces problems would take Ontario back to where Mike Harris put us and to where Tim Hudak wanted to keep us.

The province is going through a profound change; the core of its economic engine is threatened and in some cases fractured. General Motors is moving its assembly lines to Mexico.

The province faces a huge demographic shift; we are now a much more demographically diversified people and we have a growing seniors’ population that we have to care for at considerable cost.

Adjusting to these changes is going to take political leadership that looks forward and not backwards. Randy Hillier is as backward looking as you can get.

The petition has merit – the guy behind it; questionable.

A Petition to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
To the Legislative Assembly of Ontario:

Whereas, the cost of electricity in Ontario continues to escalate;

And Whereas, other charges associated with electricity, such as delivery, regulatory, global adjustment and debt retirement charges make electricity increasingly unaffordable;

And Whereas, these costs have imposed a significant hardship on ratepayers and driven industry and jobs out of Ontario;

We, the undersigned, petition the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as follows:

That the Premier and the Minister of Energy reduce the waste and duplication in Ontario’s electricity sector and other necessary steps to lower the cost of electricity so that Ontario’s electricity prices are competitive with other jurisdictions.

Sign here:

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Rivers gives provincial auditor general a close look; she doesn't get a very good grade.

Rivers 100x100Ray Rivers

December 11, 2014



The provincial Auditor General (AG) is an essential part of a system of good government. Being independent and reporting directly to the Legislative Assembly, the auditor “conducts value-for-money and financial audits of the provincial government”. The 2014 report targeted a number of areas including infrastructure, child care and energy (smart meters).

If Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk wants to attack public policies instead of doing what she is being paid for - to evaluate programs - she should join a political party.The office of the AG is not inexpensive, chewing up over $15 million dollars annually and employing about a dozen people each year. This year’s report weighed in at 600 pages, more than twice the size of the New Testament. And though the language is simpler than what we find in the Bible, there is so much redundancy and superfluous description interspersed among all the pretty graphics, that it is might also be as good a remedy for insomnia as some find in the pews of their church.

I have been involved in audit processes at both federal and provincial levels over the years. For the most part the auditors work closely with government officials, and in many cases simply regurgitate what they were told by officials – making for few surprises for the officials. That seems to be the case when this year’s report examined the processes for building infrastructure; 74 building projects were considered.

The AG noted that the “tangible costs (such as construction, financing, legal services, engineering services and project management services) were estimated to be nearly $8 billion higher than… if the projects were contracted out and managed by the public sector.” That waste of money seems logical given the complications and extra rewards required for private sector involvement.

But Infrastructure Ontario officials justified this additional expense arguing that “the risks of having the projects not being delivered on time and on budget were about five times higher if the public sector directly managed these projects.” They estimated this risk at $18.6 billion making the, so-called, alternate financing partnership a no-brainer for them. But are they really serious – five times?

Me thinks that something is rotten in the state of the Ontario public service. Not much wonder the recent billion-dollar gas plant relocation fiasco was handled so casually. Why isn’t the management at Infrastructure Ontario saying WTF, or better still doing something to change that statistic (five times the risk)?

Smart Meters Work

The technology was going to let the consumer make choices.

Following the Harris/Eves government screw-up of the energy file (de-regulation and privatization), politicians jumped onto the smart meter bandwagon as a panacea for spiraling electricity costs. The AG attacks the decision-making process and much of her criticism centres on a cost-benefit feasibility study performed, after-the-fact. Imaginary numbers (guesstimates) lie at the heart of her criticism.

Smart meter

They were going to change the way we used electricity.

In addition, she fairly critiques the lack of oversight on implementation, accountability and general management, particularly for the Hydro One empire. That smart meters may be an essential piece of infrastructure in a transition towards more efficient energy delivery and providing greater control of one’s hydro bill to the consumer is not really something the AG considers, nor perhaps should.

And sometimes the AG isn’t very insightful or even helpful, as when she concluded that there was a “need to provide ministry and agency staff with training to help them do their work more consistently and effectively” for the Child Care, Parole Board, Nominee, and Residential Services for People with Development Disabilities programs. Isn’t that just good counsel for all employees, regardless of program?

MaRs project Toronto PPP

The provincial government used some very creative accounting to approve a loan to complete a building in downtown Toronto that was far from fully rented.

The AG also followed up on whether the government had paid attention to previous recommendations and whether the culprits had cleaned up their acts as a result. Of the 77 recommendations, requiring 170 actions, from the 2012 report, she noted that 81% of had been “either fully implemented or are in the process.”

Impressed with this statistic, one might question whether the AG shouldn’t be brought in earlier – to help program managers’ better design and implement their responsibilities. But that would, of course, shift her role to being both the prosecution and the defence, and immerse her office in a huge conflict of interest.

As the report notes, the mandate for the AG is fairly broad but it is limited to the activities within government ministries and agencies. So it is at some risk to her office that the AG ventures into criticizing general public policy, as she does when slamming provincial deficit and debt levels. “Ultimately, the question of how much debt the province should carry and the strategies the government could use to pay it down is one of government policy,” she notes.

So why does she even mention it? It is not like this provincial government is unaware that we have an emerging debt problem in Ontario. Since her interference is not for informative purposes, what is she doing? The good office of the AG compromises its credibility and authority once it decides to shed its independence and go political, as she has clearly done.

If Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk wants to attack public policies instead of doing what she is being paid for – to evaluate programs – she should join a political party. In fact there is an opening right now for leader of the Progressive Conservatives.

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 against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

AG on Debt   AG on Private Partnerships

AG on Smart Meters    AG Report

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