Three former finance ministers talk tax returns – no mention made of tax reductions.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 10, 2014


It is tax season and I normally use an XL spreadsheet to do mine, but this year the complications made that almost prohibitive.  So I tried to buy a tax software package, on-line, at the CRA website.  The first one, H&R Block, wouldn’t open for a Mac, even though it was listed for the Mac.  The second, Turbo Tax, somehow went haywire mis-reading the information I had entered. 

So I ended up retreating to my spreadsheet and working into the wee hours to finish the return.  Now it might have been that the TV was still on, that the hour was late, or that I’d poured myself too much of that Scottish medicinal nightcap.  But as I started dozing off I distinctly recall hearing the conversation below…(Editor’s note: In your dreams Mr. Rivers …in your dreams.)

Michael Wilson: Oh come on  now – that is rich.  You can’t blame me.  I didn’t know that Mr. Mulroney’s income tax reforms would impact the middle class the way it did – creating this growing divide between the rich and the rest.  I mean we just thought  it was tax simplification.

Paul Martin

Paul Martin – Finance Minister in the Chretien government

Paul Martin: Simplification – that is a joke – with all that tax credit nonsense you introduced.  The only simplification was reducing the tax brackets so the rich paid less in taxes and the middle class picked up the difference.  Oh, and then you made accountants rich as well, since ordinary people could no longer complete those obtuse and complicated returns. 

Jim Flaherty:  So you were Jean Chretien’s miracle worker, the great Liberal deficit slayer – why didn’t you change that.  I don’t know if you remember, but it was our John Diefenbaker who set up the Carter Tax Commission back in the ’60’s.  Their report was seen as a landmark everywhere, except in Canada.  Your Pierre Trudeau largely ignored the report, pressured by big business and the well-heeled interests who used to finance your party.

Wilson:  I remember that.  Carter’s work was world renowned – still is.  A dollar of income is a dollar, or something like that – treat all income the same.  He also showed how he could reduce the taxes of the lowest income folks and still keep the budget balanced.

Martin:  Something you never did; balance the budget.  And as John Turner once said, Trudeau had no choice, he had to back away from most of the recommendations.  But at least he kept the middle class intact, retaining the progressive rates and higher taxes for the wealthy, till the early eighties, anyway.

Flaherty:  Well to be fair.  He wasn’t alone – everyone was lowering taxes for the rich in the ’80’s and ’90’s.  It was the Reagan/Thatcher ‘trickle-down economics’ flavour of the day – you know let the rich keep most of their income and that money will eventually trickle down to the rest of the economy.  I mean, I’m a conservative but I don’t believe that horse manure.  And they increased the debt in order to lower taxes.  Canada’s debt mushroomed in the latter Trudeau years and then our guys just kept digging an even bigger hole – until Paul, here, got the deficits under control. 

Martin:  Thanks.  And back at you though I think you should have run a tighter ship, Jim,  especially when you were Mike Harris’ finance minister.

Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson – Finance Minister in the Mulroney government

Wilson: Justin Trudeau has talked a lot about the middle class, do you think he has tax reform in mind?  The least he could do is come up with a simpler tax return.  I can’t see how the average tax payer can ever fill out today’s form.  No wonder people hate taxes.

Flaherty:  I’ve been thinking about that.  Here look at this – a one page tax return where you add all your income together – like the Carter tax folks said ‘’a buck is a buck’ – so treat it that way.  Then allow for transfers to your family or charity.  We’d need some new rules on that.

Income Tax Calculation

Item Amount

Gross Income from all sources


Transfers to family and others


Deferred Income (retirement, lotteries, etc)

Net Income


Taxes Payable (use tax table)

Taxes paid by installment

Refund or Payment Due


 Wilson: Right and then I see you have income deferments, like retirement savings, maybe education and home buying as well.

Martin:  And then you just subtract those items from the income, calculate the taxes from a tax table and presto.  If you paid more in tax installments or had deductions taken off at work, you get a refund, just like we do now.  Do it all on-line as we do the GST now.

 Flaherty:  Well it really makes sense.  I mean I don’t see why someone earning capital gains from selling investments or a second property should pay a lower rate of taxes than the poor slob slugging his guts out on the assembly line.  And it makes it all simpler too.

Martin:   And those folks with the big capital investments are mostly among the top 10% income earners – so why do they need a break?  So we get rid of all the regular deductions,and say good bye to all that credit nonsense, which even I have trouble figuring out. 

Flaherty Jim

Jim Flaherty – a finance minister in a Harper government.

Flaherty: And I’d be tempted to drop deductions for health care, charitable and political donations from the transfers line.  I mean everybody gets universal health care and I think charities and political parties ought to attract donations without using the tax system.  We’d be better off to directly subsidize them, I think.

Martin:  You mean you want to bring back public funding for political parties?

Wilson: You know what, I like this form Jim.  Why didn’t I think of that when I was Finance Minster?  Hey, let’s call it tax simplification.

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. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.

Background links:

 Need An Accountant   Buck is a Buck

Carter Commission on Taxation      The Rich

 The Flat Tax      Alberta’s Flat Tax

Family Taxation      Tax Policy (for serious readers)

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Seperatism for Quebec has gone into hibernation; it will take another generation or two to bring it out of the cave.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 8, 2014


While we held our breath Monday night, Quebecers chose to postpone their discussion on sovereignty and move on with their lives, largely shunning the two competing separatist parties for the federalist Liberals. 

 There are those who rationalize that the push for an independent Quebec may have been just a generational thing.  As the generation of Lévesque, Bouchard, Parizeau and Marois pass, the progressive leaders of Quebecs Quiet Revolution, so will the sovereignty debate they say.

 Outgoing Premier Pauline Marois mused that she had erred in raising the sovereignty issue during the campaign.  However, for a separatist party, committed to independence, to not have talked about their end goal would have been deceptive and dishonest.  And there were other factors for her failure, including a fractious campaign in which she played the desperate political leader, thrashing about, trying to blame somebody else for her inescapable tumble.

PKP with fist in the air

That fist in the air was the one thing the Parti Quebecois didn’t need – now they may have to live with Pierre Karl Peladeau as Leader of the Opposition.

It would be only fair to say that voters, concerned about a poorly performing economy and a soaring provincial debt, were looking for something more positive, and from a new government.  Many had tired of that divisive, some would say racist, Values Charterdebate which was offensive to the very way in which Quebecers see themselves, and typically are – respectful and fair minded.

The new Liberal leader, Couillard, was refreshingly open and unafraid to speak the truth about issues,  like the need for English in the workplace and Quebec society.  He spoke about bringing Quebec into Canadas constitution, closing the generational rift over the place of that province in Canada.  Of course, that will not be easy and he will face homegrown opposition, even if he can come to terms with the federal government and the other provinces.

 Make no mistake – separatism is not dead yet, and whether it comes back to life will depend on what we all do over the next four years.  The constitution is a good starting place, particularly as the governing Conservatives would like to amend the parts that pertain to the Senate anyway. 

Levesque losing

It was a bitter evening when Rene Levesque lost the first referendum. The separatists were to lose a second attempt to leave Canada years later.

 Quebecs economy is in critical need of rebooting with a national industrial strategy that would also benefit Ontario – a strategy which this government is reluctant to broach, preferring instead  to devote itself almost solely to promoting the export of petroleum.  

 A successful industrial strategy would necessitate reconsideration of our almost manic pre-occupation with international free trade deals, and renegotiation of some weve already signed, particularly those with nations that dont play by the same rules.

 Ontario could be purchasing more of Quebecs low-emission hydro power, rather than investing in more expensive and environmentally harmful gas plants.   And, speaking of inter-provincial cooperation and power, Quebec would benefit from addressing the unfairness in that dated Churchill Falls power deal, particularly if it would like access to more Newfoundland energy for its markets. 

 No doubt Quebec would feel more at home in Canada were we to get to know each other better.  Opportunities for this abound, including enhanced tourism, sporting events, and student and other exchanges which we often overlook, perhaps daunted by the prospect of dealing with the potential linguistic challenges.  And some of the answer there lies in language education within the school systems.

Marois losing

Several major political blunders cos the Parti Quebecois power in Quebec. It may take several decades – if ever – for a serious separatist movement to surface again in Quebec.

 Finally, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have sizeable francophone communities, yet in this bi-lingual nation they remain officially unilingual English.  If a less well-endowed New Brunswick can afford official bilingualism, why cant these other provinces – at least in the longer term?  Language is a potentially fractious issue in nation-building.  One has only to observe the divisiveness that issue is causing in todays Ukraine.

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. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.

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Quebec’s Messy Election: The results could determine if we are really a sea to sea country.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 2, 2014


It is a messy business – the election in Quebec.  The Parti Québécois (PQ) is a separatist party, bent on splitting up Canada, but ever since RenéLévesque founded the PQ it has been a pro-labour socialist party as well.  So you can imagine the jaws dropping at the press conference where leader Pauline Marois introduced her star candidate, former Quebecor newspaper oligarch, Pierre Karl Péladeau.  PKP, as he is known, was a sworn enemy of trade unions everywhere, from the press/printing rooms to the ink drying between the pages of the newspapers in his media empire.

Marois called the election less than two years into her minority government because the polls were in her favour.  And she needed a majority government to run her partys third (and presumably last) referendum on sovereignty.  Strategically she would want to do that while Stephen Harper is still PM, given his low standing among Quebecers of all stripes – so before the 2015 election to be safe.  That she has been organizing the next referendum is the worst-kept secret in Canada.

As PKP took the podium, there was this rush of wind as Quebecs union leaders, always a backbone of the party, headed for the door and into the waiting arms of the opposition Liberals.  Then to add insult to injury, PKP, the neophyte politician, blurted out that he wanted to make Quebec an independent country.  It didnt take long for the polls to register this comment and  Marois to find herself a Shakespearian tragic heroine, watching her dreams of a much coveted majority government dissipate in a whiff of smoke, as non-separatist PQ supporters went shopping for another party. 

Some people just dont know when to quit, and Marois was one of those, picking up the separatist theme, speculating on how an independent Quebec would use the Canadian dollar and be invited to sit on the board of the Bank of Canada.  Eventually she realized shed gone too far and slipped the muzzle over the too-enthusiastic PKP and herself.

The truth is that most Quebecers are weary of all this referenda nonsense.  Independence referenda are the flavour of the year it seems – Scotland, Venice and Ukrainian Crimea, of course.  But it takes a lot of energy and emotion to get your interest up for something that has failed the last two times they tried it – and that the polls show would fail again.  And if not lucky the third time, does this make it conclusive – Quebec is in Canada to stay?  That prospect must be as discomforting to hardened separatists as it would be pleasing to the ears of federalists.

And then there is the economic reality.  Quebecs economy is not a happy place.  They have the lowest per capita income in the country, save that of the three maritime provinces.  On top of that Quebec is carrying the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any of the provinces, about half of its annual GDP.  And the province is the most dependent have-notin receipt of federal equalization payments to help subsidize its government services, receiving almost half of the entire federal equalization budget of sixteen billion dollars a year. 

In the first leadersdebate Marois finally got it.  Newly minted Liberal leader Phillippe Couillard hammered her on her hidden agenda, scoring big points and good poll numbers.  So Marois relented and almost promised there would be no referendum coming from a PQ government should they get elected, just a white paper on the provinces future in Canada.

With that out of the way, the two leaders went after each other on ethics and corruption. Couillard has some questionable business linkages, and there was that Montreal corruption scandal, which made Montrealers almost wish they had Rob Ford as mayor – but not quite.  And then we find out that Maroiss partner has been accused of influence peddling, bringing the corruption issue to a draw – one as bad as the other.

As the campaign draws to a close, the Premier realizes that her big project, her highly divisive (some would say racist) Charter of Valueshardly saw any air in the debates – and like it or not nobody wanted to discuss it.  Nor is anyone taking her seriously when a desperate Marois complains about students from other provinces registering as voters in an effort to steal the election. 

Of the other parties, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), appears to have lost its lustre, as third parties often do in Quebec politics, and its voters will likely go back to the Liberals.  And the upstart Québec Solidaire, the extreme separatist and green/socialist party, may become the new home for hard core Quebec nationalists further weakening the PQ.

The candidates head to the polls this coming Monday and nothing is certain at this point.  But somebody will win and it might well be with a majority.  Interestingly  there have only been two minority governments in Quebec since confederation.  The tone of this election campaign reflects the times we live in; heated by the divisive issue of separatism; clouded by the efforts to restrict freedom of expression and; stained by the ever-present corruption.

A third of all Quebecers never wanted to be in Canada.  A third are content to be part of the great Canadian experiment.  And the remaining third are willing to be swayed by the most persuasive and seductive of national and provincial leaders.  Pauline Marois called this election in order to finish the process that Lévesque had started almost a half century ago.

If she fails to win a majority, Marois may will have to wait to another day for that big prize.  On the other hand, if the 65 year old tireless war horse loses this election to the Liberals, that job will be left to another PQ leader on another, even more distant, day.  And we can all get on with our normal lives.

Background links:

Marois Corruption Link


 Preparing for the Referendum

Historical Elections


Election Predictions


Equalization Payments

PKP Union Buster

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Elections: In the end, democracy is about representing the public will.

By Ray Rivers

March 26, 2014


If it aint broke dont fix it.  Canada is held up as a model for how to run elections – we are recognized as having the best electoral system anywhere – and 85% of Canadians also thought our last federal election was perfectly fair.  So why has the government introduced their so-called Fair Elections Act?  And why is this Bill getting panned/dumped on by just about everybody, including a national newspaper and some 150 political scientists around the world?

Raid on Conservative Party offices” Elections Canada wanted data.

For one thing the process is flawed. Everyone knows that the PM has been engaging in a war with Elections Canada – ever since they nailed him on his partys in-and-out funding scandal.  Why would anyone expect him to be impartial?  Shouldnt something as important as changing our electoral process be managed by an independent body, rather than at the whim of one of the political parties?  Why were there no consultations prior to introducing the Bill – not with the other political parties, not with the public and not even with Elections Canada, who might know a thing or two about elections?

Elections Canadas mandate currently includes encouraging more people to vote.  We understand that democracy works best when more citizens are involved.  But this Bill would diminish that objective and further suppress voting by removing vouching, which was used without issue by thousands of voters in the last election.  The government claims vouchingis problematic, and there may be better ways to assist those without adequate ID to secure their right to the ballot box.  But just excluding voters without adequate identification is throwing out the baby with the bath water.  And, critics say the minister proposing this change is wrong – hasnt done his homework. 

Not terrible numbers – but they should be higher – 70% across the country.

Some nations, like Australia, legally require their citizens to vote; why would we want to do anything to suppress voting, to discourage people from exercising their franchise?  If one wants to vote in Australia and isnt carrying the right identification they can just swear an oath and declare their right to get a ballot.  Further, shouldnt we be finding more inclusive ways of voting, like internet voting to facilitate and enable more of our youth to participate in the democratic process?  We do internet banking dont we?  Surely, we can manage the process of issuing secure pinnumbers.

For a number of years Canadas official political parties received direct public funding, the amount dependent on how well they had performed in the previous election.  This reduced the influence of money, and the power of wealthy contributors, in shaping government policy.  Germany, Sweden, Israel, Australia, Austria and Spain are among the growing number of countries with public funding, now representing over half of those with elected democracies.  US presidential candidates may elect for public finding.  And just to be clear, note that we subsidize political parties with the public purse anyway – through tax-deductible donations.

Mr. Harper, when leading his minority government, eliminated corporate and union funding and reduced the individual contribution limits to $1000, keeping his earlier election promise.  And it was relatively easy for him since the Conservatives are more effective at attracting individual donations than the other parties. Then, after gaining his majority, he cancelled the public funding program to solidify his private funding advantage.  And the new Bill would raise that individual donation limit by a whacking 50%.  The Bill, for some bizarre reason the government has difficulty explaining, also exempts political parties from spending limits for fund-raising activities.

The report had to be one of the most embarrassing for a democracy

For something labelled Fair Elections Act, the Bill fails to improve fairness in any meaningful way, such as giving Elections Canada the power to investigate political parties and compel testimony of those suspected of committing transgressions.  This limitation came to light with the Robocalls scandal, in which the Tories were also implicated.  To make it even more difficult for irregularities to be uncovered and those guilty penalized, the Bill shifts that responsibility to a partisan minister (attorney general), and muzzles the politically impartial Elections Canada which reports to Parliament as a whole.

And wouldnt something called Fair Elections deal with the unfairness of the first-past-the-post (FPP) system in our problematic multi-party environment – one that enables a PM winning less than 40% of the popular vote to rule the country at his/her pleasure for a full unfettered four years.  New Zealand, Germany and a host of other nations use a proportional electoral system, where some of the MPs are chosen FPP and the others appointed by the relevant political parties based on their share of the popular vote.  The results for these nations have been generally positive with less violent swings in public policy.

In the end, democracy is about representing the public will.The Green Party and NDP are big supporters of proportional representation.  The Liberals are promoting a preferential system that would ensure future governments are elected by at least half the voters.  Toronto city voters may use a similar system in this years mayoral election.  Voters would rank candidates, and the second and third choices of the lowest scoring candidates would get added to the highest scoring candidatestallies – until one has emerged with over 50% support.

It is about one person, one vote by an informed voter.

In the end, democracy is about representing the public will.  It is unfair to be subjected to the ideological whims of a political party, be it right or left-wing, which came to power with the support of less than half of the electors, let alone 38%.   Fixing that irregularly would be a worthwhile endeavour.  Otherwise, calling this Bill the Fair Elections Actis a huge misnomer.  It is nothing more than a crude attempt to break and handicap what seems to be working just fine.

Background links:

Fair Elections Act      Elections Canada       Implications      More Implications      Ranked Voting       Conservatives Muzzling

Elections Act      Critics      NDP Tour on Elections Act       Kill This Bill      Government Strikes Back     Voter Fraud    Real Problems

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Just how much public input should there be in city hall decisions? Some think there should be more input than they have now.

By Pepper Parr

March 23, 2014


Point: Notices were mailed to all the people in the rural community about a meeting to consider the idea of a special cultural/heritage district, unfortunately they went out a couple of days after the event.  Turnout was less than expected.

Point: The city posts all kinds of detail on its website and develops stories encouraging people to consider running for public office – but, for reasons which were never made clear, they took down that portion of the web site that had all the financial returns from the 2010 municipal election.

The financial return is the document that sets out how much money each candidate raised, who the donours were and what the funds raised were spent on.  Vital information for anyone who decides they want to run against an incumbent.

The documents have since been put back up on the city website.  Why were they taken down and who made that decision?

Public input on the budget was limited to an overview and a workbook  people could make comments in.

Point:  The city holds a public meeting on the budget the finance department has prepared.  While there is just the one meeting held in the downtown core, it is well attended and staff are very attentive in answering questions.  There is talk of plans for additional public meetings in 2015 in the Dundas part of town now that the Alton campus is operational.

The city had very competent staff on hand at public sessions to answer questions – on decisions that had already been made.

Vanessa Warren, one of the people who led the public reaction to the dumping of landfill on the airpark site on Appleby Line, asked why the city was coming to the public with spending that was already decided on.  She wanted to know why the public wasn’t being asked how it wanted its money spent BEFORE decisions were made.

City manager Jeff Fielding, would dearly love to have feedback from the public on key issues and has devoted a significant part of the budget he has to run his office to a process that he hopes will give him almost instant access to a panel of people who can answers questions. The unfortunate part of this $100,000 + expense is that the public response has not been overwhelming – there were less than 500 people on the panel at last count.

It is a two-sided coin – the public wants information – well the more vocal part of the public wants more information, and the city is being moved in a direction where public input will be critical.  Getting to a point where what the public wants and what the city would like is the challenge for the city.

Back in 2010 the late John Boich and former Mayor Walter Mulkewich authored the Shape Burlington report in which they identified an “information deficit” in the city.  City hall didn’t take all that kindly to the report – a report on which they haven’t responded to all that well since its publication even though city council voted unanimously to support the document.

The Shape Burlington report said the city has an \"information deficit\"Boich and Mulkewich recommend that there be a Citizens charter – a document that sets out what every citizen can expect from the city.  There is such a document but you would be very hard pressed to find the thing on the web site and the “implementation plan” for that document has yet to be completed.

Would it be fair to say that the administration at city hall isn’t really behind the concept of a charter other than collecting data and then doing nothing with it?

There is a demographic divide at city hall – both within the administration and at the council level.  There are people in the planning department and over at finance who genuinely want the public to know what is being done and are eager to hear what people have to say.

The city manager certainly wants public input and is delighted when he meets people who can help him determine the public will.  However, getting all of his senior team onside has been and is continuing to be a challenge.

There is an item on a Standing Committee agenda somewhere in the works that will discuss the Community Engagement plans; this doesn’t appear to be a priority item but then real community engagement has never been a priority for this city. 

Two of the current city council members were on the Shape Burlington committee – one would think they would be chomping at the bit regularly to get some movement on the Citizen’s charter.  Both Councillors Blair Lancaster, ward 6 and Paul Sharman, ward 5 have said very little about this during their term of office.

It is going to take a city council with a younger, more committed demographic to bring about any change.

Both Councillors Blair Lancaster, ward 6 and Paul Sharman, ward 5 have said very little about this during their term of office.There are a few, precious few, on council who want to hear what their constituents think and treat those people who write out their delegation and trudge over to city hall and take the time to make their point of view known.  Yes, there are people whose delegations are  sometimes poorly prepared and on other occasions delivered in a less than respectful manner.  But there have been a number of excellent delegations that have resulted in a change.

On many occasions city council is hearing from people who are angry, mad and upset.  Their council is making decisions they don’t like about the place they call home.  Look at the 250+ people who were opposed to the building of a six storey apartment building on New Street – they just didn’t want to see that kind of change in their neighbourhood.  They said they could live with four storey but other than Councillor Meed Ward, who asked some very pointed questions and got mushy answers, no one explained why a four storey structure couldn’t be built.

The city did nothing to educate that public. Sure, public meetings were held but there was not very much that was educational about those events.  Usually a planner representing the interests of a developer is explaining what they have already decided to do.

Could the planning department not think in terms of putting in place a process whereby staff review an application and decide at that very early stage if some public education is necessary?  Then assemble a team of people who would put together an outline of all the up sides and down sides of the development – cover everything and prepare a public for the change coming their way.

Ken Greenberg, a noted planner was brought to Burlington as part of the Mayor’s Inspire series.  He explained how in Toronto developers first went to the community with their ideas and looked for buy in at that level before they put as much as a pencil to a piece of paper

In Toronto developers first went to the community with their ideas and looked for buy in at that level before they put as much as a pencil to a piece of paperGreenberg told the Burlington audience that this approach gave the developers a clear sense of what the community would tolerate and gave the community an opportunity to have their ideas seriously considered before anything went too far.

What Burlington is looking for is a way to move forward with developments and at the same time find a way to effectively communicate with the tax payers.  We’ve not managed to do that – so far.

But there is hope – the proposal to do something to further protect the rural part of Burlington plans on having very significant community involvement.  More about that proposal later.

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Province proposes to limit salary increases for MPP’s until the budget is balanced – in 2019.

By Pepper Parr

March 21, 2014


The media release said the province was going to freeze MPP salaries until the provincial budget is balanced.  Sounded reasonable – but the news release didn’t say how much MPP’s are paid now nor did it make any mention of the allowances and perks they get.

The pay freeze, if it passes, would extend the current freeze on MPP salaries until the provincial budget is balanced in 2017-18. The MPP Salary Freeze Act would not allow pay increases to take effect until April 1, 2019, after the Public Accounts confirm a balanced budget.

Compensation costs account for over half of all Ontario government spending, either paid directly through the Ontario Public Service or as part of the government’s transfer payments to universities, hospitals and other public sector partners.

The government has identified the management of public sector compensation as an important part of its plan to control costs while also maintaining public services that families rely on like health care and education.  

In 2004, a salary freeze for MPPs was implemented from October 2003 until April 1, 2005.

The 2009 budget announced that MPP salaries would be frozen for one year beginning on April 1, 2009. That salary freeze was extended in the 2010 budget for two years and in the 2012 budget for an additional two years, bringing the total length of the current pay freeze to five years.

The media release makes no mention of any increase between April 2005 and 2009. It is the decision to be selective with the information that is given out that ticks off the public. The men and women who serve as MPP’s are entitled to a decent wage and a pension plan plus expenses that they incur when they do their jobs.

The Burlington MPP gets an allowance to pay for accommodation in Toronto for those evenings when the legislature runs late. It’s a 45 minute drive from Queen’s Park to Burlington – no need for the cost of an apartment to stay over. If a session runs really, really late – OK let the MPP get reimbursed for a hotel room – a moderately priced hotel room if you don’t mind.

We would love to know how often MPP Jane McKenna stays overnight in Toronto and how often members of her family use the apartment when they are in Toronto. Same goes for how often Ted Chudleigh, the Halton MPP stays in Toronto.

In 1996, the defined benefit pension plan for MPPs was wound up and members and beneficiaries were paid the value of the benefits earned to that date. MPPs now have a defined contribution pension plan.

Since 2009, Ontario has initiated compensation restraint measures for members of the Ontario public sector and broader public sector, and has indicated that compensation costs must be managed within Ontario’s existing fiscal framework.

Ontario public sector wage settlements continue to be below the average of private sector, municipal sector and federal public sector settlements.

Tax payers want a government that they see as people looking out for the interests of the public. We frequently hear people running for election say it is an honour to serve the pubic – that tends to stick in the throat when we read about the massive cost of WORD of shutting down the construction of two gas plants before the last election and then reading details of the amounts paid to consultants and law firms to handle the shut down and then learning that documents critical to an honest investigation of who did what when are no longer available – erased from hard drives on computers.

These politicians toss around the loss at more than $1 billion – a BILLION – most of us have to pause to figure out how many zeroes that is.

The current Premier seems like a decent hard-working woman; she is certainly out there working hard. But one could have, and many people said the same thing about former Premier Dalton McGuinty who resigned as Premier on really short notice.

We need government – and the people who do that work are entitled to good incomes. It is hard work and they are in the public eye almost every hour of every day.

We just want better value for the money we have to spend.

Burlington currently has its own little employee perk problem. City hall staff get free parking which comes in at about a quarter of a million a year. How many people get their parking paid for by their employer?

When ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward brought this up during the budget deliberations there wasn’t a line up of council members ready to support her position. The city manager said at the time that what Meed Ward had brought to council appeared to have merit. Jeff Fielding doesn’t use language like that lightly. Most of the Council members wanted to see a detailed report on what the city was required to do if in fact paid parking was a taxable benefit.  They all voted to have a report prepared – but there was not date set as to when that report would come back to council.

An opportunity to lead was missed – by ever one of the except for Councillor Meed Ward.  Councillors Craven, Taylor, Dennison, Sharma and Lancaster as well as the Mayor punted the ball back to staff – they very people who enjoy the benefit.  Anyone of the six could have said:  If this is a problem we need to fix it quickly.  Instead they put made sure the funds to pay for that free parking came out of the tax revenue account and into the parking revenue you account where it is then used to pay for the free parking.

The city finance department should have known if the benefit was taxable or not and brought a recommendation to council.

It’s exasperating.

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Rivers: “trade deals have inadvertently contributed to the de-industrialization of Canada.”

By Ray Rivers

March 20, 2014


Another day, another free trade deal.  Canada has landed what is being called a big one, this time with South Korea.  Promoted by both Liberal and Conservative governments, these trade deals have inadvertently contributed to the de-industrialization of Canada. 

Recall the sound of doors closing and windows being shuttered as the ink was drying on our first trade deal, the Canada-US FTA.  Many of Ontarios small and medium manufacturing enterprises, acting like characters in a Steinbeck novel, packed up and moved to larger markets, a warmer climate and the lower wage rates south of the border.

Former Ontario premier, David Peterson, had predicted that a quarter of a million jobs would be lost to FTA, and indeed, unemployment in Ontario more than doubled as its manufacturing sector took the hit.  And then there was NAFTA.  The Economic Policy Institute, a research think-tank in the US, estimated that by 2010 NAFTA had lost 700,000 US jobs to Mexico.  It is worth recalling US presidential candidate Ross Perot and his famous prediction of a giant sucking sound, as American jobs rushed off to Mexico.

Free trade is just another economic theory.  Hypothetical notions of absolute and comparative advantage sound logical on paper.  But, the reality can be so different, particularly if the playing field is uneven, if your trading partners dont play fair.  South Korea is one of those nations which adjusts its exchange rates to make their exports competitive, and the nation employs a raft of non-tariff barriers to discourage its citizens from buying foreign goods. 

Cars being loaded on to ship for transportation to North America. with tariff removed many of those cars will come to Canada.

The Korean deal is being sold as offering greater access to the Korean market for Canadian beef and pork, but even the government accepts that Canadian manufacturing, and auto making in particular will be hit by this deal.  The US signed a trade deal, just last year, with South Korea (KORUS FTA) and their experience was that the US lost 40,000 jobs, and its historical trade surplus with Korea was turned into a substantial deficit.

Ford Motor Company, whose US parent had not initially objected to the KORUS FTA, pointed out this sad experience to the Canadian government just as we were putting the seal on our own trade deal.  The PMs response was a sharp rebuke to the manufacturing giant, accusing Ford of duplicity.  Ford is Canadas largest auto maker, employing about eight thousand people in Ontario and responsible for substantial spin-off employment, mainly in Ontario.  Currently about a half million Canadians are employed in the auto industry, with fully a third of those in manufacturing.  All Korean-made cars are imported into Canada.

Another potentially impacted auto-maker, Fiat-Chrysler, had been in discussions with the federal and provincial governments over financial support to help it expand its manufacturing operations in Ontario.  Last September Ford had been awarded $140 million in a similar move to help it upgrade its plants.  In fact the federal government maintains an open budget allocation just for this purpose.   And jurisdictions south of the border have long used grants and loans to attract auto companies and other large employers to their states.

Will beef actually get from Alberta to South Korea?

Before either the federal or provincial governments could officially respond, Ontarios provincial opposition leader, Tim Hudak, slammed any funding for Chrysler, calling it corporate welfare, extortion and ransom.  Both official levels of government were stunned and Chrysler immediately withdrew its request, claiming that it was not prepared to become a political football.  Mr. Hudak, who is fond of complaining about Ontario losing its industrial base and jobs, needs to reflect on his behaviour and how he has shown himself to be unfit for the job of premier of this province.  And his party needs to show him the door before the next provincial election, something a number of PC party members have already contemplated. 

There will be winners and losers from this South Korean trade deal.  While some beef and pork producers from Ontario and Quebec may see increased sales, most of the meat products will come from the west, primarily Alberta.  On the other hand, Ontario auto makers Ford, Chrysler and GM, will losHudak needs to reflect on his behaviour and how he has shown himself to be unfit for the job of premier of this province.e sales to even cheaper Hyundai and Kia models, depressing both employment and provincial incomes.

Why would the federal government be so keen on adding more jobs into Albertas booming economy and driving up inflationary pressure there?  And why are the feds OK with further depressing Ontarios economy – the latest entry into the economic have-notclub?  It makes no economic sense, something that Ford and the Ontario government have been saying.  And that is perhaps the reason this South Korean deal, which had been started a decade ago, had been left sitting on the shelf until now.

This is not only bad economic policy, it is patently unfair – unfair that a trade deal will benefit one province, one where the PM happens to reside, at the expense of another.  Watching Quebecs PQ government set the ground work for another sovereignty referendum, perhaps as early as next year, it is useful to reflect on what we tell Quebecers to expect by voting to stay in Canada.  If it is not fairness, then what?

 Background links:

Premier Peterson      US Korean Trade Pact      Free Trade and Jobs      Auto Sector Worries     Harper Slams Ford   Harper Takes on Ford

Hudak Slams Chrysler     Chrysler Backs Out

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Smith let’s the Irish in him come out – asks us to forget Brendan Behan and think of Pope Francis instead.

By James smith

March 16, 2014


The Paddy wagons stand at the ready, I read Halton Police have RIDE checks out on the evenings up to and including March 17th – Saint Patrick’s day. The Police have their job to do, I appreciate what they do, I want them to catch-all the drunks who get behind the wheel. Why do so many people use the Patron Saint of my forefathers as a ready excuse to drink and drive?

Well now, the Irish and the drink eh?  A good old cliché and ethnic slur that persists. Lots of examples reinforce this stereotype, Oscar Wilde’s old chestnut of “work being the curse of the drinking class” comes to mind but Ireland’s most famous imbiber- Brendan Behan went one better when he said he was “a drinker with a writing problem”. The Irish men of letters aside, the multi-national booze biz can’t but help themselves, they crank out yet another excuse to get pie-eyed on March 17. Why sure, everyone loves a happy drunk leprechaun right? Have a black and tan, an Irish coffee, a black beer that starts with the letter G or mass quantities of industrial suds from a Brazilian brewer tinted green to kill the taste of genetically modified high fructose corn syrup! But hey! don’t matter if you’re Sullivan, Silverman, Schultz, Singh, or Sanchez, on March 17th everyone is Irish don’t you know it. We’re all encouraged by these vipers to act like “amadans” and drink up to prove it.

The fact of the matter is the booz-up that’s become “ST PADDYS DAY” is starting to get my Irish temper up. A temper that got me in a little bit of hot water when the chair of a Committee of Burlington City Council had to put me in my place just a few weeks ago. I’m sure most of the four and one half million Canadians like me claim Irish decent feel the same way. Sure we want to celebrate our heritage on the 17th by wearing green, and having Jig’s Supper, and yes, we may raise a jar or two. Bur many who cheered Brian O’Driscoll’s team winning the Six Nations Saturday are frankly tired of and ashamed of our heritage being mixed up with drinking contests and other shenanigans that end in fights and green regurgitation. As a son of the land of saints and scholars I’d rather remember the thousands who died at Grosse Isle Quebec, Ireland Park Toronto or Middle Island New Brunswick. I’d rather we celebrate Irish Canadians like Bishop Michael Power, Father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Prime Ministers John Thompson, Brian Mulroney, and Paul Martin. Those in the arts like authors Morley Callahan, W. P Kinsella, actors like Katherine O’Hara, and Martin Short.  Musicians like Stomp’n Tom and Alan Doyle and composer Timothy Sullivan. In Burlington, we have many outstanding Irish, the well-known Torsney family come to readily mind, but there are many many more.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no tea totaler, and booze, has done its share of damage to people in my family over the generations, but As a dogan, I resent the premise that March 17th means get your beer glasses on.  So I have a better idea: In the future lets blame the ides of March (March 15th) or Pi Day (3.14 hey & next year it’s even 3.14.15!) for drunk and disorderly conduct in the middle of March.  As the Feast of Saint Patrick always falls within the season of lent, let’s take some advise from that good Irishman Pope Francis’s  – this Saint Patrick’s day, take some of the money you might otherwise spend on John Barley Corn and donate it to some of those most in need.

Amadan: A band, originally based in Corvallis, Oregon, plays both punk and world music. They are often categorized as a Celtic punk band due to their Irish influences. Amadán is also a Gaelic and Hiberno-English term for a stupid man.

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No Ides of March for this city. Mayor is safe – so far, but it is far from over.

By Pepper Parr

March 15th, 2014


Still quiet on the municipal election front.  No Ides of March for the Mayor of this city.

To date just one of the incumbent members of city council has filed nomination papers – Mayor Goldring scooted downstairs from his eighth floor office and gave the city clerk his fee early in January  – and his hat was in the ring.

The Goldring family whoops it up the night of the 2010 election. Same scene for 2014?

The Mayor didn’t stop there.  He recently held an impressive fund-raiser – a reported 125 people at $100 a pop attended where we understand His Worship announced that Cheryl Taylor will lead the campaign with Jim Matts doing much of the grunt work the way he did last time out.

So far there isn’t a second candidate for the job ready to declare  for the top spot.  None of the other council members who are warming a seat at the horseshoe in the council chamber have declared yet, however all, except for Dennison have said they want to return and the Mayor has said he would like to see all his colleagues returned.  They might be waiting until the Premier decides if there is going to be a provincial election and if she does ask the Lieutenant Governor to issue an election writ – they may all stay inside until that wind blows over.

Ward 1 Councillor did say at a meeting at the Conservation Halton offices that he had thought about running for the office of Mayor.  “It’s not out of the question” was his comment at the time.

We can report that there are very credible candidates in wards 5 and 6 getting their ducks lined up – expect at least one very interesting candidate to step forward out of rural Burlington.  It’s about time those people had someone representing their interests at the table.

There are now candidates in ward 1 – two of them so far, no one in ward 2 yet; Meed Ward might well be acclaimed in ward 2, unless of course she decides now is the time to run for the office of Mayor.  It’s the only chance she has of winning that office which she has wanted from the day she first ran against Rick Craven in Ward 1 back in 2006.

Meed Ward has a hard political calculation to make.  Run again in ward 2 and win hands down but find herself facing a formidable candidate in 2018 if Frank McKeown runs in ward 4 – which is not out of the question yet.  McKeown apparently has a promise from Jack Dennison, the ward 4 incumbent to campaign with McKeown if he runs.  Not exactly a promise you can take to the bank.

Frank McKeown, then the Mayors Chief of Staff explains a concept to Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman. McKeown was described as the 7th council member during the Strategic Plan sessions.

McKeown might decide that he doesn’t want to serve as a council member for four years and then run for Mayor – he might decide to just go for the brass ring now.  Many felt that McKeown was the thinker behind the Mayor when he ran against Cam Jackson in 2010.  Most of the position papers Goldring released were reportedly written by McKeown.

During the more than six half day meetings on the development of the Strategic Plan McKeown was frequently referred to as the “seventh council member” – not always politely by the way.  He brought a level of sophistication to the discussions that was badly needed at the time.

There was not a lot of love lost when McKeown advised the Mayor in July of 2012 that he was going to resign effective the end of the year.  That gave the Mayor plenty of time to find a new Chief of Staff.  The replacement was certainly no Frank McKeown.  It will be interesting to see what the Mayor comes up with in terms of an election platform and if he issues any quality position papers this time out.  Will there be a reference to his One Vision debacle?

We hear that the “Duffster” – that being John Duff, might be asked to handle media buys and campaign literature design for the Mayor.  (We incorrectly called Duff – Duffy in an article recently – that was fixed.)

Martin von Zon of Intercom Marketing was going to do that job but he then won an RFP to do some work for the Performing Arts Centre and felt he might have a conflict of interest if he did any work for the Mayor while performing a service for the PAC.   People in this town certainly have a very narrow definition of just what a conflict of interest is – Jack Dennison certainly doesn’t define conflict quite as narrowly.

One has to wonder if van Von has his ear closer to the ground than most and is picking up vibes others are not aware of? – and if that is really the reason for declining.  Van Von certainly didn’t get the PAC contract because of the Mayor.

Ward 1has two nomination;  Jason Boelhouwer and Catherine Henshell.

Catherine Henshell has her eye on the council seat for Ward 1

Ward 2 is closed territory unless there is someone who wants to create some name recognition and get a chance to rake Councillor Marianne Meed Ward over the coals.  She will win that race unless she is found at the end of the pier under a full moon howling into the night sky – and even then she might still win.

There is one declared candidate in Ward 3; Lisa Cooper filed her papers and hasn’t been heard from since.

Alexa Kubrak once put together some ideas on re-branding for the Burlington Art Centre.  Got stiffed and decided the only way to make a difference was to be at the council table.  running in ward 4 where the incumbent has yet to declare.

Ward 4 has been busy; while incumbent Dennison hasn’t declared – and may not – three others Have.  John Sweeny, a former Deloitte business development executive, Steve Kempf who lives on Indian Road, outside the ward and Alexandra Kubrak, a young entrepreneur who may lack experience but is a bright young lady – all have their hats in the ring.

John Sweeney running in ward 4 takes part in public budget discussions.

Ward 5 has yet to hear from incumbent Paul Sharman but expect him to be in the race – he has nowhere else to go.  There is another candidate doing the final touches to his campaign website – look for an announcement very early in April – hopefully not April 1st.  Ian Simpson has also declared in ward 5.

Ward 6, which had the tightest race in 2010 when Blair Lancaster beat Mark Carr by a slim 125 votes, will face a very strong contender expected to announce early in April.  There is a declared candidate in the ring now – real estate broker Jim Curran announced earlier this month.

Still a lot of fence-sitting going on.  For those who want to run for office and be seen as serious get along to the Clerk’s office.  For those that have declared – begin getting your message out.

Background links:

Mayor satisfied with his first term

Catherine Henshell files nomination papers for Ward 1

Jason Boelhouwer announces his candidacy in Ward 1

John Sweeney will run in Ward 4

Alexandra Kubrak will be running in Ward 4

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Is the Prime Minister’s diplomacy part of the Canadian peacekeeping tradition or is it a shameless vote grab?

By Ray Rivers

March 12, 2014


Canada was one of the first nations to respond to the civil unrest in Kiev and the Russian invasion of Crimea.  We recalled our ambassador to Russia, dispatched foreign minister Baird to visit Kiev, booted out a few Russian soldiers visiting us, offered a tiny amount of economic and humanitarian aid and sent over a couple of military observers.  This was all announced with the sober deportment which Mr. Harper so capably captures. 

There is a strong, vibrant Ukrainian community in Canada – a voting block if there ever was one.

The reaction from the substantial Ukrainian diaspora in this country was positive, but they know just what he is doing.  They understand this is what good politicians do to sway a potential ethnic voting block into their partisan camp.   And its not that Mr. Harper couldn’t have done more if he really wanted to pour his love on Ukraine.   For example, the financial aid he offered for that economically devastated nation of forty-six million people is an embarrassingly paltry sum.  This is from a Canadian government that doesnt think twice about dumping a couple million bucks advertising a non-existent job training program.  

Once considered the bread basket of Europe – the country is now an economic basket case.

The Ukrainian situation is complicated. Once considered the bread-basket of Europe, the Ukraine has become an economic basket-case, caught between an ever-expanding EU and a newly oil-rich Russia intent on re-establishing the old Soviet Union.  It is one of the ironies of civilization that the Ukraine is caught in this potentially matricidal tragedy, having been the cradle of birth for the Russian people.  For most of its forty-four thousand-year history the Ukrainian people were made captive by any and all invaders, including Huns, Mongols and Turks, the Poles and Swedish Deluge, the Austrian-Hungarian empire, Hitler and most recently the USSR, where it acquired its current geographical dimensions. 

Crimea will become part of the Russian Federation, every reasonable person sees that inevitability.  The question is whether Russia is content with its acquisition of this tiny peninsula, or whether it will find pretext to invade other parts of the Ukraine.  The entire western effort focused on Crimea is about keeping Mr. Putins attention there.  This hopefully will stall him in order for the Ukrainians to assemble enough of a defence to hold onto the rest of their country.

Mr. Putin is upset.  His dreams of expansion have been set back by the impending Ukrainian decision to favour the EU over his dream of a new USSR.  It is truly unfortunate that the west didnt have the foresight to envision this situation.  It might have been possible to more fully invite Russia into the European community of nations, such that Mr. Putin would not feel threatened by a pro-west Ukraine.  Russia faces the reality of having lost all of its former Warsaw Pact satellites to the EU, and more importantly to NATO.   From Putins perspective securing his military base in Crimea was the very minimum he should do.

Canadian Foreign Affairs  Minister Baird has traveled to Kiev and worn the colours of the Ukrainian state.

There was a time when Canada was viewed as an honest broker.  Lester Pearson won the Nobel Peace prize in 1957, for his trusted independent voice of reason.  Today Canadas foreign policy is about marketing our natural resources, and shamelessly pandering to the ethnic vote back home.   So nobody listens to us anymore, and certainly not Mr. Putin.  For all the PMs bluster about the invasion of Crimea, Canadas only substantial contribution will be through NATO action, should that become necessary.

But we should not deprecate the fact that we were among the first to get involved.  We closed our embassy to register our disapproval at the slaughter of protesters.  Then, following the flight of besieged president Yanukoyvich, we provided early moral support for the new administration in Kiev,   Mr. Harper has a habit of jumping into situations early and this time he got it right and demonstrated leadership.

And there is a lesson from Crimea for Mr. Harper – in fact for all of us.  Quebec having just announced elections is busy preparing for its new sovereignty referendum, should the PQ win.  In response, it appears the PM has come to life, and begun meeting with parliamentary opposition leaders and provincial premiers about his next steps.  After all Crimeas future in the Ukraine will be determined by a unilateral referendum, not unlike those used in the last two Quebec votes on sovereignty.

As we see in Crimea, events can move quickly.  So it is prudent for the PM to at least ponder the imponderables, knowing there is a probability they could become reality in the event of a strong majority vote for sovereignty.   For example the northern aboriginals in Quebec, whose treaties are with Canada, may wish to stay in Canada – to separate from a separate Quebec.  Would the rest of Canada support them, militarily if necessary?  Would there be involvement by other nations – the USA or France?  Oh what a tangled web theyll weave – and all they want is to secede.

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

Background links:

Canadas Ukraine Contribution 

 Russia vs Nazis     Legal Issues in Ukraine      Russian View       Kissinger     Ukrainian Feed       Mulroney on Putin

 Losing Putin        Russia Lost the War      Ukrainian Diaspora   Ukraine History       Yanukoyvich Corruption

The Crimea Case

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The making of a community activist: Emily Ferguson, all 5 feet 2 inches of her took on the big guys.

By Emily Ferguson

March 8, 2014


My name is Emily Ferguson and I am the sole individual  behind Line 9 Communities. (This is a blog Ferguson writes about the communities along the path of the Enbridge Pipe Line 9 that runs from Sarnia to Montreal.)

  I graduated from McMaster University with Honours BA Geography & Environmental Studies and a minor in Political Science.

Emily Ferguson mapped every yard of the pipeline so that communities along its path could know just what was beneath the ground.

I first heard about Line 9 at a climate conference in Ottawa in 2012. My interest led me to attend information sessions in Hamilton and surrounding area in early 2013. At one meeting in particular, I asked for a Line 9 information package which had been provided to Council. Although there were extra packages after the meeting, an Enbridge official denied my request and asked “Who are you working for”? The Enbridge team then proceeded to ask myself and a fellow community member for our driver’s licenses and said they would mail a package. Something about the encounter just didn’t feel right and we walked away without the information.

Emily Ferguson – National Energy Board intervener, geographer.

That was the turning point. I went home that night with so many questions. Why was I being denied access to information at a public meeting? What were they trying to hide? Why didn’t they want me to know where the pipeline was?

So I took it upon myself to map Line 9. Throughout an unimaginable number of late nights, I compiled satellite images, integrity data and publicly available information to create detailed maps of the 639 km pipeline.

I did it because they said no.

I did it because I felt the need to inform the public.

If Enbridge wasn’t going to adequately consult … who would?

For Burlington – this is where the pipeline was located.

I contacted multiple City Counselors along the line and sat down over coffee with many to discuss the proposal. The lack of information provided to municipalities shocked me. I proceeded to canvass neighbourhoods along the line to poll residents and provide details about open houses and how to get involved.

Line 9 Communities gained instant attraction. Although I blogged about the application, past spills, and changes to federal legislation, viewers wanted one thing … MAPS! Essentially they wanted to know, where is the pipeline and why don’t I know about it?

Emily Ferguson mapped ever foot of the pipeline from Hamilton to Montreal and learned that the thing ran underground right behind her elementary school – the pipeline had always been a part of her life – She didn’t even know it was there.

During the map creation, I found out that Line 9 crosses right through the small community where I grew up. The pipeline is located directly behind my public school playground in Glenburnie, ON, just north of Kingston. It also passes behind Seneca College in Toronto which I attended for three years. I had literally been living beside the line my entire life … and didn’t even know it existed. All of a sudden, things became very personal.

I felt compelled to learn everything I could about the project. My biggest supporter along the way was Eva Simkins – my Grandma. Although diagnosed with cancer in 2009, two weeks of radiation treatments gave us the gift of four extremely memorable years. We traveled, talked politics, did puzzles, celebrated, smiled and laughed. Through it all though, I knew there was that big question in her mind. Why me?

I wondered the same thing.

She held my hand as she peacefully passed away at sunrise on Earth Day of this year … just three days after I applied to be an NEB Intervener.

In my opinion, we accept the status quo far too often. At a Line 9 open house, an Enbridge official told me, “if we say it’s safe, it’s safe”. But I must question the safety of this pipeline. At almost 40 years old and only meeting the engineering standards of 1971, why is the NEB even considering the application? Enbridge has cited over 400 integrity digs (cracks, corrosion, dents) along the line in 2013 alone! They have also acknowledged that their in-line inspection tools do not detect all defects and that their Edmonton control center cannot sense pin hole leaks. With the current application before the Board, Enbridge is proposing to ship Bakken crude and diluted bitumen laced with drag reducing agent (DRA) chemicals – which include known carcinogens such as benzene – through our communities.

I have never had any malicious intent towards Enbridge. As a citizen of Canada and student of environmental politics, I have always been interested in energy issues, climate change, and a sustainable future for our planet. I believe in the strength of communities working together to achieve great things.

My mission through this entire process has been to raise awareness and promote a community discussion. We are living in a critical time. Will we continue to accept the status quo, or will we start asking the tough questions and demand a better future?

Editor’s note:  I had an opportunity to interview Emily while she was thinking about applying to be an intervener at the National energy Board hearing.  She wasn’t sure what she was going to do then and she needed quite a bit of encouragement to send in her application, which was an experience in itself.  But on October 16th, 2013, Emily Ferguson, all 5’ 2” of her stood before one of the most powerful regulators in the country and gave “the best speech of my life”

Background links:

Burlington doesn’t take to the idea of a change in the flow of the Enbridge pipeline

National Energy Board give Enbridge a green light – with 30 conditions.

The Emily Ferguson maps.

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Justin Trudeau – To the manor born – or does he have to earn it? In this country he has to earn it

By Ray Rivers

March 6, 2014


There is a whiff of change in the air as the polls place the Trudeau Liberals at the head of the pack racing to the 2015 federal election.  It is still early days, but I keep getting asked what I think of Justin Trudeau – is he ready for the job of PM.  I met him last year, had a brief chat and gave him a copy of my book (for which he never thanked me).  The book has a lot of ink devoted to his father, but he is not mentioned; so perhaps that is why.

Some people said that he is more like his mother than his father, Pierre the intellectual.

Some people said that he is more like his mother than his father, Pierre the intellectual.  If true, Im not sure if that makes him more or less appealing.  His youth is a huge asset, and he has used that to advantage, attracting young voters into the world of politics.  A few actually find their salvationhere and become active party supporters, but just getting our youth to the polling booth is a huge public service. 

The more traditional wing of the party is comfortable with Trudeau, because of his roots and because they really need a winner after almost a decade in the dugout, and third place at that.  And Trudeau understands that, so has taken a moderate, small cconservative approach in articulating his policies: retaining the Senate, building the middle class, promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, better developing the oil sands, and even more free trade.

Colourfull – yes.  Depth – we don’t know that yet but the signs are good.  The Senate decision was a good one.

Justin is among the most articulate and communicative of recent Liberal leaders, benefitting in large part from his theatrical training,   He claims his campaign is about fairness –  and it is a vision which he links to his fathers Just Society.  His opponent on the right has been publicly attacking him over his promise to legalize cannabis.  But on this issue, anyway, he sees himself getting on top of the wave sweeping this hemisphere, right behind Mexico and Uruguay and the US states of Colorado and Washington.

Trudeau has also said and done things that have got him into trouble.  His joke about Putin and the Ukrainian crisis has handicapped him on that important file.  There was his comment about admiring China, about the need for more Quebecers in Parliament, and that whole messy speaking-tour business – which he should have done for free as an elected member.  

So is Trudeau ready for the job?  Some said that Joe Clark, Canadas youngest PM at 40 years, wasnt ready when he was sworn to the job back in 1979, yet he ably stick-handled the Iran hostage crisis and won the acclaim of the much of the world.   Mike Harris used to attack Dalton McGuinty as not up to the jobthough McGuinty gave us some of the best government in the provinces history, reconstructing our eroded health care and education systems and balancing three of his budgets before the recession hit – and before he pulled that stunt with the gas plants.

Pierre shocked many, especially the Monarchists with this stunt in London.

Pierre, Justins father, was also attacked as immature for some of the antics he pulled, pirouetting behind the Queens back, uttering fuddle-duddle in Parliament and giving the finger to the media.  But when Canada was facing its greatest national crisis in October 1970, he knew what to do and did it.  Experience and training are essential for most careers but there is no apprenticeship for being PM – you either have it or you dont.  So the real question for the pretenders to the throne is what do they stand for, what is their vision and where are they getting their advice.

Mr. Harper threw his closest advisor under the bus after Senate-gate broke, so at least he knows what to do when he gets bad advice.  But his vision for Canada is retrograde.  Whether it be criminal law, environmental policy, political science, trade and industrial development, or taxation and fiscal policy he represents the past.  That isnt always bad and I do agree with a few of the measures he has introduced since 2006.  But if your fantasy is turning the clock back he is your man.

Mr. Mulcair has been very impressive in the House of Commons as a debater representing the official opposition.  Probably most people respect his perspectives on social justice and equity and are comfortable with how he has distanced his party from external lobby forces, such as the labour unions.  He was a good environment minister in Jean Charests Liberal government in Quebec and has a huge electoral base in Canadas minority language province Quebec.

However, Mulcair has endorsed his partys policy on Quebec separation, the Sherbrooke Declaration, which would entitle Quebecers voting 51% for sovereignty to begin the process of separation.  This was Jack Laytons legacy, one which had lifted his party to official opposition by playing to the separatists.  The Supreme Court has ruled that there needs to be a reasonable majority and nobody except Mulcair and the separatists believes that is 51%.  My vision for Canada includes Quebec.

That is big hair.

Mr. Trudeau has been Liberal leader for less than a year, so its still early to pass judgement on him.  And he has been spouting generalities which most people could only agree with: no tax increases for middle class Canadians, politically independent Senators, and legal weed.  I know at least one of the good people advising him, and my expectations for a detailed progressive platform in time for the election are pretty high.  So maybe the question, come election day, is  are we ready for Trudeau, and what he promises – rather than the other way around.

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


Background links:

Sherbrooke Declaration


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How’s your GDP? Turns out we may be measuring the wrong thing. Does it matter? Suzuki thinks it does.

By Pepper Parr

February 28, 2014


My friend Amy Schnurr, Chief Cheese over at Burlington Green, sent me a piece by David Suzuki that made enough sense for me to pass it along.  When we great people, we usually ask them how they are doing.  Ask a business person how they are doing and they might tell you THE GDP is up and that they are part of it.

Suzuki suggests that measuring progress with GDP is a gross mistake

Governments, media and much of the public are preoccupied with the economy. That means demands such as those for recognition of First Nations treaty rights and environmental protection are often seen as impediments to the goal of maintaining economic growth. The gross domestic product has become a sacred indicator of well-being. Ask corporate CEOs and politicians how they did last year and they’ll refer to the rise or fall of the GDP.

It’s a strange way to measure either economic or social well-being. The GDP was developed as a way to estimate economic activity by measuring the value of all transactions for goods and services. But even Simon Kuznets, an American economist and pioneer of national income measurement, warned in 1934 that such measurements say little about the welfare of a nation. He understood there’s more to life than the benefits that come from spending money.

The GDP: It’s complex, it’s seen as a standard – and it might be totally useless.

My wife’s parents have shared our home for 35 years. If we had put them in a care home, the GDP would have grown. In caring for them ourselves we didn’t contribute as much. When my wife left her teaching job at Harvard University to be a full-time volunteer for the David Suzuki Foundation, her GDP contribution fell. Each time we repair and reuse something considered disposable we fail to contribute to the GDP.

To illustrate the GDP’s limitations as an indicator of well-being, suppose a fire breaks out at the Darlington nuclear facility near Toronto and issues a cloud of radioactivity that blows over the city, causing hundreds of cases of radiation sickness. All the ambulances, doctors, medicines and hospital beds will jack up the GDP. And if people die, funeral services, hearses, flowers, gravediggers and lawyers will stimulate GDP growth. In the end, cleaning up the Darlington mess would cost billions and produce a spike in the GDP.

Extreme weather-related events, such as flooding and storms, can also contribute to increases in GDP, as resources are brought in to deal with the mess. Damage done by Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico added tens of billions to the GDP. If GDP growth is our highest aspiration, we should be praying for more weather catastrophes and oil spills.

The GDP replaced gross national product, which was similar but included international expenditures. In a 1968 speech at the University of Kansas, Robert Kennedy said, Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things …Gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities … and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

We deserve better indicators of societal well-being that extend beyond mere economic growth. Many economists and social scientists are proposing such indicators. Some argue we need a “genuine progress indicator”, which would include environmental and social factors as well as economic wealth. A number of groups, including Friends of the Earth, have suggested an Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare, which would take into account “income inequality, environmental damage, and depletion of environmental assets.” The Kingdom of Bhutan has suggested measuring gross national happiness.

Whatever we come up with, it has to be better than GDP with its absurd emphasis on endless growth on a finite planet.

Thanks for that Amy.

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You will learn what the budget total was – when you get your tax bill. Council decided you won’t be able to delegate.

By Pepper Parr

February 27, 2014


Sometime next Tuesday afternoon city council meeting as a Standing committee will recommend the current operating part of the 2014 budget.  Traditionally that recommendation goes to city Council about ten days later for final approval and the tax rate is then set.

Citizens then have an opportunity to delegate before city council and attempt to plead for changes to the budget.

People in Burlington will not have an opportunity to do that this year.  Council voted on Thursday to have the Mayor call a Special Council meeting immediately after the Standing Committee meeting and approve the budget immediately.  There will be no opportunity for the public to delegate because they will not know when the meeting is taking place.

Councillor John Taylor moved a motion on Thursday that the budget be made final at a scheduled council meeting on March 17th.  There was very little debate on the motion and Councillor Taylor wasn’t particularly direct or forceful with his comments.  Councillor Meed Ward was direct; the city manager didn’t seem to care if the date was set back to the March 17th

The vote lost 4-2; Mayor Goldring had left the Standing Committee shortly before the vote.

What is disturbing with the vote is that Council is being very deliberate in not ensuring the public has some opportunity to read about the contents of the budget; go on-line and watch parts of the debate if they wish.  It is almost as if this council has something to hide and at this point we don’t see that as the case.

It is a complex budget; we still don’t know what they plan to do with the $2.6 million 2013 surplus which they call retained savings.  Staff had difficulty getting some critical reports before the Standing Committee on time – which meant the public didn’t get much opportunity to inform themselves.  The transit advocates are close to spitting nickels over what they call the transit shenanigans.

The report on what the snow levels are to be before equipment is put out on the road was late – part of the reason for that was due to snow still falling.

“I don’t want to hear anymore delegations” said Councillor Jack Dennison.

Councillor Dennison said he didn’t want to hear any more debate on spending decisions; Councillor Sharman felt the public had had more than enough opportunity to make themselves aware of what council is doing.  Not quite sure how he arrives at that conclusion when council has yet to make many of the budget decisions.  Councillor Lancaster has never been a big fan of meeting with the public.

The public was given just the one opportunity to look at the budget in an open public meeting when they met at the Art Centre in January. .  At that time people complained that they didn’t see anything before the meeting and that all they were able to do was respond to what was put in front of them.

There were close to 100 people at that January meeting which was held south of the QEW.  Burlington now has a brand new campus in Alton Village where a second public meeting could have been held.  The finance department staff chose not to do so this year but have indicated they will do so next year.

In 2010 Burlington received the Shape Burlington report; a document put together by the late John Boich and former Mayor Walter Mulkewich who were supported by a strong committee that, believe it or not, included Blair Lancaster and Paul Sharman before they were elected to council.

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

The Shape Burlington report made it very clear that Burlington suffered from an “information deficit” – the public just didn’t have the information they were entitled to – city hall wasn’t making it available.

When the report got to Council it was unanimously adopted – then apparently forgotten.

An informed public can make informed decisions and given that it is the public’s money that is being sent giving them an opportunity to make themselves fully aware would seem reasonable.

It is sort of like the cashier not letting you see the tape with all your purchases on it but just grabbing your cash and ringing up the sale.

The public is entitled to better treatment and if democracy is to prevail the elected officials should ensure that the public has more than adequate opportunity to inform themselves.

Odd that the four people who voted against giving the public time to review the budget decisions plan to ask the public to re-elect them to office in October.

Background links:

Just the one public meeting on the budget – comments are telling.

Shape Burlington points to “information deficit”.

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Were Quebec a country it would have placed third in medals at the Sochi Olympics – the rest of Canada would have been 6th.

By Ray Rivers

February 27, 2014


 “President Yanukovych has been made illegitimate. It’s very worrying, especially because Russia lost in hockey, they’ll be in a bad mood. We fear Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.  

Trudeau made himself a target for those questioning his maturity for the job of Prime Minister with this inappropriate comment and poor joke, given the tense situation in the Ukraine.  Of course this is exactly what everyone is wondering – the Russian bear in the room– it’s the media has been discussing ever  since the Ukraine went into crisis mode.  

And not everyone was offended by the remark.  For example, the Russian ambassador to Canada, Mr. Mamedov, during an interview told the media, “I’m turning serious, because I know you don’t appreciate jokes. But Trudeau should not have linked Russian military action to the Olympic games – the games of peace. And Canada did make a spectacular showing at Sochi, ten golds including back-to-back hockey and curling. 

The Dufour-Lapoine women at the Olympics.

A lot of money has been devoted to preparing athletes for the Olympics and it clearly has paid off.  The Harper government has been throwing something like $150 million into the pot, Ontario another twenty million or so, and Quebec even more.  Ontario had 63 Olympians competing, Alberta was right behind with 55,and B.C. fielded 30.  But forty percent of all the athletes came from Quebec, prompting one news medium, reflecting on early returns (9 medals), to speculate that were Quebec a separate nation it would have placed third and the rest of Canada sixth.

The federal Liberal party held its biennial policy conference in Montreal last weekend and Justin Trudeau delivered an upbeat speech – including better jokes.  One session involved the three eastern Liberal premiers and provincial party leaders from New Brunswick and Newfoundland.  Kathleen Wynne spoke passionately and sincerely about the need for nation-building by the federal government.  She complained about the frustrations of trying to work with a senior level of government which refuses to consult the provinces and acts unilaterally on issues which affect them, including job training, health care, education, pensions and infrastructure.

Most impressive of the panelists was the fluently bi-lingual and articulate would-be premier from New Brunswick, Brian Gallant, as he switched between English and French with more ease than anyone Ive ever witnessed before.  I couldnt help wondering how different things would be in this nation if we could all communicate like that.   It was some 19 years ago when Quebecers came close to a yes vote for sovereignty in that last referendum.  And we know there is another one down the road, once Premier Marois wins the next provincial election this year.

I recall that last referendum.  My daughter and a close friend skipped school to train down to Montreal and join the throngs pledging their love for Quebec as a part of Canada.  I have rarely been more proud of her.   And it was her and all the others across the country professing their love for the people of ‘la belle province that, I believe, convinced those last-minute Quebec voters to scratch their check marks for Canada, even as the Chretien government was sleep-walking through it all.

A massive Canadian flag was passed hand over hand amongst a huge crowd in Montreal days before the citizens of Quebec voted in their referendum to remain a part of Canada.

It was a race of Olympic proportions and Canada won by a squeaker – but the separatists demonstrated their competitive ability, not unlike Quebecers in the Olympics.  Come the next referendum we can expect the separatists to be even more competitive.  This will be a provincial government which has learned from two earlier failed attempts, and a federal administration which, like Chretiens, doesnt want or know how to get engaged. 

René Lévesque had always planned to hold his 1980 referendum while Joe Clark, with only 4 seats was in power, but Trudeau the elder came back with majority support in Quebec and trounced him.  One could surmise that Jean Chretiens modest support in the province (about a quarter of the federal seats) contributed to the near loss by the forces of unity in 1995.

Pauline Marois would love to run her referendum while Mr. Harper is in power, given that he has no more political support in the province than Joe Clark did back then.   If she waits until the election she might end up fighting the Quebec-popular NDP; still a federalist party though one promising an easy sovereignty exit with 50-plus-one percent Yes; vote.   The federalist Liberals appear strong in todays polls but winning nationally, and winning in Quebec, is still a crap shoot at this point.  Then there are the Tories, who might just get re-elected but are unlikely to improve their Quebec numbers.

Today, as we watch the Ukraine struggle with nation-building amidst threats of secession from minority regions it behooves us to contemplate how a successful Yesvote on sovereignty would play out back here.   It is true that Quebec is a net recipient of equalization and some other economic benefits for being part of Canada.  However, we should remember that the financially crippled Ukrainian people rejected the huge Russian multimillion dollar bailout, and expect a similar response from Quebec. 

It will be instructive to watch how Scotland votes on its independence referendum this coming June.  The pundits are betting the Scots will vote No, but then this is only their first referendum.

Is this the kiss goodbye from a Quebecers or just a happy Olympian who happens to be from Quebec?   Charle Cournoyer of Canada celebrating his Bronze medal win in the men’s 500 metre short track speed skating event on February 22, 2014 at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Quebecers are a passionate lot, something they clearly demonstrated at Sochi, even under the Canada banner.  The next referendum will not be played out on the pocket books of Quebecers, it will be won by what is in their hearts.  A dis-interested, almost hostile, federal government is exactly what the separatists are hoping for – and that is what they are getting.

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


 Additional information links:

Trudeaus Joke

Reaction     Russian Worries      Apology      Sochi Olympics    Own the Podium  Quebec Athletes

Early Medals    Trudeau Speech in Montreal     Quebec Anglophones   Liberal Premiers

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Premier Wynne needs to put the “fair” part of the minimum wage act into the document – $11. an hour is not fair.

By Pepper Parr

February 27, 2014


Got an email from Yasir Naqvi, an Ontario Liberal party MPP who told me he was proud to stand with Premier Wynne when she announced the government was increasing the minimum wage to $11 an hour on June 1st of this year. 

The government introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act in the Legislature which is apparently going to tie all future increases to inflation because it will create consistency for businesses and Ontario workers.

While the increase is certainly welcome – why is the province being so cheap.  A household hasn’t a chance of getting out of poverty at $11 an hour.  Indexing that amount to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) assures society that those below the poverty line will always be there.

The increase to $11 an hour in June is fine.  Now take it up to $12 in a year, then to $13 a year after that and then to $14 a year after then THEN index the amount to the CPI.

Naqvi assures us that “businesses, labour groups, youth and workers support our legislation because they helped shape it: the Minimum Wage Panel was made up of all these stakeholders. They held province-wide consultations, received over 400 submissions, and brought forward unanimous recommendations that we are acting on.”

I’ve yet to meet anyone earning a minimum wage tell me that they are happy with this increase and the indexing.

MPP Naqvi points out that “the New Democrats ignored the Minimum wage panel and were silent on minimum wage—in the House, the media, and the by-elections. After a year of ducking, it’s too late for the NDP to try and be leaders. They need to do the right thing and support our plan.”

“Between the NDP’s flip-flopping and the PC’s radical ideas, we know the opposition will try to stall, so we need your help to pass this legislation.”

That’s just so much politicking – shame on the Ontario Liberals for doing this on the backs of the poor people.

“The Liberal plan for jobs is practical and it’s realistic” says MPP Naqvi. “Together”, he adds “ we are building a fairer, more prosperous Ontario.

There is no fairness in this act and at $11 an hour there is no prosperity for people earning a minimum wage.

Revise the bill Madame Premier make it really fair and decent.

Pepper Parr is a lifelong Liberal who has voted for every federal Liberal leader as far back as Louis St. Laurent.  He has served as the president of Liberal Party Associations on more than one occasion. He is the publisher of the Burlington Gazette and expect to tell the Premier that her that the “fair”of the minimum wage act just is missing.  She can fix that.

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Might Burlington lead in the transit service it provides its growing seniors population?

By Pepper Parr

February 23, 2014


The process Burlington Transit is going through as they rationalize their routes and look for more efficient ways to serve the needs of those who choose to use transit and those who have no choice got me to thinking longer term.

Stay with me on this.

Students or first time drivers have to go through a graduated license process and don’t get to drive on the 400 series highways the moment they pass their first test.

Will Burlington choose to be a leader in transit for seniors?It will not be too long before rules like that are going to apply to seniors.  I personally find that my eyes don’t work the way they used to in the dark of night and my reflexes aren’t as sharp as they were when I was 25.

I frequently find myself driving behind a senior who gives the word cautious a whole new meaning. There is timidness to older drivers and once there are more of them on the road – and that day is not far off – traffic is going to move slower.

Between older people driving slowly and young people believing they can text and drive, the roads in town will become hazardous places.  But that is not my point.

We will need buses that can carry dozens of people with walkers – because they won’t be driving.

I believe there will come a time when the province will require doctors to report any patient whose responses are such that they perhaps should not drive at night.  Many of you  know of adults who have had to go through the difficult process of telling Dad that he has to give up the keys to the car and not renew his driver’s license.

What do those seniors do then?  Are they to be land locked in their homes – because they aren’t going very far with the service Burlington Transit offers?

It doesn’t require a degree in rocket science to figure out how many seniors we have and where they live – the federal census data will give you that information.  We already know in large numbers how many seniors we have and which postal code they live in.

We know where the libraries are, where the food stores are and where the hospital is.  If we know the ages of the people in this city, and we know where they live and where they will most likely want to go – then we can begin thinking about what kind of transit we are going to need to move these people around.

That is the kind of long term thinking a city council should be doing.  I have watched and listened to council members discuss how many people were on a particular bus route at a specific time – none of their business – that’s what the transit people do. 

Council’s job is to think today and plan for tomorrow on how the city is going to meet the transit needs of all the seniors that we are going to have living in the best medium size city in the country.

Specialized buses will be needed and it will take longer to load passengers.

When the capital budget for the next 10 year is drawn up there should be funds set aside to buy the kinds of busses the seniors will need.  We need to begin putting money into that reserve find now and doing some early education work as well.

Perhaps we will see a Staff Direction to this effect sometime soon?

Will Burlington lead in the transit service it provides its seniors?

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IKEA pull out is an “embarassing disaster”; both tax revenue and reputation will take a hit and in time the company may take a hike.

By Pepper Parr

February 21, 2014


In the old Soviet Union, if you didn’t deliver they took you out and shot you.  The Soviets have cleaned themselves up and the Koreans now do that.  Sweden has always been a kinder softer country – but bet everything you have on someone at IKEA having to refresh their resume over the massive screw up on the decision to look at the North Service Road property as a possible new home for them in Burlington.

Multi-national corporations don’t make mistakes like this.  IKEA has a brand, we now call all the strong brands iconic these days, that they promote heavily.  They wanted that brand visible from a roadway where there is loads of traffic.  Thus the decision to find a property along the QEW.  That part of the decision making process IKEA went through may have been the only part that made sense.

There were problems galore with the site – there were also a lot of problems with the way IKEA said they wanted to situate the buildings and parking on the site.

A portion of our prosperity corridor – IKEA had picked a spot close to Walkers Line.

The Burlington Tourism office will tell you that IKEA was close to the #1 tourist attraction in the city; they drew from a dense and very rich market.  We are the only IKEA operation west of the GTA core.

A five minute drive along the North Service road made it very clear the road would have to be widened to at least four lanes.  We did that back in June of 2012 and reported on that.

A little research would have revealed that the Ontario Ministry of transport wanted more room to expand the width of the QEW and the only width available was to go north – which meant pushing the North Service road back – which would eat into the property IKEA had taken an option on.

The property has a barrier on the north side – a railway line.  Walkers Line was known to be close to its capacity – so there was work to be done there.  Creating a turn from Walkers Line onto the North Service Road – going both east and west was a challenge

Add to all that – the Creek that runs along the eastern side of the property. 

IKEA is taking the public position that the site is not quite what they need – take that position with a grain of salt.  The IKEA spokesperson assured anyone who asked that the decision was strictly based on the site. She added IKEA Canada is doing well financially.

Mayor Rick Goldring

Burlington’s Mayor is “discouraged” but adds that the IKEA application “did identify a need for infrastructure improvements”.  It did much more than that; it showed land that was being very much under-used.  Goldring does see a “silver lining” – the IKEA application showed that the transportation corridor either side of the QEW had to be improved. Did we have to wait for the IKEA application to figure that one out.  The economic development master minds should have known that – and the planners could have at least suggested we pay some attention to that part of town.  McMaster moving to the South Service Road should have been hint enough.

The city has managed to convince itself that IKEA pulling out has given us an opportunity to create a shovel ready site for anyone who wants to move to Burlington.  Has anyone seen the line-up of people wanting to move to Burlington?

In the world of property development – two things matter: location and timing.  Why it took IKEA a couple of years and perhaps as much as $1 million to arrive at the conclusion that the site wasn’t what they needed is a tough one to get ones head around.   IKEA had made a decision to move.  The objective was to have space for the headquarters office.  They also wanted to expand the sales side and offer WHAT.  All those IKEA plans are still relevant.  IKEA’s intention was to WHAT and the city rezoned the property so they could do that.

IKEA lives in a competitive environment – they fight every week for market share.  What they sell in this market works its way all the way back to the head office in Helsingborg, Sweden, where they are now asking a lot of questions.  If some IKEA heads don’t role there are surely bonuses that will be a lot smaller.

IKEA wanted to be bigger and a whole lot better – and that plan isn’t going to change. sooner or later – they will move from this site.

IKEA has a very interesting corporate structure.  At the top is a holding company in Luxembourg, tax reasons for that, with group services in Belgium, Franchise in the Netherlands, retail Centre Division in  Denmark, and Finance in Sweden.  The company appears to work as a series of national franchises – wonder who owns the Canadian franchise?  The whole operation is owned by two parties: 51% Inter IKEA Group and 49% INGKA Group.  Complex!

Burlington is trying to put the best face possible on the disaster – and make no mistake – this is a disaster for Burlington.  Not only is there a major client that is not happy, even though much of the mess is their own fault, there is revenue that is lost to the city and we are now in the unfortunate position of having to pay for all of the changes needed on Walkers Line by ourselves.  IKEA was going to be picking up a lot of that expense.

We have also done ourselves a lot of damage in terms of reputation.  The development community knows we parted ways with the former Executive Director of BEDC.  There aren’t that many job opportunities in that field; there are some good people out there but they don’t want to align their careers with loser communities and right now Burlington isn’t looking all that good.

Heaven’s Hamilton is seen as one of the top ten development growth communities and we all know how dysfunctional that city council is.  Burlington has to figure out quickly what it needs to do and then do it.  The problem is that the only people who can manage this type of problem are up to their arm pits with other tasks that are just as important.  The city manager is a) re-casting his capital budget, b) totally revamping the way services are to be delivered and making people personally accountable –talk about a culture shift; c) reviewing  the work force the city has and aligning it with the human resources we have and are going to need. He doesn’t have the time to resolve this problem and the one person he has that can do the job has his plate more than full as well.  The city manager unfortunately doesn’t have the bench strength he needs to run the place and it is going to take him three years, at a minimum, to re-develop all of the human resource side of the city.

Definition of a silver lining: a metaphor for optimism in the common English-language.Heck BEDC can’t get themselves to the point where they are ready to go to market and find the person they need.  They have to restructure and get that approved at the May AGM.

Thinking that we can wait until the BEDC AGM in May is what a high school student might try.  Is that our level of sophistication?

The Mayor and Councillor Dennison seemed to have found a silver line in all this; if IKEA couldn’t work through the difficulties with the location what makes us think someone else will?  The forthcoming staff report will sum up everything – but that’s about all.  Bet on someone finding a way to thank someone for all the hard work that was done.

There is trouble in paradise.  The silver lining the Mayor is talking about might be a thought to put the new city hall on the site.  The late James Gandolfini  of The Soprano’s fame had a word for ideas like that – “fu-ge-da-boud-it”

There are three IKEA stores in the GTA market, Burlington, Etobicoke, and North York.  There is a store in Vaughan and a store in Ottawa.  There is room to the west of Burlington for an IKEA store and Hamilton’s demographics are becoming a lot more appealing to IKEA.

While IKEA has made a decision to remain in Burlington, that may well be just a place holder.  They wanted bigger and better and they put their money on the table to get that.  The deal couldn’t be closed – someone else, somewhere else might come along with an offer IKEA just can’t refuse – and don’t for as much as a second think that there aren’t people out there right now figuring out how to cook up a deal.

Hamilton took International Harvester right off our plate.  Are we going to see a repeat of that kind of play?

One of the smarter commercial real estate types we talked to said: “this is embarrassing”; it might also turn out to be very expensive.  Add this one to the egg on our face with the pier and we aren’t looking so good right now.

Background links:

North Service road couldn’t handle traffic load.


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Liberals have been as good or as bad as the Tories at balancing budgets: a lot of political spin on this subject. Try working with the facts.

By Ray Rivers

February 18, 2014


 “The single most important thing the government can do to secure Ontario’s prosperity is to eliminate the deficit.”  This statement appears at least three times in the 2013 budget document, as if to leave no uncertainty that Ontario’s ballooning debt is front and center of all policy.  That debt now has risen to match that of the federal government as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) – approaching 40 percent.

John Robarts – one of the best Premiers the province ever had: knew how to balance a budget.

I grew up observing John Robarts, nicknamed ‘the Chairman of the Board’ for his commanding leadership of Ontario.  He presided over unprecedented economic development, with up to 8% growth rates during the 1960’s.  He gave us our single-payer health insurance, modernized the public service, introduced bilingualism and education reform and was known for his balanced budgets.

His successor, Bill Davis, on the other hand, governed the province form 1971 to 1985 but never once balanced a budget.  David Peterson eked out a small surplus in his last year in office and we all know that Bob Rae’s NDP never even came close.  For all his big talk, Mike (the knife) Harris managed only four balanced budgets before quitting politics, leaving his next inevitable deficit for Ernie Eves to announce.  Then Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals registered three balanced budgets in a row during their first eight years in office. 

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

In fact, if we add up the budgetary performance of all governments over the last forty-two years ago, going back to when Bill Davis became Premier, we’d find that the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives delivered exactly the same number of balanced budgets – four a piece.  And, the Tories held power for five more years than the Liberals over that time frame.  Thus, this myth that Conservatives are somehow better at managing the deficit is pure and utter rubbish.  This is also true for the federal political parties.

John Robarts benefited from a truly progressive income tax system where the wealthy paid their fair share, and the middle class prospered.   Mike Harris, by contrast, made huge cuts in income taxes and paid for them by slashing public programs – primarily welfare, health care, education and municipal services.  Given the magnitude of Harris’ austerity program, he should have been able to balance all of his budgets, had he just not cut income taxes as he did.  As the current federal finance minister is fond of saying – there is no free lunch.

Dalton McGuinty balanced some budgets – but budgets weren’t his downfall – the gas plant fiasco did him in.

McGuinty raised taxes modestly on coming to office, introducing the Health (insurance) Premium.  But then he further cut corporate and personal taxes, ironically, at a time when the economy most needed more tax revenue to deal with the consequences of the 2008 global meltdown.  As a result the provincial debt which has nearly doubled since 2004 is now a priority for Premier Wynne.

Bob Rae couldn’t catch a break anywhere and had the misfortune of getting hit by an economy no one was able to manage. The lack of any experience running a government didn’t help.

Balancing a budget requires tough choices, compromise and determination.  Bill Davis had the good fortune to inherit a well-run and funded government, yet failed to keep his expenses in balance over his fourteen year run.  Mike Harris squandered the benefits of his austerity measures and Bob Rae, stuck with Ontario’s worst recession since the nineteen-thirties, couldn’t get a break.   

McGuinty inherited Harris’ tax regime yet still pulled out three surpluses, even as Ontario became a have-not province in the federation.  Unlike Harris, however, he actually expanded the effectiveness of public service.  Health care waiting times fell from being the longest in Canada to the shortest; high school graduation rates jumped from 68% (2003) to 83% (2011) ; school test scores rose to among the highest in the country; and poverty levels dropped.

High public debt limits the ability of a government to respond to circumstances, such as the economic collapses in 1990 or 2008, with the wherewithal to effect a swift recovery.  And paying interest on that debt is money which cannot be used for some other economic purpose.  John Robarts followed the Keynesian economic model, which asserts that debt be paid down in good economic times – but Keynes became a pariah in the eighties.  So today both Ontario and the federal government are running debt levels at over a third of our GDP – levels which are high, if not dangerously high for the eventual rise in interest rates.

Mike Harris balanced some of his budgets – but was known more for the significant damage done to the province’s education system and reducing the wrong taxes for the wrong reasons.

To address this, Ontario could go back to the austerity of the ‘Mike the knife’ days, closing hospitals and laying off nurses; increasing class room sizes and laying off teachers; selling off crown corporations and assets; and deferring essential infrastructure like bridges, highways and public transit.  We recall stories of classroom wars, cardiac patients dying in hospital hallways awaiting critical surgery, and tires flying off trucks on our highways during the good old Harris days.

Alternatively we could just let the debt continue to rise until it becomes difficult and costly to borrow any more, blindly mimicking what we witnessed with the Greek economy last year.  Or, we could go back to paying our way as we go.  We could bring back the kinds of taxation policies which would grow the middle class – the ones which enabled John Robarts to fund Ontario’s high growth in the sixties, without the need to run up deficits and the debt.

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


Background links:

2013 Ontario Budget   John Robarts    Bill Davis     McGuinty and Harris     Education in Ontario

Finance Minister’s Address    Ontario’s Fiscal History    Public Debt    Canadian Public Debt

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Has Canada heard the Finance Minister’s last budget speech? Hopefully yes. Will Ontario survive his cuts? Hopefully yes.

By Ray Rivers

February 14, 2014


If you believe that citizenship is a privilege as well as a right, you might be pleased with the Harper government’s recent initiative making it tougher for immigrants to become Canadians.  Indeed there are no good arguments against longer residency requirements for potential citizens.  And, discouraging ‘citizens of convenience’ is something we would all agree with.  Recall how we had to send a ship to Lebanon to rescue our ‘citizens of convenience’ living there during the last Israeli bombing a few years ago.

Immigration is what has grown this country – will the new rules fix the mistakes that were made?

But Mr. Harper’s plans to strip citizenship from unsavory characters will run into problems with our constitution and possibly our international treaties – not that anyone would object to seeing terrorists deported.  Of particular concern is the plan for citizenship to be placed in the hands of the minister, instead of an independent citizenship judge or panel, as it is now.  Just another bad idea tempting politicians onto the slippery slope of political corruption.

Canada has always been pretty accepting of immigrants, even before we allowed them to buy their way into the country, a practice which we’ve mostly ended.  Other places like New Zealand, which had been the victim of ‘brain drains’ in the 50’s and again the 80‘s welcomes young immigrants who can contribute to its economy.  But don’t even think about retiring there as an immigrant, unless you can ante-up with over a million dollars in cash.

On the other hand, Switzerland, always cautious about how immigration might erode Swiss values, has become even more restrictive, recently voting to shut the door to a potential flood of European Union (EU) applicants.   And then there is the USA which has talked about immigration reform for the last fifteen years while illegal immigration has made a mockery of government policy.  And given the Americans’ perennial legislative gridlock, don’t expect much to change over the next fifteen either. 

Will the aboriginal student population get the services they need to become employable – or are we still in that old Residential School mindset?

Another initiative last week came with the announcement that the government will fund efforts to improve aboriginal education.  It is disgraceful that those students who do complete secondary school on reserves fail to meet provincial education standards and  can’t compete for the better jobs in the labour market.  So this is a very welcome and long overdue initiative – one we would have seen in place almost a decade ago had Jack Layton and Stephen Harper not teamed up to bring down the Martin government and kill the Kelowna Accord.  

The last federal budget form Minister of Finance Flaherty didn’t do anything for Ontario. “We were ripped off” said the Ontario Premier.

Then this week the Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, brought down the federal budget and he might as well have left his old shoes on.  While the budget came close to being balanced, it did so by delaying costly Tory programs and promises until after the next election.  And some of the spending cuts came on the back of government employees.  Salary and pension cuts, while helping bring the budget close to balance, will continue to take its toll on a public service already under performing due to lack of resources, morale and leadership. 

Flaherty also cut his own home province’s equalization payment by over $600 million, in an unprecedented action.  This is just old fashioned meddling in provincial politics, helping his old friend Hudak.  Holding back money due the province, this former MPP is trying to further damage the Liberal government at Queens Park, in advance of a provincial election expected this spring. 

Ontario’s Minister of Finance claims the province was ripped off and short changed by $600 million by the federal government.

Premier Wynne held a media conference the next day to complain about the 110 actions the Tories have undertaken to hurt Ontario since they came to power in 2006.  Flaherty arrogantly re-announced the Canada Job Grant, which the feds had generously advertised last year regardless that the program didn’t even exist.  And since it was supposed to involve the provinces, Ontario wasn’t alone complaining about the absence of any consultation. 

This is Mr. Flaherty’s ninth budget and his tamest, given those omnibus bills which have done serious damage to Canada’s environmental assessment process and emasculated its fisheries act.  This is probably his last budget as well.  Perhaps that is why it is so uninspiring, much like its author, the real Flaherty.  I think back to his economic statement in 2008, which nearly brought down the Harper government.

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

Background Links:

New Citizenship Rules   Current Immigration Rules   Citizenship Stripping   New Zealand    Aboriginal Education

Aboriginal Education Crisis   Kelowna Accord


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