Provincial Premiers meet as a “Council of the Federation”; some modest accomplishments.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  August 1st, 2013.  The Council of the Federation, created in 2003, is a venue for the 13 provincial and territorial jurisdictions in Canada – to discus and resolve on federal-provincial and other inter-jurisdictional matters.  Last week Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn hosted the regular summer get-together at Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

 There were some modest accomplishments.  The Premiers unanimously called on the federal government to conduct an inquiry into the mysteriously missing and/or dead aboriginal women (over 500), following up on a similar request from the National Aboriginal Organization.  And for some reason, the premiers’ call was immediately rejected by the federal government.  

 Progress was made on energy issues, as all but two leaders signed onto an evolving national energy strategy led by Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford.  Only B.C., concerned about the proposed Northern Gateway project and Quebec, in the process of suing Nfld over the Muskrat Falls power project stayed away from signing. 

 Overwhelming consensus came as the leaders jointly condemned the proposed ‘Canada Jobs Grant.    I have been critical of the federal government in the past, and it is because they keep doing things like this.   Education and training is primarily provincial jurisdiction, so the fed’s role has traditionally been to top-up provincial programs, acknowledging that local needs are best met by provincial programs.  Quebec, in particular, is very sensitive to the feds interfering.

 Regardless, the feds talked with some private sector organizations and then created, what the provinces call, an unworkable ‘one-size-fits-all’ program.  And talk about wasting our money, the federal government spent $95,000 per ad for all those ads you had to sit through during the playoffs this year, announcing a program that doesn’t exist, is still a concept and may never see the light of day.    And, insult-to-injury, they hadn’t even bothered to consult with the provinces, who are expected to pay for a third of the program.  Oh, and the reason for that is because they plan to slash their training contributions to the provinces.

 The Council of the Federation’s first big success was in negotiating with Paul Martin to get the Canada Health Accord.  Martin had earlier slashed federal payments to provinces, in order to slay the Mulroney-era deficits and the Council needed something more sustainable. And they got  the 2004 Canada Health Accord, with guaranteed increases in federal funding until 2014. 

 That was then and this is now.  In total contrast, last year, the ruling Conservatives tabled their plan for health care funding for the decade post 2014.  There was no negotiation, just an offer, fait accomplis   take it or else…  The Council of Canadians lobby on social issues, particularly health, and had arrived en-mass to rally the Council to press on for a better deal.  But the feds weren’t open to discussion – the door was closed.  

The premiers also discussed the Senate. There are so many inherent problems with the Senate but reform to a triple-E body, as the PM has asked the Supreme Court to consider, would not make it any better.  Would an elected senator best represent the interests of his/her province – better than the provincial government?  What if they were at odds?  Is this a recipe for a constitutional crisis, pitting one level of government (fed senate) against a provincial government from which the senator was elected?   There is already confusion over the sometimes competing roles of the Commons and appointed Senate – imagine if senators were also elected? 

It was a missed opportunity for a provincial/territorial ask.  Abolish the Senate, don’t reform it.  And give due recognition to the Council of the Federation as a consultative body when developing public policy.  What could be more vital to this nation’s future than inter-jurisdictional cooperation and what better body to do that than the Council?  Imagine if they met more often.   I mean even separatist Pauline Marois was happy to participate, discuss and resolve with her fellow Premiers. 

 How much government do we really need anyway, and does more government mean better government?  If I put that question to Steven Harper, I think we’d all know his answer.   So, why not do it – why not make government smaller?  Put the $100 million we would save by abolishing the Senate into provincial health care programs instead. 

 The Council of the Federation exists.  It offers vital political tension for the confederation.  And it could be a useful political ally to a federal government that wants to represent all of Canada and wants to make Canada work better.  Indeed the Council would be a better chamber for that ‘sober second thought’ than the dusty, corrupt, old Senate ever has been.

Ray Rivers was born in Ontario; earned an economics degree at the University of Western Ontario.  He taught in New Zealand and earned a Master’s degree in economics at the University of Ottawa.  His 25 year stint with the federal government included time with Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Agriculture and the Post office. Rivers left the federal government to consult for private sector and government clients.  He completed his first historical novel The End of September in 2012; a story about what might have happened had Quebecers voted for sovereignty association in the 1980 referendum.  Rivers is active with ratepayers groups, a food bank, environmental organizations, community journalism and policing.  He has run for municipal and provincial government offices and  held executive positions with Liberal Party  riding associations.  He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party


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Honest open dialogue is the bedrock of a civilized community.



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 28, 2013.  Comments are an integral part of a newspaper on a website.   The ability for anyone to write their opinion right alongside a news item they like or dislike and have that comment stay with the story is a tool that makes public discourse that much more robust.

However, there are some rules.  You do not HAVE to tell the public who you are.  You can use a “pen” name” but why you would not have the courage of your convictions and be prepared to tell people who you are is beyond me.

Passionate it was – it was also honest and open dialogue about a major city issue.

When a comment comes to us we have to approve each and every one.  We test the email address the comment was sent to us from; a significant number fail.  People make up an email address and send their message knowing that we can never get back to them.

We do capture their IP (Internet Protocol) address and in the hands of an authority the sender of the message can be traced.

At the Gazette we want to see honest, committed, passionate dialogue between people whose views may differ.  We want to see new ideas and viewpoints that would not get expression in traditional media.

We have no problem with a tight, tart comment – call them “zingers” if you wish; they add colour to the public debate.  We do however have a responsibility to ensure that the dialogue is fair and honest.

We test the email address a comment comes from; if the address proves to be invalid the comment does not get posted.

On occasion we have posted a comment from an email address that was not valid and added an editorial note advising that we could not verify the sender but felt the comment was worth making part of the public discourse.

Citizens gather for budget discussions. This meeting involved a number of city firemen who were attentively listened to by Councillor Craven, on the right in the blue shirt.

We have had comments from members of the clergy, the legal profession and senior staff members at various levels of government, who, because of the jobs are not authorized to comment. We will publish their comments if we feel they are a legitimate part of the debate.

We have regular contributors to the comments section, many who make very legitimate comment and several who are very good at catching our mistakes – all are valued and welcome.

Those who want to make a comment they know not to be true; those who want to disrupt and deliberately hurt a private citizen – they are not welcome.

Those who want to be able to hold civil servants and elected officials to account – let us hear from you frequently.


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Lac-Megantic disaster, a change in regulations that should never have been allowed to happen. Who is asking the questions?



By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 15, 2013.   It was a perfect storm.  No, I’m not talking about the spectacular rain events that knocked out the great cities of Calgary and Toronto.  I am talking about what hit the poor people of the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic.   We can’t blame global climate change for this disaster – the responsibility lies a lot closer to home.

Rail World Inc. is one of those ‘take-over’ holding companies run by a modern-day tycoon, CEO Edward Burkhard.  This rail road entrepreneur also specializes in buying up and privatizing public railroads from ideologically driven governments; running them into the ground, then selling back again for a profit.  I’ve personally ridden on the rail systems where Burkhardt’s hands were busy, ruining rail transport in the UK and New Zealand.  The formula is simple – sell snake oil, cut the bottom line, and keep cutting until the system is so bad that public outcry forces the governments to buy the rails back.

Federal regulation let this accident happen.

So one of his companies, in this case the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic, used the cheapest rail cars – single hulled and easily punctured – for flammable light crude (Bakken oil).  The locomotives, hauling the cars, were so poorly maintained they regularly had engine fires, including on the night of this tragedy   Then, the company figured it could save a few more dollars by reducing its operators to one.  There would be no backup operator to take over the controls as the train ran from North Dakota to New Brunswick. 

 So there was nobody at the controls when/if the engineer went to the can, made a bite of lunch, caught a nap, or maybe had a personal incident, like a heart attack?  And how could one person have properly set the handbrakes for an overnight stop when the procedure normally required two operators?   In the evening the engineer had to leave the train for a good night’s sleep, unlocked, unattended and with the engine running so the air brakes would hold the train.

 Lac-Mégantic, with less than six thousand residents, is a part of the glue that brought Canada together into Confederation – ‘a mari usque ad mare’.   The town was built as a key juncture linking the Atlantic provinces and the rest of the country by steel rail.   So it was such sad irony that the Canadian government was complicit, negligent and ultimately responsible for nearly destroying Lac-Mégantic so many years later.  An environmental disaster, a burned-out downtown and as many as 50 people dead.  How long will it be before separatist-minded Quebecers demand the federal government relinquish jurisdiction over rail safety to the Province?

 One of the most basic roles of government is to ensure public safety.  It does this through regulation.  Yet the tanker cars, called DOT111, have long been determined unsuitable for hazardous liquids – and what is flammable oil if not hazardous.   The risk of an accident has risen sharply since far more oil than ever is being shipped by rail.   Unsafe tank cars and lots more of them…. duh?  Finally, the federal regulator, in an unusual and thoughtless move, provided approval and authority for the company to run the train with only a single operator and no back-up personnel.

 This was the worst rail accident in Canadian history and the worst disaster Quebec has ever seen.  It was a perfect storm, an accident waiting to happen, and yet also perfectly avoidable.  But isn’t that what happens when a federal government has taken its eyes off the ball – when it is more concerned about just moving cheap oil than about public safety?  

Editors note: Since penning this piece the following has taken place:

Transportation safety officials have told Ottawa to rewrite train safety rules in the wake of the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic, Que., suggesting that Canada’s current regulations are too vague and open to interpretation by railway workers that can lead to disaster.

In a pair of letters sent to Transport Canada, the federal body that oversees the rail industry, the Transportation Safety Board said more detailed rules must be created to govern the number of brakes that must be set when parking freight trains, and whether those trains can be left unattended when carrying dangerous cargo.

Ray Rivers was born and raised in Ontario and earned a degree in economics at the University of Ontario.  He taught at a university in New Zealand for a period of time and then earned a Master’s degree in economics at the University of Ottawa.  His 25 year stint with the federal government included time with Environment, Fisheries and Oceans, Agriculture and the Post office. After leaving the federal government he consulted for private sector and government clients.  Rivers completed his first historical novel The End of September in 2012.  This story about what might have happened had Quebecers voted for sovereignty association in that first referendum in 1980 is set in Ottawa and Montreal.

He has been active in his community including ratepayers groups, a food bank, environmental organizations, community journalism, policing and community associations and service clubs, churches, boy scouts, and community theatre.  He has been active politically, running for municipal and provincial government offices as well as heading executive positions with the Liberal Party and riding associations.  He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.

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The Shuffling the Deck that everyone else called a Cabinet could just as well have been called a stacking of the deck.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 18, 2013.  It’s was a good day for the Ottawa printing houses.  They were busy churning out new letterheads, business cards and other stationery.  The shredder trucks would have been seen, parked outside government offices so that each outgoing minister’s staff could destroy any incriminating evidence of their boss’s tenure, along with all that old letterhead.  And of course this was a field day for the pundits looking for a deeper meaning in it all.

Prime Ministers have always kept a fairly tight rein over their cabinet ministers for good reason. There is a danger that liberated, free-wheeling cabinet members might easily go off-message, do their own thing or even go rogue and contradict the PM. 

Does the public think that the Ministers have all the good ideas?  In normal times much government policy originates with the public service.  The minister is not irrelevant in this process, just not as significant as we’d expect from the title and ceremony.

During my time at Environment Canada, I had the privilege of drafting briefing material and speeches for my minister, Jean Charest.  He would personalize a speech but always stuck to the script I’d prepared.  A Minister’s speech is automatically policy, so I always made sure neither my Minister nor the PM would be blind-sided.  Brian Mulroney had adopted Pierre Trudeau’s practice of leaning on Cabinet committees and using the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office to co-ordinate policy – so everyone was kept in the loop and the policy was mainly what the PM wanted.  After all, the PM chooses his ministers.

Stephen Harper has taken control to new heights, even managing various ministries’ press releases and speeches.  So shuffle or no shuffle – it amounts to not much more than a hill of beans.  Policy will change only when the PM wants it to change. 

Sometimes a PM will bring in a new minister as a way of signaling changes, but make no mistake, it is still the PM making the policy.  I am not criticizing the PM for his focus on control – I think he is doing what he needs to do in our system of government, managing to ensure a consistent message and tone.

This Cabinet shuffle by the majority Conservative government saw eight new people added to the Cabinet, a few dropped, but the old guard is still firmly in place doing their old jobs at the key posts.  Flaherty will continue to articulate economic policy from his boss, Harper the economist.  Baird will continue with his party’s unbalanced foreign policy and Joe Oliver will keep on pushing the tar sands.  Expect the same old from the same old.

Given my passion for the environment, I was really pleased to see Peter Kent gone.  A good journalist in his day, he looked uncomfortable and almost pathetic as the ‘yes-man’ for Harper’s non-environment policy. 

The PM claims he is making a ‘generational change’ with this Cabinet, lowering the average age a full 4 years from 55 to 51.  That’s a generational change?  And, there are now more female cabinet ministers, which can’t be a bad thing for a party well-known for its boys in blue suits. 

It is customary for a government to shuffle a cabinet at the mid-point of its term, and Harper has certainly done that.  Just don’t expect this to mean anything will change in the way Stephen Harper runs the country. 

The only upside I see in the shuffle is that the Ottawa printing industry had a couple of good days.

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a Liberal 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 is also currently the VP policy for the Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale Federal Liberal Electoral District


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This was something to quibble over Mr. Wallace; and you should have known that, instead you spouted the party line.



BY Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 18, 2013.  Our MP, Mile Wallace, was in an environment that suits his personality. Flipping burgers and talking to people for Mike Wallace is a very good one-on-one politician.  He listens, he usually has a smile for you and his sense of humour prevails.

So there he was on the lakeside lawn of the Waterfront Hotel, flipping burgers and doing his political thing.  Later in the day they let him have a microphone to answer questions from his audience – it was a sold out crowd.

There is usually a smile on Mike Wallace’s face. He enjoys life and has a good time. This summer it is his intention to run in a marathon in every province.

During the Q&A Wallace expressed some dissatisfaction with the fact that the current government was not being lauded for the great job that was being done and that instead people were quibbling about minor issues. When asked to comment on what these issues were, he felt that a disproportionate amount of time was being spent on the Senator Duffy matter and not enough time on the big issues both within Canada and internationally.

When I was going over the copy from a correspondent who covered the event for us I had to call and be sure that those words came from Wallace for I was stunned.  He did not appear to have any sense as to the gravity of the Duffy matter that had the Prime Minister’s Chief of staff writing a personal cheque to Senator Duffy so that he could repay expenses he claimed and was not entitled to.

Prior to the public learning where the money came from Mike Duffy was on television telling audiences that he and his wife had decided to do the right thing.

Bruce Anderson, a highly;y regarded political analyst said on a CBC program that “issue is far from over, even if it’s not as prominent right now as the shuffle and even if people aren’t paying as much attention to it right now because it’s summertime. I think that the documents that emerged make it even more difficult to believe that the Prime Minister knew nothing about this, make it easier to come to the conclusion that he seems to have something that he wants to hide. It looks as though they are hanging Nigel Wright (Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff) out to dry, that he’s the only person who dreamt this idea up, the only person who ever really knew about it, the only person who didn’t understand that it was wrong, which doesn’t really square with the fact that there were a few days where people called him honourable for doing this and said that he was going to stay and he had the full confidence of the Prime Minister. So I think the police investigation and the opposition research that’s going on mean that this issue is going to come back with a vengeance in the fall.”

Peter Mansbridge, CBC’s senior television anchor then asked Andrew Coyne, columnist with the National Post what he thought. The payment of $90,000 dollars to a sitting legislator, for whatever purpose,” said Coyne, “ would appear on the face of it to run you at least into jeopardy of several different illegal acts. We know, if these statements made by his lawyers are true, we know that at least three people in the Prime Minister’s Office, plus Irving Gerstein, the head of the fundraising arm, (for the Conservative Party) knew about these potentially illegal acts and apparently did nothing or, certainly in the Prime Minister’s story, didn’t tell the Prime Minister of this. That’s extraordinary. Even if he didn’t know about it, and that’s certainly still possible, but it suggests nevertheless that a tone and an expectation and a set of values were established in the Prime Minister’s Office where you just kind of look the other way at this kind of thing. That’s deeply troubling.”

Mike Wallace, Burlington MP, takes a closer look at art work at the Burlington Art centre.

But for Mike Wallace on a lovely sunny weekday afternoon this was  “quibbling about minor issues” when what he wanted people to do was  laud the government “for the great job that was being done”.

There are people in Burlington who understand the gravity of what was done when Senator Duffy was given $90,000 and perhaps at some point one of those people will stand up and speak some sense to the MP. In the fullness of time and when the RCMP completes their criminal investigation, the public will learn the truth.  Will it make any difference in Burlington?

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The Air Park is an “unlicensed dump that needs to be shut down now” claims Warren.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 16, 2013.  To say the report was damaging would be putting  it mildly.  It was the disaster too many people thought was probable and now they had the evidence of some of the sloppiest record keeping  on just what was in the landfill dumped on air park property during the past five years.

Vanessa Warren, the founder of the Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition who summed it up with some very tough language.

“The Burlington Airpark has lost their right-to-operate.  Every time I have delegated to council, the RBGC (Rural Burlington Greenbelt Coalition) has asked that the Airpark fill site be immediately shut down – now. WHAT What else is in the ground, and where? How safe is our drinking water?  How and when will you and the appropriate provincial bodies close the site, test the soils and groundwater’s, and re mediate the damage?  How will we re-claim the green in our greenbelt?”

“We can’t talk about expansion, we can’t talk about economic benefits, we can’t talk about Cessna’s or jets – all we can talk about now is that the airpark is a dump in the middle of our protected countryside, and now, its everyone’s problem.I have also repeatedly asked “when does an airpark become a dump” – and now we know the answer: according to Terrapex, the consulting firm hired by the city, the airpark is “an unlicensed waste disposal site” – it doesn’t get much more succinct than that.”

Warren knew that “It’s about to be summer break, and this afternoon the tail gates were still banging at the airpark.  The neighbours inform me that they understand Mr. Rossi is now selling tickets at $85.00 a truckload, and there are concerns he is accepting flood waste sludge from the City of Toronto.

“We are extremely concerned for the neighbours of this Airpark; Rossi, and King Paving and Aecon have dumped contaminated waste on our Greenbelt protected countryside, and potentially contaminated our prime agricultural soils, our streams, our groundwater, and our drinking water wells.”

“What else is in the ground, and where? How safe is our drinking water?  How and when will you and the appropriate provincial bodies close the site, test the soils and groundwater’s, and re mediate the damage?  How will we re-claim the green in our greenbelt?”

“We can’t talk about expansion, we can’t talk about economic benefits, we can’t talk about Cessna’s or jets – all we can talk about now is that the airpark is a dump in the middle of our protected countryside, and now, its everyone’s problem.

“The Burlington Airpark has lost their right-to-operate.  Warren thanked the city and added that,” regardless of how damming and horrifying this report is, the City, and its wonderful staff, deserve a huge amount of credit for the way in which it has aggressively faced the airpark issue since our very first meeting in May.  This is a devastating report, and it is what we all feared, but it is so much better out in the light of day than buried under hundreds of cubic metres of waste. 

“This toxic waste disposal site and adjoining lands and streams must be decontaminated.  Neighbouring wells must be immediately tested. The damages done to the environment, the lands, the waters, the neighbours must be corrected, and properly and fairly compensated.”

Warren thanked the city for the work it has done to date, now, she said your job is to keep communicating.

During a presentation to city council Scott Stewart laid out the agenda.  He meets Today or on Wednesday  with Ontario Ministry of the Environment staff to hear their comments on a report they were given Friday of last week.  Stewart and the legal counsel the city has hired meet with the Air Park people on Thursday.

The air park, now defined as a dump in a report given to the city last week, will either be closed by the end of the week or the city will be in front of a judge asking that it be shut down.

Somehow however one wonders if it is going to be that easy.

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Ray Rivers’ take on the upcoming provincial election

By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 12, 2013.  Five by-elections on August 1st.  Tim Hudak is betting on Mr. steady-as-he-goes, Doug Holyday, to plant the PC flag in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.  Very early polls had shown Liberal candidate Peter Milczyn with a healthy margin, but that was prior to Holyday entering the race. 

 Five by-elections is a very gutsy roll of the dice for the new Premier Wynn.  It’s mid-summer and PC supporters will be out there, as they always are, but a lot of the other voters won’t.  Also, sitting governments are usually strategically disadvantaged when it comes to by-elections, since voters use these occasions to vent.   And, Kathleen’s government is still reeling from the gas plant cancellations ordered by her predecessor.  Nothing upsets an electorate more than thinking their government wastes their money for political expediency.    

 Dalton McGuinty’s boldest moves were in the environment.  Ending Oak Ridges Moraine development, banning toxic lawn chemicals, creating a Green Belt for southern Ontario and phasing out dirty coal plants were highlights.  The plan was to replace coal with wind and solar energy, backed-up by natural gas.  Ontario would lead the country in developing renewable energy technology and creating green jobs.  And the plan was in place, working and gaining momentum.  Thousands of new jobs have been created and wind now produces as much electricity as coal. Then, in the face of a ‘not-in-my-backyard’ revolt in the last election, McGuinty broke with his energy plans and cancelled the half-built gas plants.

 So energy will be a topic in these by-elections.  Premier Wynn is slowing and moderating the energy program, but staying the course.   And, she is generally supported by the NDP’s Horwath, promoting an even greater shift to renewable energy and conservation.  But the PC’s Hudak doesn’t agree. 

 He would turn back the clock, fire up the coal plants with new vigour and wipe green power from the face of the province.  And, Hudak is pretending that he can cancel the iron-clad renewable energy contracts, already in place.  He’d have as much luck as McGuinty had, trying to cancel Harris’ 407 give away to that Spanish consortium.

 In any case the renewable contracts amount to a tiny fraction of our energy costs – far less than the debt on the aging nuclear plants we pay for with each hydro bill.  Plus, the Liberals have had to make up for the years of Harris’ neglect of our energy system.   So it is little wonder that energy costs, like gasoline prices, are rising and will do so under any political party.

 Hudak’s energy policy is false, half-baked and out-of-step with energy policies everywhere – pure wishful ignorance.  Don’t believe me?  See what the other media say.  Going back is not really moving forward, especially when your only plan is burning coal again. That is not being a conservative, it’s being a contrarian.  Still, not every voter pays attention to the policies of the party they end up voting for, and the PCs may win one or more of these by-elections.

Doug Holyday is a true conservative cut in the moderate mold of conservatives of his generation, as opposed to those on the extreme right, like Mr. Hudak.   And former Etobicoke mayor Holyday may well be one of them.  He is so well-known and liked that he didn’t even need to campaign in the last municipal election.  And voter recognition is a big part of getting elected to anything.  Some might call him on his hypocrisy, leapfrogging to a higher level of government after having so harshly condemned others (Olivia Chow), but that won’t deter those voters who keep electing him.

 Doug Holyday is a true conservative cut in the moderate mold of conservatives of his generation, as opposed to those on the extreme right, like Mr. Hudak.  So, in some ways he could be a moderating voice, to keep Hudak from acting like he is leading the Tea Party.   Some would admire Holyday for his blind loyalty to the mayor, as his deputy, through all the troubling days and childish antics of Rob Ford.  But if I lived in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, I’d want to know why. 

 Why did Holyday never challenge Mayor Ford on his conflict of interest – on the crack-cocaine video, and all those other issues he must have disagreed with?  And what does that tell us about him and what he would do at Queens Park?  Is he ethical but just afraid to speak up?   Will he be his own man, represent the best interests of his constituents, or will he go-with-the-flow like the other desk thumping seals?  And will he challenge Tim Hudak on energy, so his party can come to a sensible policy?

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


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James Smith has a viewpoint on the private tree bylaw – he rants.

By James Smith.

BURLINGTON, ON. July 8, 2013. 

James Smith usually goes on about transit or waxes eloquently about the Freeman Station which he is in the process of saving.  Over the weekend he apparently stumbled across a city staff report about trees and – well he kind of lost it.

Guelph has one.

So does Oakville. 

Toronto? Check.

Burlington? Nope.

 I could be speaking about any number of things like reliable, well-funded Transit but in this case it looks like we won’t be getting a Private Tree Bylaw either if one reads the Private Tree By Law feasibility study about to go to council. Burlington it seems is keeping to its long and proud tradition as depicted on our Coat of Arms 

This tree canopy on Belvinia in the Roseland community is a large part of what the older part of the city is all about. Beautifully shaded streets with trees that add value to every house on the street.  Most of these trees are on city owned property.

 To be fair, council has started, if it’s not too much of a bother, the process of maybe, possibly, sometime looking at a private Tree bylaw. Rather than ask staff to craft a tree by-law Council asked for a feasibility study, and in May they told City Staff “no recommendations”, instead we get “options”.   The report spills a lot of ink on background, you know, like why trees are important, applicable statues, methodology, numbers of trees cut down every year by Arborists, (about 1,800) and the results of surveys and consultation. Oh, we’ve been consulted, we’ve been telephoned and online surveyed, research firms hired, and public meetings held. City staff tell us they have 71,571 “Touch Points” (- frankly I don’t like the sound of that term at all). 71,571 sounds like a big number until you read that 68,000 of these “Touch Points” come from  the City’s version of Pravda- AKA- City Talk- the thing that only wonks like me, & high school civics students (reluctantly) read. 

 City staff tell us they have 71,571 \"Touch Points\" Did I mention consultants? Burlington LOVES her consultants, Forum Research provided 31 pages of survey data that supports the community’s view that Trees are important!!  Fifty Nine percent suggested more needs to be done to protect trees. A one page spread sheet and four paragraphs are included in City Staff’s portion of this feasibility study that superficially addresses what other  cities do and do not do to protect trees on private property. What towns  have them, number of times amended, number of annual infractions, fines,  staff required,  number of permits issued and fees, exemptions and a one word answer if the by law is effective.

Did I say we had meetings? Burlington city hall loves its meetings almost as much as it loves its consultants. Burlington carries on its proud tradition of meetings.  Talking and meetings,  give the impression that work is actually being done. One may point to all the meeting minutes, and reports and addenda produced from which a report is dutifully presented. It all looks like an issue is being tackled, decisions being formulated, and our staff resources put to good use. 


 Here are City Staff’s Options:

Decide against implementing a Private Tree Bylaw

Direct Staff to Draft a Private Tree Bylaw

Increase Public Education and Awareness

Enhance public Participation and Involvement

Identify Partnerships with the community to Enhance Tree Planting Programs.

Delegate Responsibility for the protection of woodlots between 0.5 ha and 1.0 ha to Halton Region.

 Wow,  what did this cost in staff time and consultants? Furthermore, staff recommends all of these options, with the notable exception of actually crafting a tree by-law. Really. Burllingtonians, 59% of us want more tree protection, but City staff who were specifically asked not to included recommendations, opine that they don’t support a Private Tree By-Law! Out of whole cloth and with little or no back-up this statement heading appears: ” Support for a bylaw regulating trees on private property is low”  In my book 59% is still pretty good, given that Don’t Support, and Don’t Know/Don’t Care are about equal.

Every tree on this street is on private property. Every property owner has the rigght to cut down the tree on their property. If one comes down – so what? If five come down will those five people have lessened the value of the properties on the street? If they all come down – would anyone want to buy property on this street. That’s what a Private Tree Bylaw is about.

 So where does this statement come from? Could it be the many members of vested interests who made their way into the public meeting on the subject? Could it be the way the on-line questions were asked to give a desired result? One example: The on-line survey did not ask WOULD YOU SUPPORT A PRIVATE TREE BY-LAW  but rather cunningly asked: “If the city of Burlington was considering a household tax increase to preserve and protect the urban forest, for which of the following initiatives would you like to see the funds allocated?” and seven choices were presented. Funnily enough, 47% replied they will not support a tax increase for any reason. I wonder how these folks feel about the $300,000 for taking the memorial out of Joe Brant?

 Burlington City council once again is set to live up to their tradition by abandoning anything close to a vision of what kind of city we should build.Lets look at this a little more critically, the city of Oakville have staff of exactly one person to run the tree by-law, Guelph has 4.  if part of the reason staff have drawn the conclusions they have is a result of little support for taxes increased  to be spent on one position,  can we not find the money in existing programmes? What about permits and fines? Surely this can be a self funding office,! I would argue it could generate a surplus to fund some of the other wacky stuff city staff actually want  to do. My conclusion is, for some reason, city staff don’t want the headache of an office that actually does stuff, but would rather play with Adobe Suite making marketing plans that the people of this town really don’t give a squirrel’s tail about. Otherwise why would they have devised a process designed to produce these results?  Make no mistake, one just has to make it through the report and read how the on-line questions have been asked, to come to the same conclusion. It is either that or one must ask if city staff is up to the task.

 After who knows how many staff hours, and work by well paid consultants,  Burlington City council once again is set to live up to their tradition by abandoning anything close to a vision of what kind of city we should build. Heck, we can’t even follow good examples from other cities in the GTHA. Meanwhile mature trees are set to be cut down trees on Ghent Avenue, and through out the city. 

 Oh, and Burlington’s Coat of Arms? Why by now you should know that our Motto below the Shield reads:  STAND BY

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Oil sands, carbon emmissions, global warming, floods, Alberta – ya think?

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON. July 6, 2013.   We are all Albertans in this time of their crisis.   Some called it a thousand-year flood but  it’s enough to say it was unprecedented.  And if you are looking for the blame game, there is lots to go around – building houses in a flood plain, failure to implement a flood management plan, timely reaction to weird weather and, of course, global climate change.  Researchers  with the US Department of Agriculture, half a decade ago, predicted the onset of extreme rainfall events for prairie grasslands.  Isn’t that exactly what we just witnessed in Alberta?  

 By now you’d think that every informed person would understand the relationship between greenhouse gases (GHG) and climate change.  According to Canada’s latest emissions inventory  Alberta generates over a third of the country’s emissions, up by a half since 1990, and far more than any other province.  As an aside, Ontario’s emissions have fallen over that period thanks, in part, to Dalton McGuinty’s energy plan.

 Canada accounts for only a small percentage of global GHG emissions, though we are among the biggest culprits given our population.  Once upon a time Canada supported the Kyoto protocol, the international treaty on emission reductions. We had committed to reduce our emissions by 6% but were failing miserably.  When our emissions sky-rocketed by 19% Mr. Harper finally pulled the plug.  Why make promises you have no intention of keeping?

 Most of Canada’s GHG emissions come from fossil fuels and the second largest source is oil and gas production, which is spiraling upwards as Alberta develops its tar sands.  According to James Hansen, one of the most credible climate change scientists on the planet, there is twice as much carbon in the tar sands as in conventional oil.  It’s like burning a second barrel of oil just to get the first one.

 The tar sands reserves are huge, but remote and thus barely developed, since the bitumen needs to get to a market.  Building the Keystone XL pipeline to refineries in Texas would solve that problem and add a million barrels of production a day.  So, Hansen is a fierce critic of the pipeline.  He believes that the building the pipeline would be “game over” for the environment and has urged US President Obama not to approve it for that reason.  Obama has expressed his concerns about climate change but the betting is split on whether he’ll approve it or not.

 The PM, like me, was trained as an economist.  However, I suspect he missed the lecture on externalities – the law of unintended consequences, a concept that goes back to Adam Smith.  The toxic slag heaps, the poisoned and dying wildlife, and the warming of the planet are all unintended consequences of developing the tar sands.  The profits from the tar sands go to the oil companies but the unintended consequences fall on the rest of us.

 Mr. Harper has spent over a billion new dollars on the military since he came to office, yet on this topic, he turns a deaf ear and a blind eye.  Back in 2010 he was warned by senior officers  that “Climate change has the potential to be a global threat of unparalleled magnitude and requires early, aggressive action in order to overcome its effects.” But Stephen Harper has been a climate change denier and out of touch with this reality.  And in a vulnerable northern nation, like Canada, that is scary.

 Climate change is global,  The consequences could happen anywhere but the stars aligned to make it Alberta this summer.  Albertans are like most other Canadians and care about the risks we take with the environment and the legacy we leave our children.  But Mr. Harper is a transplanted Albertan, maybe that accounts for his attitude, beliefs and prejudices.  So don’t expect the PM to move proactively on an environmental issue he doesn’t believe in.  Rather, Canada will have to wait for the US – for Mr. Obama’s decision on the Keystone pipeline – before it get’s worse.

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

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Should marijuana be made legal? One man’s opinion.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 2, 2013  Canada was the first nation in the world to ban cannabis, back in 1923, driven to action by a transplanted Alberta magistrate, eugenicist and racist, pen-named ‘Janey Canuck’.   A prolific Maclean’s Magazine columnist whose book, ‘The Black Candle’, warned about the dangers of “Chinese opium peddlers” and “Negro drug dealers;” she convinced legislators to adopt prohibition without a word of public debate.

 So it was fitting that Maclean’s, in a recent issue on cannabis, reviewed the facts, acknowledged the error of its ways, and is now calling for legalization.  The facts can be summarized as follows:

 1.  Safety.  Well nothing is perfectly safe, but puffing ‘weed’ is safer than drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or adding salt to your steak. It is not addictive, doesn’t ‘gateway’ to other drugs, and smoking doesn’t cause cancer – in fact, may protect against it.

 2.  Wasting resources.  I thought this would appeal to fiscal conservatives, but alas!  Enforcement is costly, so is imprisonment and so are the courts.  People behind bars aren’t contributing to the economy, they are draining it.

3.  Protecting Children. Despite prohibition, more Canadian children have tried ‘grass’ than anywhere else in the west, including decriminalized Spain.

4.  Eroding societal values.  If the law is an ass, people will ignore it and hate the cops.  Legalization would kill black-markets and gangsters faster than a speeding bullet.  And aren’t prisons just training academies for inmates wanting to become better criminals?

 5.  Provincial budgets.  The LCBO gives1.2 billion dollars a year to the provincial government, in addition to the 13% HST and 10% licensing fee.  Why wouldn’t we want to regulate the production and sales of recreational cannabis and use the revenues to pay for public services?

 ‘The Black Candle’ was wrong, but it is never too late to do the right thing.  Back in the early 1970‘s The Royal Commission on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (LeDain Report) called for de-criminalization of cannabis.  In 2002 a Senate committee reported that “… drug legislation was largely based on a moral panic, racist sentiment…” and also called for legalization.  Chretien and Martin started drifting towards de-criminalization but then Stephen Harper, another transplanted Albertan, like Ms. Canuck, came along to reverse progress.  Drug enforcement is back big time.  Today growing six hemp plants will get you an automatic 6 months in the big-house.

 Richard Nixon’s war on drugs in the US was an absolute failure.  Jails are half-filled with drug inmates, drug crime is at an all-time high and drug use in America has never been higher.  In light of this, many states have taken action to start decriminalizing drugs.  Washington and Colorado, are legalizing, developing infrastructure and rules for cultivation and marketing.  The US feds, like their Canadian counter parts, have ultimate jurisdiction, but they’re not interfering.  Is that because their last three presidents were self-proclaimed potheads?

 Stephen Harper claims to never have smoked ‘pot’.  So his head should be clear – right?  Not at all.  Last year, addressing the Summit of the Americas, he admitted “…that the current approach is not working. But it is not clear what we should do.”  Still ignorance hasn’t deterred him from going back to what doesn’t work – aggressive criminalization. 

 Since the Conservatives came to power in 2006, drug-related arrests have mushroomed by 41% and over 400,000 people have been arrested.  And, Harper can’t even articulate why.  In a 2010 YouTube clip the PM miserably failed to make a single coherent point in defense of his neo-con drug policy – just ended up mumbling something about drug cartels. 

 Now, if Harper is concerned about drug cartels he needs to visit Mexico.  That country used to have one of the toughest policies on drugs anywhere, which ultimately led to its deadly drug wars.   The wars became so vicious that the Mexican government has now decriminalized small quantities of all major narcotics. 

 Of course, Mr. Harper should have gone to learn the Mexican experience before he saddled us with his ill-advised, retro drug laws.  And why not take along his conservative ally, Rob Ford?  Toronto’s controversial mayor might be interested to know that smoking crack-cocaine is now legal in Mexico. 

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. 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.

The views of the author are his alone

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Are you listening? Are we listening – because “they” certainly are.



By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON. June 24, 2013.   I grew up in the back woods of Ontario with a party-line phone.  Everybody listened to everyone else’s conversations, and the rumour mill churned faster than Coronation Street.  At university, we spent more time speculating who the narcs were tapping than we ever did smoking.  Working in Ottawa, I recall a well-placed senior bureaucrat, who despite his high-level position in the Canadian government was a self-avowed communist, and so convinced his house was being bugged he refused to talk politics.  

Thank goodness for whistle-blowers, like Edward Snowden, who are forcing the debate about how far a state can go riding roughshod over our constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy, and by extension, freedom of expression.   So I got used to people listening in.  When the story broke recently about the Obama administration continuing the Bush electronic surveillance program, I initially just shrugged it off.  I mean wasn’t that the kind of program which caught the Toronto 18 and almost got the Boston 2.  If you’re not planning evil, then you have nothing to worry about, I reassured myself.  And it’s the authorities who are doing the monitoring – they wouldn’t abuse their power.  There must be something more important to worry about.

Listening has something to do with freedom of speech?  You don’t say.

 How can listening in on conversations have anything to do with freedom of speech?  And how could a meta-data computer be more intrusive that the cameras catching your every move in a public toilet cubicle?  By comparison, the streets in the UK are blanketed with closed circuit TV cameras, according to the TV show MI5.  Surveillance is just one of those compromises we need to make for security in this crowded, complex world that has evolved.  So what is the big deal?

 The big deal is the slippery slope.   Big Brother is really here!  Thank goodness for whistle-blowers, like Edward Snowden, who are forcing the debate about how far a state can go riding roughshod over our constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy, and by extension, freedom of expression.  But now, that everyone knows the state is listening in, how effective can this snooping be?  The professional terrorists will just find other ways to communicate, like the burner cell phones used in the TV series The Wire.  And the government will still be collecting troves of personal information on the rest of us – and looking for another way to use it?

 Back home, it is no surprise that Canada is in-step with the Americans, conducting warrantless electronic surveillance, started as part of the Anti-Terrorism Act back when Canada was heavily engaged in the Afghanistan conflict .  The snooping was put on pause over privacy concerns in 2008, but Mr. Harper brought it right back after his election victory in 2011 – at the same time he was killing the long gun registry.

 Stephen Harper would not suffer the long gun registry because a handful of hunters and farmers thought it violated their privacy.  It seems government recording a rifle’s registration number is dangerous.  Yet, the Harper government has no trouble recording and listening in on our every personal conversation.  Indeed, there is silence among the Tory libertarians, who don’t give a stuff about this violation of privacy and where it may lead.  Or, are they just being a bunch of desk-thumping seals that according to former Alberta backbencher, Brent Rathgeber, best describes the Harper Conservative caucus?

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

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There is certainly enough shame for everyone on this one: Double-Dipping

By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON. June 18, 2013.  We’re not talking ice cream cones.  Collecting income from two separate sources is called double-dipping.  Most of us have probably double-dipped at some point in our lives.  Maybe we taught evening classes while drawing a salary for the day job?  Or perhaps we drove the courtesy van at Canadian Tire, or greeted at Wal-Mart while drawing a CPP or OAS pension.  This double-dipping is a natural part of our capitalist culture – by earning as much income as we can, we help grow the economy.  There is nothing wrong with double-dipping.

 I was surprised, however, that Justin Trudeau was collecting speaking fees while also serving as member of Parliament.  I thought politicians were eternally hunting for a soap box, and were happy if only it were free.   But Trudeau actually got paid.  Well, politics is a complicated, dirty business, as Justin found that out when the Conservative-linked Grace Foundation demanded their money back, just to embarrass him.  In the midst of the Senate debacle and with the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) being investigated by the Mounties, Mr. Harper sank even lower than I thought he could go.

 Trudeau might have known it was a trap.  Why else would the Conservative leaning Grace Foundation invite the soon-to-be-crowned leader of the Liberal Party to speak.  And why pay him $20,000 when anyone could have just turned on the TV or gone to one of his stump speeches.  And, if you are good Conservative would you really go to listen to the son of the most despised man in Conservative history?  Almost a year after he spoke, Grace demanded their money back.  But somehow the letter went to the Prime Minister’s Office, which circulated it far and wide, before even Trudeau had seen it.  And it worked, Harper embarrassed Trudeau.

This is not what the political junkies mean by Double Dipping.

 To be clear, Justin wasn’t in any kind of conflict of interest, although this raises a question about the nature of his job as MP and his commitment to serve the people.  I think he was wrong to charge for the speech, and he obviously agrees since he has offered to repay everyone.  In fact, this whole incident says more about the PM, Grace and their board of directors than it does about Trudeau.  The Canada Revenue Agency conveys charitable status only to organizations which do not “seek to further the interests of a particular political party”.  And Grace’s actions should now place their charitable status in jeopardy, but don’t count on it with this government firmly in control.

 I was also surprised to learn that senators, like Pamela Wallin, are permitted to serve on corporate boards, where she would be party to corporate decision-making based, in part, on government policy before them.  There is no question that an airline or an investment house would benefit from inside information on evolving government policy.  Why else would they have been willing to pay over a million dollars?  Wallin was taking Doube Dipping to a new level.

 And wasn’t she being paid to attend to business in the Senate when she was double-dipping to pick up all those lucrative earnings?  By definition doesn’t this make the Senate her part-time job?  The fact is that the Senate isn’t a full-time job and it’s not even a serious business.  We can complain about senators like Wallin, Duffy, Brazeau or Harb – but really – isn’t the problem more with the Senate itself than the occupants.  The Senate doesn’t fit our governance model because there is no place for a Senate in a Parliamentary democracy.  It is time for it to go.

 Editors note: Back in the ‘good old days’ several of the bigger banks has Board members who were Senators that sat on the Senate Banking Committee that set the rules on bank behaviour. 

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

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A Canadian study in greed. Tthey make over $100,000 as senators. Did they really need to cheat on expense claims as well?

By Ray Rivers.

Burlington, ON.  June 13, 2012.  – The one thing about giving advice on the economy is that you usually can find at least one person to agree with you and a lot of others who will disagree – almost no matter what advice you give.  Ergo, I got a healthy response to my message last week – that if we are contemplating adding to the tax burden; to build transportation infrastructure, pay off the debt, or whatever; we need to be thoughtful about how we do it.  We are a wealthy society, by anyone’s account; that is, unless you are middle-class or poor. 

Don’t you just love the political process.  These  are the few, the ones you hear about – there are thousands who serve diligently and honestly year after year.

 A 2008 study by Statistics Canada concluded that between 1980 and 2005, median earnings among Canada’s top earners rose more than 16 percent while those in the bottom fifth saw their wages dip by 20 percent.  Armine Yalminizyan, a senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, concluded that… “The biggest economic boom since the 1960’s has basically only boosted the rich, leaving the middle class stagnant and the poor worse off.  In the 1960s. as the economy grew this rapidly, almost everybody got a bigger piece.  In this generation of economic growth, the gains are accruing primarily to those on top.”  While we are looking forward to an updated report from Stats Can, we should be confident that this picture hasn’t improved.

 In the 1980‘s our governments, in Canada and the US, slashed the top tax rates and shifted the tax burden onto the middle classes.  Any first year economics student could have predicted the outcome of this deliberate adventure in retro-grade social engineering, and the winners and the losers that were created.  Trickle down economics, the silly notion that the poor live better when the rich get richer, is bogus and it’s nonsense.  The poor aren’t better off watching the wealthiest get even wealthier.  Cheap credit and cheap imports may make their lives seem richer, but in the end it is just more debt to pay back.  We are engaging in class warfare – not yet war, but wait for it.  Remember the ‘Occupy Movement’?

 According to a 2006 documentary, The One Percent, a mere 1% of Americans owned almost half the wealth in the USA.   In 2009 they earned 17% of the national gross income and took home over a trillion dollars.  Middle-income earners, by contrast have had to live on lower household incomes, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1996.  The Conference Board of Canada places Canada sixth worst, behind the US and UK on their ‘inequality index’.  Still, the rapid growing decade from 1997 to 2007 saw the top income earning 1% of Canadians take home fully a third of our increase in national income, a greater proportion than in the US.

 This is a serious issue and requires a serious discussion and serious action.  Inequality spurs more inequality – greed leads to more greed.  Wallin and Duffy earned healthy incomes as respected journalists and, no doubt, each receives a healthy pension from those jobs.  In addition, Wallin reportedly earned hundreds of thousands (Editors note: It was actually more than $1 million) as a board director while she was a senator.  And, they each make over a hundred thousand dollars as senators.  Did they really need to cheat on their expense claims as well?  

 But then isn’t this what greed does to us? 

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


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I didn’t say this – she did; nice of her wasn’t it?

By Staff

BURLINGTON, ON.  June 9, 2013.  The letter set out below came from a reader.  To the best of my knowledge I never dated the woman before I moved to Burlington. I moved to Burlington to marry the love of my life.

I didn’t pay Donna Zaffino for writing the letter and to the best of my knowledge I’ve never bought her a drink.  I’d like to say “I owe you one” but that might result in a flood of letters and my bar tab at the Queen’s Head is already outrunning my allowance.

I LOVE the new name!!! It is simple, identifies your purpose and rolls nicely off the tongue.

You choice of name perfectly reflects all that I have come to love about your paper. I grew up with the Montreal Gazette but played Word Search in the Star as a 60′s Irish Anglo kid in Montreal. And later in high school the Gazette was the paper to read.

Ever since I accidentally discovered your paper I look forward to seeing each new article show up in my virtual mailbox. It is actually your paper that launched a whole new exciting and exhilarating life for me. Through your articles and announcements of upcoming events I have since linked up with some extraordinary people and groups here in Burlington.

Your articles are in-depth, well research and teach me so much about my new home of only 4 years. All this is why I adore your paper. Your paper and passion for community ranks right up there with the other Gazette. The fact that there was once a paper of the same name speaks to your love and passion for Burlington by choosing a name from our history.

By the way. This is coming from a pretty critical newspaper snob. I only read two Canadian papers. The Burlington Gazette for regional news and another for national and foreign news.

I also like the name change as now, when I quote where I learned something, people will know to what I am referring.

Keep up the great reporting. And I welcome Mr. Rivers as a new addition to you staff.

Aw shucks Donna, you shouldn’t have.

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Robin Hood – a leading thinker on the distribution of income.

By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON.  June 6, 2013  Robin Hood, legend has it, stole from the rich to give to the poor, doing what we call ‘redistributing income’.  England, at the time, was run by Prince John, a greedy SOB and a very poor fiscal manager who ran up record deficits to pay for his brother’s crusading activities and his own extravagant lifestyle.  During his reign, as national growth plummeted and unemployment skyrocketed, he taxed the poor to death (literally) while allowing the rich to hoard their wealth. 

Robin Hood – a leading thinker on the distribution of income.

Robin, on the other hand, understood that income is either spent on consumption or stuffed away as savings.   He knew that the poor spent everything they earned, so every penny or half-crown they could lay their hands on was being plowed back into the economy – creating employment and domestic product.  The rich, who couldn’t possibly spend all they made, stuffed their savings into a strong box or under the mattress. Robin was often heard to say, “If you want economic growth you need to redistribute” – the Robin Hood Clause. 

Taxation, I know, sometimes feels like highway robbery.  But not all taxes are created equal – some help our economy and some hurt.  Sales taxes are regressive.  They hurt, disproportionately, the middle-income and poor and thus, the economy.  Stephen Harper understood this when, in his first term as PM, he cut two percentage points off the GST in order to grow the Canadian economy.  By contrast, income taxes are progressive – you pay more only if you make more.  Consumer demand and economic growth are largely unaffected, in comparison to sales taxes.  

Our Premier was looking in the wrong places to help Toronto, the city that won’t help itself, get real public transit.  The last thing the recovering Ontario economy needs is an increase in our regressive HST.  I guess Jim Flaherty agrees with me, although I suspect he also had other reasons for turning down the Premier’s request to raise the HST. 

So, why not look at income taxes?  Provincial rates are about the lowest they’ve been in three generations.  In the US, President Obama has long been trying to ratchet up income taxes on the wealthy.  Even the normally conservative US Federal Reserve Chair (Bernanke) has been making noises that he supports a doubling of the tax rate on the richest Americans.  Is it only a matter of time until we will need to catch up with the Americans again?

So Premier Wynne, let’s get ahead of the game.  Why not get serious about reversing the damage done to our economic potential over the years by the ruthless cuts to the most important tax system we have?  

Raise the progressive rates on those with the highest earnings; those who can best afford to pay.  Didn’t the NDP already force Dalton McGuinty to apply a token surtax on the wealthy in his last budget?  Does that then leave Andrea as the closest thing we now have to a modern-day Robin Hood?  And if so, why is she silent now?

Rivers with his latest book: The end of September.

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

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Did Toronto Elect Tony Soprano? I can tell you how this story is going to end – and it ain’t pretty.

By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 29, 2013.  The Sopranos, a cable TV series about your average mafia boss, living and killing in New Jersey, doesn’t seem such a fantasy anymore.  In fact, the escapades of Rob Ford and his brothers would make great crime TV.   Starring Rob, Doug Ford as a former drug dealer and brother Randy as an enforcer.  His sister is a victim of gun violence in the family home and she has a coke-dealing former boyfriend who once tried to kill Rob.  Somali drug lords have made a video of Ford purportedly smoking crack – then they go underground or worse, as a homicide investigation begins.  US website raises money to buy the ‘Crackstarter‘ video but can no longer locate the sellers. 

Were they given an offer they couldn’t refuse?  Then, Ford comes forward to vaguely deny his crack use and claim there never was a video.   Screen play writers must be wringing their hands for a chance to get at this outstanding tragic comedy.

Except it’s not funny.  The Globe and Mail’s weekend expose on the Ford family history should have frightened and disgusted rather than amused and entertained Toronto residents.  Ford seemed like a breath of fresh air to voters in that last election.  He was unconventional, and almost charming in a red-neck kind of way, carrying himself like a beardless Old St. Nick, with a bag full of promises.  And voters, sick and tired from a long garbage strike, turned to the man promising them a ‘free lunch’ – he’d lower taxes and end the ‘gravy train’. 

But there was no gravy train and there is no free lunch.  Lowering taxes?  Hello!  Doesn’t Mr. Ford understand that the price of everything always goes up?  It’s called keeping up with population growth and inflation.  We don’t see electricity, gasoline or food prices declining.  Of course, you could always gut your basic programs, as ‘Mike-the-Knife’ did to Ontario’s health care and education systems. So grow up Toronto.  You can’t have it both ways. 

We know how it ends.

Take transportation.  The GTA is not going to get out from under ever-increasing gridlock without new transit systems, and that takes money.   Burlington’s mayor is quoted as saying that his constituents support expansion – he gets it.  And so does the new Premier, Kathleen Wynn, who is taking the lead to find smarter ways of funding.  Too bad Rob Ford hasn’t put as much energy into securing public transportation as he has performing adolescent distractions.  He has ruled out everything except subways and expects somebody else to pay for them.  His court is divided for lack of leadership, so the rest of the GTA and the Province have to take the lead, in his place.

And speaking of taxes, we should understand that Toronto residents pay below average property taxes as a proportion of their real estate dollar.  So the next time some con man named Ford, in a black Cadillac SUV, is offering you a free lunch – just smile and say, no thanks, I’ve seen the Sopranos on TV.  I know how it ends.

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.

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Abolish the Senate – send them all packing.


By Ray Rivers.

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 22, 2013.  Four Senators and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff either out of a job or wondering how long they are going to keep the one they have.  That is what happens when you don’t give the children something constructive to do – they just get into mischief. 

 The Senate serves no useful purpose.  This well financially padded play-pen for worn-out political hacks has no meaningful role in our democracy.   Senate reform, you say?  Sure, but why not just get rid of it? 

 Modeled after the British House of Lords, the Canadian Senate was supposed to be the chamber of ‘sober second thought’, a place from which the landed gentry could repel the populists, keep the mob from taxing away their wealth.  The kind of place where Conrad Black would feel comfortable pontificating, as he, no doubt, did in the ‘real’ House of Lords in London.

Why, when Trudeau patriated the Canadian Constitution in 1982, why didn’t have the good sense to ‘whiteout’ all the language describing the Senate, its composition and function?  Then we wouldn’t be needing a constitutional amendment to get rid of it now.  Can’t you just imagine the discussions which took place in Charlottetown and Quebec in 1864 – Sir John A and 35 other well-suited men, all crowding around a table trying to piece together the British North America Act.  As they neared a deal on the constitution they backslapped each other, agreeing on the dominance of the House of Commons and its location in Ottawa. 

 Still self-congratulating each other, they traipsed off to London two years later for the hard sell.  Queen Victoria, studied the plans for a moment, then looking up at these upstarts scowled, “What, no upper chamber? Pity.”   And that may well be how the Canadian Senate got created – a regal after-thought.

 Albertans like Peter Lougheed and Stephen Harper, had long preached the merits of an elected (triple E) Senate, but anyone with a serious grasp of political science would know they were talking through their ten gallon hats.  Two elected bodies?  Both believing they are the rightful government? How would that work?  Congressional grid-lock in the US would look like child’s play here, were we to go down that road.  There is no place for a second governing body in Canada’s parliamentary democracy.

 Why, when Trudeau patriated the Canadian Constitution in 1982, why didn’t we have the good sense to ‘whiteout’ all the language describing the Senate, its composition and function?  Then we wouldn’t be needing a constitutional amendment to get rid of it now. 

 Of course Ontario, Nova Scotia, B.C., Manitoba and Saskatchewan have already called for abolition, the Official Opposition is on-side, and we should note that every upper house at the provincial level, including Quebec’s, has been abolished.  So let’s do the right thing – put it out of our misery.

 Meanwhile back at the ranch, there is this Duffy affair.  Bizarre and stinking.  Who actually believes that Stephen Harper wasn’t aware of the payoff? And if he was, why the dance he’s been giving us.  A week ago, I would have believed him, but then I could swear I saw his face on – or was that the Mayor of Toronto, smoking crack?  

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.


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Burlington a “banana republic”? At least one well informed citizen suggests that’s what he saw at a Committee of Adjustment meeting.



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 22, 2013.  The surprise wasn’t that Jack Dennison, Councillor for Ward 4,  lost his application for a severance and several minor variances to his property on Old Lakeshore Road but how two members of the Committee of Adjustment conducted themselves.  We will get to that.

Dennison was applying for a severance to his property that would allow him to create a separate lot on which a two-story house could be built.  He required permission to sever the property and needed a number of variances as well.

A staff report did not recommend the application.

The vote went 3-2 against Dennison with Chair Malcolm Ramsay, members Grant Newbury and Robert Bailey voting against and members Dave Kumar and Sam Sarraf voting for.

Burlington’s Committee of Adjustment. All appointed by city council to serve a four-year term. From left to right chair Ramsay, members Bailey, Newbury, Kumar and Sarraf.  Peter Thoem, also a member was absent.

Five members of the community delegated starting with Dave McKay who gave the committee an overview of how Roseland got to be the community it is today.  He was  followed by Diane Gaudaur, president of the Roseland community Association who set out the case for saying no. Gerhard Gerber who lives right across the street from Dennison talked about the impact the requested severance would have on the streetscape which was a major part of the opposition to the application.

Christine Dwivedi followed with a very, very lengthy presentation during which the chair asked if she had anything new to add.  Mrs. Dwivedi stuck to her guns even though it was clear that at one point she had the members of the committee following her and taking in the many trenchant points she made but after more than an hour it was clear she had gone too far.

During her delegation we did learn that Dennison attempted to buy 10 feet of the west side of the Dwivedi property for $120,000.  Mrs. Dwivedi also reported a nasty dispute over work Dennison had done when he installed a new in-ground pool.

With the clock past 10 pm legal counsel for the Roseland Community Organization summed up the reasons for not granting the severance which included an Ontario Divisional Court ruling which is a binding decision.

Applications like this include levels of detail that can be mind numbing and that was certainly the case Tuesday evening.  There were some very interesting points made and they will be covered in detail at a later date making them part of the community record.

 The process has the applicant stating their case, the members of the community who oppose the application stating their case.  The applicant is then given an opportunity to rebut whatever those opposed have to say.

It then goes to the chair who asks each member if they have questions.  Once all the questions of the member of the Committee of Adjustment have been asked each is then asked to make their comments.

It is at this point that members of the Committee make it known if they are going to support or oppose the application.

The chair then polls each member individually to hear them say publicly and for the record that they are supporting the application or opposing that application.

Last night three opposed, two supported – one member was absent.  Peter Thoem, a former council member was absent – spending his time at Point Peelee watching birds.

Other than the lengthy presentation made by Mrs. Dwivedi , the hearing was like any other that is contentious with significantly different views on either side.

Councillor Dennison neighbour Christine  Dwivedi and lawyer Mark Nicholson prepare to delegate at a Committee of Adjustment hearing.

Where things went off the rails Tuesday evening was when committee member Sam Sarraf began to ask his questions.  He first directed a question to David McKay on what the boundaries of the community were and then literally fired a bunch of questions at city planner Jamie Tellier who was on hand to answer technical questions and support the report staff had prepared.

There was question after question on specific definitions.  Sarraf had clearly prepared and was directing Tellier to specific parts of the Official Plan and having him read them aloud.  On several occasions Sarraf  asked Tellier: “Would you not agree.”  It became clear that Sarraf had an objective and he began to move from being a committee member asking questions to a person advocating on behalf of the applicant.

At one point Sarraf asked a question on a piece of evidence that had not been introduced by anyone.  He asked if the property Dennison was seeking to sever was not at one point three separate lots.  Where did Sam Sarraf get that information?  Did he research the issue?  And if he did – why would he do that?  His role is to be an impartial adjudicator who hears evidence presented and makes decisions on the merits of the evidence and adheres to the procedures used by a Committee of Adjustment.

Dave Kumar had questions that were related to how this matter would be seen and treated by the  Official Plan.  His question was very technical, not something that would normally come from a person with a financial background. Kumar’s questions were also beginning to take on the tone of an advocate.

Committee of adjustment members Bailey and Newbury stuck to the issues.  They asked questions of staff that were intended to clarify a point.  Bailey had very few questions, Newbury asked for some clarification relating to the original design of the lot when it was first put together.

When Chair Ramsay was about to ask the members of the Committee for their comments, which is the time they get to say if they intend to support the application, Sarraf suggested to the chair that any decision be “deferred” until the applicant had a chance to return and address some of the issues raised, particularly relating to what any house built on the severed lot would look like.

Things like this are done for the applicant by the applicants agent.  It is not the role of the committee members to suggest possible actions for an applicant.

There was a time when Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward once advocated for a constituent at Committee of Adjustment.  The city’s Solicitor was brought in to read the rules to what were then newbie Council members.  Might be time for the city Solicitor to have a chat with the boys on what’s kosher and what isn’t kosher in terms of ethical behaviour.

It  was a long meeting, the room was far too warm and everyone was getting tired.  The hands of the clock were getting close to 11:00 pm and Chairman Malcolm Ramsay was letting things slip a little.

Jack Dennison usually goes all out for what he wants. Did he go too far at a Committee of Adjustment meeting on Tuesday?

One observer with experience in matters like this wondered why the chair did not move the meeting into an “in camera” session and have everyone clear the room and once the doors were closed, turn to the two members who were offside by a country mile and ask them: “What the hell is going on here?”

Was there collusion between Sarraf and the applicant?  That was certainly a question on the minds of many as they talked after the meeting.

While Dennison was reading his comments he was working from a document he had not made available to those opposed to what he was asking for.  In quasi-tribunal hearings such as Committee of Adjustment opposing parties make documents available to each other.  In higher “courts” lawyers are required to do so.

When Dwivedi was making her presentation she asked that Dennison not be given a copy of her comments because he had not shared his.  The chair didn’t disagree with Dwivedi but once the documents were in the hands of the committee members, Sarraf immediately passed a copy to Dennison who was sitting next to him.

There was the sense that these two guys were part of the same team.  It smacked all of that small town, old boys network stuff.

Both Dave Kumar and Sam Sarraf have run for public office – both in Ward 5.  Sarraf ran in 2006, Kumar in 2010.  Kumar is also a former city hall employee where he worked in finance.

The political class tend to hang together in Burlington.

Councillor Jack Dennison’s application to sever his property was not approved by Burlington’s Committee of Adjustment.  Two members of the committee came very close to becoming advocates for the application.  Did this amount to collusion?

When running for public office Sarraf said he had completed five years study at Mohawk College in both Construction and Civil Engineering he worked from 1983 to 1999 as a Land Surveyor and was responsible for surveying many of the development projects in Burlington during that period of rapid growth. These included The Maple Community, Mapleview Mall, Tyandaga, and Millcroft communities as well as The Orchard.

In 2000 Sarraf  became Project Manager & Planner for a local Engineering consulting firm and was instrumental in the development of several residential and commercial projects and subdivisions in the GTA including the environmentally sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine.

Kumar ran in Ward 5, hoping to succeed Rick Goldring who was running for Mayor in 2010.

Running for public office is noble – it isn’t easy work.  Those elected or appointed are in place to serve the people of the city –they are not there to serve their own interests or those of their chums.

Last night we saw what one observer described as what he expected from a “banana republic”.  “I never thought I would see that in this city”.

This observer added that Burlington needed an Ethics Commissioner.  That would put us on the same footing as the Senate in Ottawa.  Would that help us keep our Best City ranking next year?

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Federal Safe Streets Act is “fear-mongering and invidious exploitation of communal differences,”

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 17, 2013.  Justice M. Green put it very well when he said, of the federal governments Safe Streets Act that it represented “…an ideology of unabashed Puritanism marketed through fear-mongering and invidious exploitation of communal differences.”

 Justice Green was writing about one of the Harper government’s signature legislative pieces, (Globe and Mail – May 2, 2013).  Indeed, if puritanism was the driving passion, then why not just bring back the pillory stocks, the dunking stool and the whipping post. 17th century puritans used to nail their prisoners’ ears to the stocks – so they would have to face their victims.  And, the multitude of crimes in those days included treason, sedition, arson, blasphemy, witchcraft, perjury, wife-beating, cheating, forgery, coin clipping, dice cogging, slandering, conjuring, fortune-telling, and drunkenness.  


Putting people in pillory stocks was a common practice in the 1800’s. We have progressed since then; haven’t we?

It took four centuries to narrow down the list of crimes and, more recently, two generations of socially progressive efforts, to whittle down the number of criminals in Canadian prisons.  And the reality is that crimes, criminals and costs have further fallen over the last two decades.  So Mr. Harper’s new law – Bill C-10, ‘The Safe Streets and Communities Act’ can only turn the clock back. 

 This legislation has the ultimate purpose of expanding the prison population and increasing the number of costly prisons required. Why?  A good question.  Since, ironically, the changes being instituted are happening while crime rates are falling and streets are generally safer in Canada.  It is also ironic that the very government which claims to be promoting safer streets is the same one which shut down the long gun registry and destroyed almost all of its weapons records.  It is also the government which has made our country more of a potential target for international terrorism through it’s unbalanced foreign policies. 

 If US-style laws and US prison systems are the models in Mr. Harper’s mind, then privatized for-profit prisons cannot be far behind.  And if profit-oriented US prison providers, like ‘GEO’, are to be engaged, we should expect that higher US-style crime rates will also follow.  The US, with the highest incarceration rates in the world is a poor model for us to emulate, by any reasonable person’s assessment.  

 These American for-profit organizations tend to feed on the underprivileged and the poor, while making greater profit from the increasing number of inmates facing longer sentences.  Looking objectively at the prison system in Canada, it is hard to miss the imbalance which already exists – how certain minorities are over-represented.  For example, less than 13% of Saskatchewan residents are aboriginal and yet aboriginals make up over 80% of the prison inmates in that province.   This is something the so-called ‘Safe Streets and Communities Act’ will do absolutely nothing to improve – it will in fact exacerbate the problem.

 ‘The Safe Streets and Communities Act’ will be the topic of a Town Hall Meeting I am moderating at McMaster Innovation Park (175 Longwood Rd. S.) in Hamilton, 7 PM, May 22.  The event is free and open to the public; it would be nice to see you there.

Ray Rivers

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.



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Horwath decides a better deal can be had; how can the government just drop the cost of car insurance.

By Ray Rivers

BURLINGTON, ON.  May 9th, 2013.   You know the feeling.  You have just ordered fish and chips and the waiter sets down a juicy hamburger for the guy at the next table.  You recall the price was the same and wish you’d ordered differently – then your fish arrives and you want to ask the waiter to change it for the burger.  That’s Andrea Horwath.  She demanded poorly from Kathleen Wynne, in the provincial budget, and now she’d like to order again.

 Take the 15% cut in insurance rates.  I didn’t think that could happen.  Aren’t the rates set on the basis of claims, as they’ve always told us?  Are we going to have 15% fewer accidents this year?  Possible, but I doubt it.  So that means we’ve been paying at least 15% more a year than we should have.  And look at your insurance bill.  Why are we paying for accident health coverage in a province with universal OHIP?  Talk about being over-insured.

 New Zealanders have true no-fault auto insurance.  They understand nothing is risk-free.  So if you are on the highway and have an accident, the biggest insurance pool in the country, the government, takes care of you – but you can’t sue a third-party for personal injuries.  I bought a used car there and my yearly insurance bill was $99.00.  Why can’t we do that here?

 The NDP platform on car insurance, when Bob Rae became the first Dipper Premier, was to nationalize it.  But he chickened out – wouldn’t do it then.  Has the NDP dropped the idea entirely, or did Andrea think it was too much to ask, and wishes she had now?  I mean BC, Quebec and Manitoba – all have variations of public auto insurance for their people – and they pay lower premiums.  Why are we fattening the big insurance companies?   Keeping that money in our pockets would be like a tax cut.  A good way to stimulate the economy.

 But the best we can do is fifteen percent, this time.  Horwath made her play and now she’s not so sure.  She’s hiding in her office, waiting to hear from… who?  You’d think she would have done that before she made her ask on the budget.  Now it is just about stalling, checking if the chips, which came with her fish, are salty enough before she slips one into her mouth.  But they are getting cold as she hesitates, pretending she’s not really all that hungry.

 Horwath is in a pickle.  The Liberals need her far more badly than she ever thought, and Andrea now wishes she’d asked for more – because she probably would have got it.  But she didn’t – so it’s time to lift her knife and fork and dig into that plate she ordered.  Act like the adult you want people to think you are, if you expect them to make you Premier some day.  Take the deal you demanded and make it work – then maybe, next time, be a little more careful about what you order up.

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat after which he decided to write and has become a  political animator. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson.



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