Month: April 2017

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

New Math

It was a euphoric sight. Looking at pictures from the Liberal government side of the Legislative Assembly’s chamber Premier Kathleen Wynne and her finance minister Charles Sousa were fist-pumping, high-fiving and jumping with joy. Did we defeat ISIS once and for all, or outsmart US President Donald Trump on NAFTA?

No. We balanced a budget – allegedly. And the first time in over a decade. I say allegedly as the Auditor General takes issue with Liberal maths. According to the AG, we’re still a few billion dollars away from the “big celebration”.

Now what do you think most people having a hard time paying off their monthly credit card would do when they finally managed to do so after more than a decade? They’d likely have a little celebration too but would start thinking about the mounting debt and how to start addressing that. They likely wouldn’t go on a new spending spree.

But most people are not at 11% approval rating from the rest of the world and having to face an election in a year. So Wynne and her cohort did just the opposite of most people. They went on a bender with your money. It was a crass example of government bribing us with our own money.

The new orgy of spending was on shiny objects, not on long-term sustainable infrastructure. Toronto Mayor John Tory pounced on Wynne turning her back on no new money for social housing or for not matching federal commitments for transit.

“Yes, the Government of Ontario has taken steps to cool our housing market and make things more affordable for those who can afford to buy,” he said. “But the province also owes something to those who rely on social housing for a roof over their heads — a roof that past provincial governments built, failed to maintain, and then handed off to cities, especially Toronto,” Tory pointed out.

Free drugs for people under 25 years old was the highlight of the budget. In making the announcement, the Wynne government tried to outdo NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s announcement a week before that as Premier she would offer universal access to 125 essential medications.

I don’t buy either party’s negligible costing of either initiative. There are just too many variables, including the costing of medications. A pharmacare program only makes sense if implemented on a national level for all Canadians.

Budgeting under the provincial Liberals has been a hedonic treadmill. Ignoring the reality of a steadily growing $310 billion debt, they spend and spend in an attempt to socially reengineer us. It doesn’t work. So spend more it is.

Wynne’s ignoring our debt while selling assets like Hydro One to finance pet projects to frame the issues for the upcoming provincial election. Paying down debt may not appear sexy like offering free drugs, but we expect leaders to have the courage to do politically tough things – not just play politics with our money.

If we are, as Wynne claims, in the black why not have a plan for reducing our liability? If not now, when?

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Should the leader step down for the party?

Panic is setting into the ranks of the Ontario liberal party as next year’s provincial election is rapidly approaching. Challenges in finding quality candidates to run for office, rumours of massive defections among liberal MPPs and party donations drying up are all tell-tale signs of serious political trouble ahead.

And of course, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s personal popularity appears stuck at 11%, the lowest of any provincial premier, ever. She was asked to comment why people simply don’t like her now that the economy is gaining momentum and that electricity rates are being “cut 25 per cent.” (More on that below). She pluckily responded as if everything was under control: “I’m going to leave that to the pundits and to the press…to analyse.”

Well, since Wynne asked, I’m happy to step up to the plate and help her understand why things are the way they are.

There’s a vast disconnect between how Wynne and her Deputy Premier Deb Matthews view themselves and how the majority of us view them. Matthews once proclaimed that “the grandmothers are in charge. I like to think that grandmas are tough but fair. Firm but kind. And always willing to listen.” In reality, they are perceived by the public as entitled, hyper-partisan, belligerent and possessing a mean streak.

First, take for example when veteran Tory MPP Garfield Dunlop gave up his seat so Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown could run there. Brown won the PC leadership in May 2015. The gracious and normal thing to do would have been to call a by-election soon after so that Brown could have had a shot at taking his seat as Opposition Leader when the legislature reconvened in September. But Wynne would have none of it. Wynne and Matthews’ preferred course of action was to smear Brown while making him grovel and reducing him to publicly plead for a by-election. He wrote: “It’s important to show the people of Ontario that as politicians, we are ready, willing and able to work with others, and that we are above political games.”

The public was not impressed with the Wynne-Matthews’ petulant behavior. They ultimately gave in to Brown, but it left a bad taste in people’s mouth.

Second, the non-stop nasty fighting with doctors hasn’t helped Wynne’s image-making as a nice grandma. Doctors have been out of a contract for three years. To make matters worse, Wynne’s parliamentary assistant MPP Ted McMeekin, responding to PC MPP John Yakabuski on why the government would need to access doctor’s medical reports, said “because some doctors cheat.” He later had to apologize.

Third, the hydro cut was not a 25% cut as Wynne’s 8% carbon tax kicked in on January 1, 2017, making it more of a 17% cut. It was made possible not by some shrewd planning and decision-making but by spreading the current exorbitant debt over a longer term. Nonetheless, it will bring some relief but only after many fold increases in rates caused by Wynne’s recklessness on the energy file. People haven’t forgotten that Wynne was tone deaf while their hydro bill went through the roof, or when they lost the business or had to choose heating over eating. She was thought of as comfortably governing from her ivory tower. Meh!

I hope this helps understanding why you’re stuck at 11% approval rating, Dear Premier. Single digits are right around the corner. And you’re welcome.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Can it happen in Canada, another United?

Despite the non-binding scolding by Transport Minister Marc Garneau to airline heads not to “pull a United” we should all be very concerned that a Canadian airline will one day by dragging a passenger out of his seat for overbooking.

United Airlines overbooked one of their flights. Security officers viciously removed the passenger, David Dao, 69, from his seat after he wouldn’t surrender it and dragged him off the plane as he screamed and horrified passengers looked on. Video recordings of the incident show him apparently unconscious and bloodied. He lost two teeth, has a concussion and will need sinus reconstruction.

Bottom line is that overbooking is allowed in Canada and passengers are denied seats they purchased as they are bumped to other flights, or to use UA’s CEO Oscar Munoz’s sanitized corporate language “re-accommodated” to another flight.

How Air Canada mistreated customers was all the rage in the late 1990s. That’s when the federal government created an ombudsman-like position of Air Travel Complaints Commissioner in 2000. Not to be outdone, Air Canada established its own ombudsman’s office to shadow the federal one, called the Customer Service Ombudsman. Reporting directly to then Air Canada’s CEO Robert Milton, the company proudly boasted that it was the first North America’s airline ombudsman. Ironically, the same Milton is now the Chair of United.

AC set the bar high for their new ombudsman, it “would lead the way setting new standards of transparency and accountability to our customers in this new, rapidly evolving environment.”

Shortly after all the hoopla, not one, but both offices were shuttered. The big PR stunt was over just as fast as it began and the concern for passengers equally blown up.

The reality is that all we are for airlines is a number. By and large, we are treated like cows and airlines are herding us continually to maximum their revenue. Passenger convenience is not part of the equation. The 1960s notion of elegant air travel is long gone. Getting bumped from a flight? Lost your luggage? Sitting on the tarmac for seemingly forever? Sorry, you’re on your own.

Besides scolding airlines, Garneau has promised us a long overdue air passenger bill of rights with clear minimum requirements to ensure passengers “are protected by rules that are both fair and clear.” It’s not the first time a federal government has made us that promise. If the document is to be worth more than the paper it’s written on, it should include an enforcement mechanism and an enforcer to apply the rules.

There is an enormous imbalance of power between airlines and passengers in Canada. Both the U.S. and Europe are far ahead of us in being forced to follow regulations and compensate passengers for delays, overbooking and lost luggage. Our government’s commitment to protecting us has traditionally been very weak. Let’s hope that Garneau’s initiative is the real deal. Our Canadian airlines have been big on words but slow on actions to protect its flying customers. They need to be told to smarten up.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

SIU needs reform

Justice Michael Tulloch’s report on reforming police oversight, released on Thursday, hits all the right notes, bringing-in much-needed and overdue reforms to police services boards, the awkwardly named Office of the Independent Police Review Director, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission and the Special Investigations Unit.

The SIU’s mandate is currently limited to cases where the police cause serious injury or death. If Tulloch re-imagined SIU sees the light of day, it will be a very different kind of animal. The SIU would be able to investigate any police matter if it believes it is in the public interest to do so. Think fraud, breach of trust and areas far beyond its current mandate.

Since its inception in 1990, cop unions and brass have done their best to create loopholes that hamstring the SIU’s operations. Whether its interpreting “serious injury” very narrowly to keep the SIU out of a case, or taking the position that civilian members of a police force don’t have to cooperate because they’re not real cops. The silliest case I’ve seen is from Peel police arguing a case where a police dog shred someone to pieces that it wouldn’t cooperate as the dog was not human and therefore the incident was not part of the mandate.

Well those days are behind us if Tulloch has his way. Lack of cooperation with the SIU would be punishable by a fine or even jail. Before police union or brass decide to pull another fast one on us they’ll think twice.

Director’s reports, those secretive reports from the SIU to the Attorney General, will now be made public. Past, present and future ones. I wrote many of them in the 1990s. It’ll be fun reading them after all this time.

Tulloch went as far as to put back on the table the subject officers’ immunity from cooperating with the SIU. As a public policy compromise made in the late 1990s, the cop under investigation wasn’t required to participate in an SIU case. Cops will tell you until they’re blue in the face that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to them too. Sure it does, but when you kill someone in the line of duty, different rules apply.

To be fair, almost everyone, include police unions, appear to support the Tulloch report. It remains to be seen whether that support continues. Black Lives Matter deserve credit for bringing to the forefront the SIU’s many failings and creating momentum to fix them. But for them, no reforms would be on the table. But, typically, they’re not happy with the report, raising the fact cops won’t be named if there are no charges. With the high level of disclosure of information by the SIU mandated by Tulloch, what does identifying a cop by name advance in any way the search for the truth?

Now the ball is back in AG Yasir Naqvi’s court. He’s notorious for flash in the pan gimmicks and making shallow announcements that have all to do with self-promotion and little to do with sound public policy. I wouldn’t be surprised that once police union types start looking at the nitty gritty of the report that they’ll have second thoughts about supporting it.

Naqvi should grow a spine and do what’s right. In fact, the report should have unanimous support of the legislative assembly.

If anything, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s slow decent from public approval, now sitting at 12% and dangerously close to single digits should be a wake-up call to modernize the SIU. It’s the right thing to do and the public wants it badly. Just do it.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Hydro Mess

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso

Natural resources’ development locked-in for 25-30 years by secret contracts that are protected by prohibitive penalties just in case the government was even tempted to break them and the terms of which are financially lopsided in favour of developers. Well-versed and knowledgeable foreign resource experts appearing to run circles around less-informed government bureaucrats. Promised lofty local jobs and other economic stimuli from natural resource projects that don’t appear to materialize.

Sounds a lot like green energy in Ontario, doesn’t?

It’s actually what has been characteristic of the rich mining industry in many African countries many of which have been struggling seemingly forever to break the cycle. The irony is that just over 5 years ago, Ontario’s energy system, warts and all, didn’t face this implacable situation.

But now thanks to former Premier Dalton McGuinty, current Premier Kathleen Wynne and their cabal of incompetent Energy Ministers, Ontario has been jettisoned into the worst possible hydro scenario, similar to what has plagued Africa for many decades. It’s as if McGuinty and Wynne looked very hard for the worse possible model to exploit green energy, found it and foisted it on us.

It’s hard to think of a public policy implementation that has been botched more by any government, anywhere in the western world, than the hydro sector in Ontario under McGuinty and Wynne. The government has let itself be checkmated by their own ineptitude combined with greedy multinationals more than willing to move in, throwing large numbers of Ontarians into energy poverty.

Ontario rushed-in to sign long-term hydro contracts with the likes of North Korea’s Samsung that we can’t get out of without paying huge penalties for lost profit. With Wynne’s freefall in public approval now at 12%, the pressure’s been on Wynne to find a way out of the mess she got us in. The best she can do is re-amortize our debt over a long period and passing it on to the next generation, no doubt an admission from her that there’s no solution beyond waiting out 25-30 years while these exploitive contracts that are filling the pockets of foreigners, courtesy of Ontario’s taxpayers.

And, of course, the promised new job boom from green energy never materialized either.

The Liberals, aided and abetted by some in the liberal press, keep pressing opposition parties about what’s “their solution” to the hydro disarray. So far, the Progressive Conservatives have kept their cards close to their chest. NDP Leader last week proposed her dubious plans for a 30% cut in hydro plans. While well-intentioned, it’s more “pie-in-the-sky” thinking, than a tangible way forward. The Liberals pounced. Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault called the NDP motion “both short on details and long on hollow promises.” The nerve.

It’s not clear if, and when the PCs will unveil their plan. They should avoid taking the Liberals’ bait and allow them to change the channel. The Liberals got us into hydro chaos and they desperately want to cling to power. How will they get us out of this mess, beyond giving us more debt spread longer term?

Maybe Wynne should start paying attention to what’s now unfolding in Africa. Countries here are sick of being taken for a ride and are working hard to break from the shackles of mining exploitation that greatly profit very few and leave the rest of the population impoverished.

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