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Commentary on maladministration at all levels of government

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Giving away the kitchen sink

Free drugs if you’re under 25, free university, discounted hydro, rent control and the cherry on the sundae is a 30% increase in the minimum wage in one fell swoop. Premier Kathleen Wynne’s running government like a Giant Tiger – everything is priced to sell. It’s like Christmas in July, except were still just in May – and a little over a year from the provincial election.

But what do you do when only 11 percent of the population trusts you? Wynne’s giving away the kitchen sink, desperate to cling to power.

What’s particularly pernicious is what’s unfolding with your hydro bill. In January, the province cut the provincial portion of the GST out of your bill, saving you 8 percent, then plans to cut a further 17 percent on June 1. Wynne would have you believe it’s all magical. She waved her wand and zap, your hydro bill was cut by a quarter. That’s supposed to make you forget that you paid for massive green energy spending which we didn’t need leaving us on the hook for years, even decades, to come – and adding billions to our debt.

All Wynne did was to re-amortize our debt, shuffling it around so you get the illusion that it simply vanished.

But a cabinet document leaked to the Progressive Conservatives tells the real story. Between 2022 and 2027 we can expect 6.5% increases each year followed by a 10.5% increase in 2028. Given that we have set elections every four year, Wynne’s likely thinking she’ll win in 2018 and pack it in before the 2022 election, leaving the whole mess to be sorted out by whoever gets power after her.

Liberal Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, in an explanation that strains credulity, said he couldn’t confirm the document or verify its numbers. Poor fella explained how he’s been swamped with “thousands of documents” and “hundreds of briefings.” “I’ve been in this position for 11 months,” Thibeault pleaded.

He then pivoted à la US President Donald Trump contradicting himself to say the numbers were off as the document was just a “draft.” But he refused to give us the supposedly updated numbers.

Thibeault said he’d disclose the numbers when he updates his long-term energy plan. Expect that to land in the lazy days of summer once the Legislature has recessed and when most are at their cottage and likely around 4pm on a Friday.

If Thibeault doesn’t have the financial projections available now, as the bill is set to pass, we have a serious problem. We’re sailing blindly into the abyss. Isn’t that what first got us into this hydro mess – a lack of planning and sheer negligence?

Both New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath and PC leader Patrick Brown’s parties will rightfully vote against the hydro bill. Horwath called it a “$40-billion attempt to buy an election” while Brown said “in no world can I support a plan that’s going to cause vast new amounts of debt.”

Of great concern is that the poll finding that 89 percent of people distrust Wynne was conducted after all the goodies were announced. The same poll also found PCs still lead in popular support with 41%, the Liberals have 28% support and the NDP trail with 23%. That’s only going to spur Wynne to continue spending your money like a drunken sailor. You’ve been warned.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Neither tough nor nice

Last March U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon warned of the imminent “deconstruction of the administrative state.” No one thought at the time that this code language for decapitating the F.B.I. while it was engaged in an investigation into the relationship between Trump and the Russians.

Which may explain why Trump’s beleaguered press secretary Sean Spicer was either hiding in the bushes or standing with his staff among the bushes later in the day, as was later reported as a correction. Either way, he was dumbstruck by the news, just like the rest of us.

Every week since Trump’s election in November has been a mix of reality show and politics, served with a high dose of drama, chaos and confusion. Last week, White House officials apparently called the Prime Minister’s office to invite Justin Trudeau to call Trump and beg that NAFTA be renegotiated instead of cancelled. Trudeau made the call and Trump backed down. Trump being Trump, a likelier scenario was that he told his officials to pretend they were calling out of their own volition. Everything is games and mirrors with Trump.

The day after Trump fired F.B.I. Director James B. Comey, he awkwardly appeared at a photo op in the Oval Office with former Nixonian-era Secretary of State Henri Kissinger, a reminder of another loose cannon president. Trump then cozied up with Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak. Trump banned American media and photographers from witnessing the gathering only to later find out that Russian state news outlets had made public photos of the beaming threesome.

Mainstream U.S. media outlets, like the New York Times and the Washington Post – those Trump call “fake news” – were reporting that Comey’s capital punishment-worthy offence was requesting additional resources for the F.B.I.’s Trump-Russia investigation.

Trump’s wildly vacillating version of why he fired Comey appeared to morph by the hour. Comey had lost the confidence of Americans or his own staff at the F.B.I., or Trump was always set on firing him for his misconduct during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of emails, or the deputy Attorney General and the A.G. had both requested it, or that he was fired for either incompetence, being a “showboat” or a “grandstander.” Pot meet kettle.

The U.S. likes to think of itself as the leader of the Free World. With its powerful constitution and democratic institutions, there was a time where the superpower could well wrap itself around that notion. But with Trump the demagogue in charge of the White House, we can officially let go of that myth.

Trump likes to think of himself as brilliant and tough but with a kind heart. A misunderstood kind of guy. It’s the reason why he can’t stand Saturday Night Live’s Alec Baldwin impersonations of him. They portray him as too “mean.”

Apart from being a scheming, lying bully, Trump’s indeed a mean coward. Comey was meeting with F.B.I. staff in Los Angeles when his firing broke on a television. He thought he was being pranked. Red-faced Comey soon found out that it wasn’t a joke.

So much for Trump being a tough but nice guy. He’s neither.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Charging should be last resort

The Supreme Court of Canada’s Jordan case has caused ripples through our criminal justice system. The effect of the case has been to set rigid guidelines for trial within a reasonable time. If they’re not met, the accused is cut loose and charges are stayed.

In Ontario alone, it means that 11,000 criminal cases are at risk of being tossed. Already first-degree murder cases, robberies and sexual assault cases have been thrown out of court. And it’s only the beginning.

It’s not the first time that the SCC has sent a wake-up call to actors in our judicial system to take their constitutional obligations more seriously. In the early 1990s, the SCC’s Askov decision produced similar results.

Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi sounded like a deer caught in the headlights when he attacked the SCC for acting as if they were changing the rules of a hockey game “in the third period.” This is nothing but bluster and a smokescreen to cover up his ineptitude and neglect of our legal system.

A wide range of solutions are being looked at from getting rid of the largely outdated preliminary inquiry to throwing more money at the problem: hiring more Crowns, appointing more judges and building more courthouses.

I have another solution. Let’s get back to the basics. Criminal court is not a vehicle for social engineering and political correctness. Criminal law is meant as society’s sledgehammer to go after and denounce the worst conduct. After all, a convicted person is known as a “criminal” with all the associated stigma and faces imprisonment for life in some cases.

Three recent cases illustrate how we’ve strayed from the traditional underpinnings of criminal prosecutions.

First, last Thursday, Anita Krajnc was acquitted of mischief. Her alleged crime? Giving water to thirsty pigs on their way to a slaughterhouse in Burlington. The trial, which garnered international attention (embarrassing!) took 7 days of court time turned into somewhat of a gong show as the accused tried to prove that pigs are “persons”. Straight shooting Justice David Harris threw out the charges and reigned in both sides. “By law in Canada, pigs are not persons. They are property,” he said. “Did Ms Krajnc obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of the property? My simple answer to this question is: no. She did not,” he added. What a colossal and ridiculous waste of court time.

Second, the myriad of arrests and charges against cannabis shop owners in Ontario operating in the light of day is using a sledgehammer when a fly swat would suffice. No doubt they’re operating illegally but surely as pot legalizing is about a year away, it’s business for the bylaw enforcement officer not the cops armed with search warrants and battering rams as we recently saw in Toronto.

Finally, cops in Newfoundland recently charged a 27-year-old man with the criminal offence of causing a disturbance by yelling the sexually explicit phrase “FHRITP” at a female TV journalist. What he did is hideous, sexist and repulsive. But criminal? Not a chance. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, acting more like a thought and politically correct enforcement body than real cops, tweeted “disrespect can be the root of violence.” My first reaction was the Onion or The Beaverton had hacked the cops’ twitter account. Is that what police and criminal law are for? Policing disrespect?

Let’s bring back police officer discretion and more robust Crown vetting of what gets to trial. Weed out matters that don’t deserve our collective sledgehammer and let’s get back to prosecuting real crimes such as murders, sexual assaults and robberies.

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.