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Commentary on maladministration at all levels of government

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Grits sad mismanagement

Another billion-dollar Liberal government boondoggle might be in the works. Think e-health and gas plants. The problem is, we might never find out about this one.

Fears are starting to emerge regarding business and residence green energy producers who feed Ontario’s hydro grid. It’s just another sad chapter in the incompetence of the provincial government in managing the energy portfolio.

Producers are being paid between 20 and just over 80 cents per kilowatt hour. With new technology emerging they can increase their output by an extra 40 per cent whether the grid needs it or not. How do we know they are not abusing the system? Well, we don’t.

If these producers feed excess power, they are overbilling the system, the system being you and me. To make matters worse, when we have an oversupply we have to shed it, which means giving it away or selling it under cost to other energy-starved jurisdictions. In 2016 alone, this cost us a whopping amount, between $384 million and $675 million according to the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers. Hydro One says it monitors the production and payouts to the producers, but will provide scant details, because legally it’s not obliged to. Trust us, they say. Sure.

With Hydro One’s track record of public service, we should be very weary.

How can this lack of accountability be possible? It’s a direct result of privatizing Hydro One in 2015 by Premier Kathleen Wynne and then Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli and their decision to remove the oversight jurisdiction of independent officers of parliament and neuter statutes such as the freedom of information laws. This, despite the fact the government still owns almost half of Hydro One’s shares.

The overly simplistic rationale for removing outside oversight is that it’s not the way the private sector works. Plus, Hydro One has its own internal Ombudsman. (We all know how well that works.)

Public ombudsmen oversee private sector consumer organizations all over the world – there is ample precedence. Even at the federal level, Canada Post, structured much like a private company with a President, Chair and Board of Directors, is subject to the federal Access to Information Act.

But Hydro One, with a reputation of overpaying its employees, offering shoddy treatment to its customers and under-delivering on its promises, managed nonetheless to carve out its own zone of oversight and statutory immunity, thanks to Wynne and Chiarelli.

The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), one of the governing players in the energy sector, rarely tracks the amount of money paid to producers to check whether they are over producing. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) has no role in the monitoring.

A poorly informed spokesperson for Energy Minister Glen Thibeault offered this misleading reassurance: “We have confidence in both the IESO and the OEB to ensure that our renewables contracts are being managed appropriately.”

The resulting lack of proper checks and balance was an entirely predictable result. In my last report as Ontario’s Ombudsman in May 2015 titled “In the Dark,” I warned the government not to remove Ombudsman oversight over Hydro One given its historical record of not living up “to principles of good public administration.” It was the only one of 66 recommendations rejected by Wynne and Chiarelli. (Mind you, even if the government had preserved jurisdiction, Hydro One would have little to fear from invisible Ontario Ombudsman-light Paul Dubé.)

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Small business suffers under the liberals

I just received a notice from the security company monitoring my home. It laid out the crushing financial pain it’s about to endure as a result of the provincial government rushing through a 30% raise to the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The email was blunt: “By January 1, 2019, it is anticipated that the increase will cost our business more than 32%.”

Unfortunately, small businesses like this one will be struggling and the costs will be passed on to consumers. All because Premier Kathleen Wynne wants your vote on June 7, 2018.

But it seems none of the freebies she’s thrown at us lately nor the vicious attack ads by Working Families Coalition or Working Ontario Women have had any positive impact on her popularity.

According to the latest Forum poll released on December 4, 2017 Wynne, if elected, would be leader of the third party with the New Democratic Party serving as the official opposition and the Progressive Conservatives enjoying a “massive majority.”

Wynne’s personal popularity over the last year has hovered between a low of 12% and a high of 17%. Now it’s at 15%. A staggering 74% say they disapprove of her performance as Premier.

I know the Ontario Liberal party can’t just hide Wynne under a desk until the election is over, but the current strategy of pushing her upfront in television ads and the internet is certainly baffling in light of these numbers. People literally bristle at the sound of her name.

Outgoing Deputy Premier Deb Matthews acknowledges featuring the unpopular Wynne as the main pre-election prop in a commercial “an usual strategy. I think it’s an approach that is different, but as I say, this was the ad that the premier really wanted to run,” Matthews said. She even calls Wynne the party’s “greatest asset.”

Me thinks Wynne’s ego is dictating the agenda. Sure, she’s a great campaigner, hard worker, runner who never quits blah, blah, blah. But a magician she is not. Her ego is exposing the Liberal Party to a disastrous election finish.

Lest we forget, she’s facing another great campaigner in Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown who transitioned from a little known federal MP to beat the PC establishment’s choice of Christine Elliot by selling upwards of 40,000 of the more than 70,000 PC memberships. Now that’s called hustling.

Another odd strategy adopted by the fledging Liberals is to insert the word “fair” everywhere they can. We have the Fair Hydro Plan, the Fair Auto Insurance Plan, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act and it’s “only fair” to increase the minimum wage so quickly. “It’s not fair that, in an economy on the rise, those who work as hard as anyone else still can’t get ahead, so I will never stop fighting for you,” Wynne says.

It’s as if Wynne’s is fessing up to how unfair her government has been for the last 14 years. It’s a kind of consciousness of guilt. Like someone on their deathbed wanting to make amends before passing away.

Small business owners sure don’t feel they’re being treated fairly. It doesn’t matter how many times Wynne showcases herself everywhere you look repeating it like a broken record.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Reminiscent of the Bill Davis era

For many months now, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have hammered away at Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown on where he stands on provincial issues.

How many times have we heard howls from the government benches in the Legislature pressing the PCs on “what’s your solution to hydro problems” or nastily and falsely portraying him as a Canadian version of US President Donald Trump.

Well, be careful what you wish for. Last weekend Brown released his election platform at a policy convention over 6 months before the June 7, 2017 election and was the first party leader to do so. Talk about turning the table on Wynne. And it’s a good one to boot.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall as Wynne was being briefed by Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca who she dispatched to spy on Brown at the conference. The largest mental health commitment in Canadian provincial history, lower income taxes for the middle class and 12% more off our hydro bills are all worthy things in the platform called “People’s Guarantee.”

Del Duca, in a classic pot-calling-the-kettle-black, had the nerve to comment on Brown’s promises “you can get everything under the sun…it’s going to be all sunshine and rainbows.” This from a government who’s been squandering our money on all types of pet projects like green energy.

The PC’s plan is consistently centrist in all respects reminiscent of the era of former Premier Bill Davis. By contrast, Wynne’s track record’s been all over the map. Selling a profitable Crown corporation, Hydro One, and removing public accountability is very much a right-wing thing to do.

The way Wynne micromanages things like when we should do our laundry according to hydro usage smacks of left wing socialism. She also appears to support the wacky “Phones Down, Heads Up Act” introduced by one of her obscure backbenchers MPP Yvan Baker which would create an offence for crossing the street while using your cell phone. Wynne called it an “interesting idea” even though it’s completely unsupported by evidence that it would make us safer.

Heck, no doubt any idea that would get your mind off your skyrocketing hydro bill would be “interesting” from Wynne’s perspective.

The one risk of being the first one out of the gate with a plan for governing is that you are more vulnerable to attack by political adversaries. The flip side is that Brown has shown the courage of his convictions and is ready to defend his plan. And it also shuts up the Liberals who have been harassing the PCs for what they stand for and suggesting they have some kind of hidden agenda.

Right now, the Liberals are looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Their MPPs are running for cover or quitting and their coffers are not quite as full as they should be. Just last year, the PCs fundraised $12.6 million, nearly double what the Liberals collected. In the first quarter of 2017, the PCs fundraised even more money than last year’s first quarter.

The Liberals? Not so much. In a pathetic and desperate appeal for money, Ontario Liberal Party President Brian Johns emailed his faithful last week begging them to “chip in $5” so they can produce a video to attack the PCs. He added: “A $5 contribution from you is exactly what we need.”

What’s next? What about a beer bottle drive? I’m sure 10 cents a bottle would be “exactly” what the Liberals would need to top up their meagre resources.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

C-51

Amid the thousands of women around the world who have come forward to disclose they were victims of sexual assault by powerful men following the more than 50 women who have accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of everything from sexual harassment to outright rape, there exists a small clique of men enabled by anti-feminists who strangely feel they are the real victims in all of this.

It has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada that sexual assaults are vastly underreported and the successful prosecution of these cases is often undermined by entrenched stereotypes and myths. A Globe and Mail investigative report called Unfounded concluded that, of the women complaining of sexual assault to the police, many were disbelieved by the authorities on the flimsiest of grounds and no charges were laid.

As a result of Unfounded, police services across Canada are now taking a closer look at the closed cases.

I was a panelist last Thursday at an event hosted by the University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society. Yes, there is such a thing. One of my co-panelists was lightweight, loudmouth, self-described “civil rights activist” Diana Davison who revelled in her shtick of propagating the prevalence of men unjustly accused of sexual assault relying on “data” and “lots of stuff out there,” without any reference whatsoever to specific statistics or literature. Don’t let the evidence get in the way of whipping up an already wound-up audience of about 150 mostly angry white men.

The panel was oddly titled “Prosecuting Sexual Assault: Should we hear it all?” I say oddly because it is recognized as a basic rule of evidence that the party seeking to introduce evidence must be prepared to satisfy the court that it is relevant and admissible. That applies to all criminal cases, including sexual assaults. So, the answer to the question is a simple no.

The panel was pitched as a “robust dialogue and debate” surrounding Bill C-51 which imposes a duty on the defence to follow a set procedures in order to use records in the possession of the accused, such as emails and text messages from the complainant, to ensure that they are not improperly used at trial to reinforce sexual stereotypes. Defence counsel, predictably, are in an uproar, dramatically calling it a “catastrophe.”

Opponents of C-51 see it as a knee jerk reaction to the acquittal of Jian Ghomeshi. A closer scrutiny of the emails used by defence counsel and how the trial judge treated them would most likely have been allowed even if C-51 had been law. The emails were used to prove the complainants made inconsistent statements at various times and suggested collusion among them. This is fair game in a criminal trial and will be fair game when C-51 becomes law.

Audience member after audience member lined up at the mic, often to wag their finger at me. It felt like I was in a twilight zone. A female audience member lamented that the need for corroboration was eliminated for sexual assault cases and should be brought back.

In another insistence, I was making the point that sexual stereotypes also exist among the police. Who can forget Michael Sanguinetti, the Toronto police officer’s safety tip to avoid sexual assault at a campus safety information session at Osgoode Law School in 2011: “Don’t dress like a slut.” It caused international uproar and yearly transnational movement of protests worldwide. In response, someone from the audience heckled “yeah, don’t dress like a slut.”

All of which was evidence enough why we need to continue strengthening the rape shield law and how C-51 can’t pass soon enough.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Grits headed for a fall

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa must feel like Rodney Dangerfield’s “I got no respect” line. And rightfully so.

Sousa delivered a shameful, electioneering fall economic statement last week in which he threw half a billion dollars to buy the votes of small business owners by reducing their corporate tax rate one percentage point.

They didn’t buy it. Small business owners gave him a big thumbs down. An owner of a downtown Toronto restaurant smacked down Sousa, saying “I think it shows a total lack of understanding and ignorance about small business. He added: “don’t reduce my taxes,” but improve the “business environment.” Bingo.

Other small business owners also weighed-in, complaining of endless red tape programs of questionable value, sky high hydro rates and a weak provincial rental protection system. Small business owners hit the nail on the head and won’t be fooled by Premier Kathleen Wynne vote-buying schemes, basically telling her to take her money, or rather, our money, and shove it.

You have to wonder what else can Wynne dole out to salvage her damaged reputation between now and the June 7, 2017 election. Already we have free education, discounted hydro, free drugs, a huge increase in the minimum wage and all types of other costly gimmicks to get your mind off 14 years of Liberal government incompetence and maladministration. I wouldn’t underestimate Wynne’s ability to squander our money even more.

While Wynne tells us we’re out of the reds and let the good times roll, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk doesn’t mince words. She accuses the government of playing with the numbers to camouflage the provincial deficit, denouncing the government of “improperly” accounting for $26 billion to make them vanish from the province’s books.

Lysyk adds: “The government created a needlessly complex accounting/financing structure for the electricity rate reduction in order to avoid showing a deficit or an increase in net debt.”

Because Wynne stubbornly disagrees with the person we count on to keep the government’s finances in check, last year she simply ignored the Auditor General’s review and for the first time in Ontario history, simply released the province’s financial statements without the audit opinion – just like a tinpot dictator. Who needs that pesky thing called accountability after all?

Wynne’s popularity has hovered for many months between 12% and 17% with the Ontario population, a feat never achieved by any provincial premier. According to the latest Forum Poll, the Progressive Conservatives are riding high at 45%, while the Liberals and the New Democratic Party are statistically tied at 24% and 22% respectively. It’s fair to say that bribing of the electorate is not working.

It’s no wonder we’ve seen a massive exodus from Liberal MPPs. From cabinet ministers to backbenchers, the ever-growing list of departures past and future continues to swell. Deb Matthews, Liz Sandals, Brad Duguid, Dave Levac, Monte Kwinter, Madeleine Meilleur and Glen Murray. They’ll all have you believe it’s to “spend more time with loved ones,” or some other corny line.

They may not have been the brightest of lights at the best of times, but they’re smart enough to read the tea leaves. Watch for more to flee the sinking ship as the Liberals feel the pressure of a looming election catastrophe.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

New bail rules are politically meddling.

Attorney General Yasir Naqvi has issued new micromanaging and politically correct orders to Ontario’s Crown Attorneys. Henceforth, Crowns will be further restricted in opposing bail in criminal cases. It’s a solution looking for a problem.

Overcrowding and abuse of solitary confinement in the Ontario corrections systems are a wide spread problem that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government has closed a blind eye to for the last 14 years.

The problem, and it’s rather a simple one, is that the correctional infrastructure has been sorely neglected. The provincial government hasn’t upgraded the prison system on a wide scale in many years. In Ottawa, for example, a detention centre has been frozen in time since 1971. Prisoners have been found housed in showers for lack of space.

Our creative AG announced a new restrictive bail directive telling Crowns to just loosen up and let more accused of crimes out on the streets. Presto – the inmate overcrowding problem gone. A couple of Crown attorneys were at wits end and called me about Naqvi’s political meddling.

Every Crown attorney, it has long been held, fulfills a kind of minister of the justice role. They are professionals expected to call the shots on serious criminal offences. The notion of winning or losing is not part of the job. They are, according to long standing jurisprudence, only expected to offer a trial in the public interest and to only seek a finding of guilt if the evidence justifies it. They are appointed by the provincial cabinet by order-in-council in order to provide them with the necessary independence to do their job without political interference. Now, it seems, they are being treated like children we can’t trust.

Crowns are buried in red tape like never before. Their ability to exercise discretion has considerably withered away. Naqvi’s new bail directive is a new attack on their independence.

Unfortunately, the situation makes clear that our AG has no experience in criminal courts. It’s ignorance meets naivety. More concerning is that it will expose the public to greater risk from criminal offenders.

Being released on bail, according to the Criminal Code is, for most offences, the norm. If the Crown opposes the release of the accused, the onus is on the Crown to demonstrate that the accused is a flight risk, presents a high risk of committing an offence if released or that the seriousness of the offence combined with a strong Crown case would be shocking to the public.

The new bail directive’s objective is jovially described in Naqvi’s press release as reducing pre-trial custody. The Criminal Code dictates how Crowns should make decisions on whether to oppose bail. And a judicial officer, a Justice of the Peace makes the final decision.

But now Crowns have to contend with platitudinous directives such as “reinforcing that recommendations for conditions of release should be connected to both the circumstances of the accused and the facts of the case, while at the same time, meeting public safety concerns.”

I can assure you that if someone is released on bail according to Naqvi’s new marching orders and commits a heinous crime, Naqvi will be hiding under his comfy desk, while the Crown who agreed to his release will be strung out to dry, second-guessed and humiliated publicly to no end at a coroner’s inquest or other public inquiry. But the one who should really have blood on his hands is Naqvi.

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