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.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Zombie law brain dead

Just when you thought you were safe from former Premier Dalton McGuinty and Premier Kathleen Wynne’s social re-engineering pet projects, comes a liberal MPP’s private member’s bill to ban you from crossing the street while using a cellphone.

McGuinty was so adept at running a nanny state and micro-managing our lives that his hare-brained schemes might have been inspired by the dystopian George Orwell’s 1984 or Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. He successfully got us all to do our laundry and turn our dishwashers and air conditioning at certain times to conserve energy, just like automatons. To help control us, Smart Meters were doled out for free. We obeyed Big Brother so well that our electricity use took a huge dive. Which is partly the reason we’re paying so much for the stuff now. While our usage plummeted, the government recklessly invested in creating an overabundance of supply.

As the Liberal government may be on its last breath, little-known Etobicoke Liberal backbencher Yvan Baker’s tabled a half-baked private member’s bill to “ban pedestrians from crossing the road while holding and using a wireless communications device, electronic entertainment device, or other prescribed device.”

In pure McGuinty-Wynne nanny-state-speak, Baker breathlessly added that “what I am saying is that a component of the problem we face is that some people when they cross the road are distracted. And experts say that’s a risky behaviour.”

What experts has Baker been talking to? The evidence out there doesn’t support his “zombie law.” For example, Toronto Public Health found that pedestrian inattentiveness, including but not limited to cell phones, contributed to 13 percent of all collisions. In the United States, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, a database that keeps track of these kinds of things, found that electronic devices were responsible for all of 0.1 percent of pedestrians’ fatalities.

Although the “zombie law,” also referred to as the Phones Down, Heads Up Act is completely unsupported by evidence, Wynne won’t let the facts get in the way of another Liberal pet project to re-engineer your life.

Licking her chops at the thought of unnecessarily controlling legislation, she called the bill “interesting.” Wynne added: “A hundred years ago, there were no stop signs, and so, you probably could have made that argument then. And there were no cellphones 100 years ago. So now we’ve got this new technology that is changing behaviour, and so, if it is changing behaviour to the point where people are at risk, just like having cars changed behaviour to the point where people were at risk, then I think we need to look at the laws and say, ‘Do we have enough?’”

A “zombie law” introduced during Halloween week was likely a cute move to change channels from the Liberals’ dismal, most recent showing in the polls. The latest Forum Poll put the Liberals at 24%, the New Democratic Party statistically tied at 22%, while the Progressive Conservatives at 45%.

With a looming election and a crowded legislative agenda, the “zombie law” is very unlikely to be passed, which is a good thing. The Liberals should just focus on saving their skin and not remind us plebes that they continue to be obsessed with controlling all aspects of our lives.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

Ontario Liberals trumps Trump

It’s ironic that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s so bent on painting Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown our own version of US President Donald Trump that she’s adopted Trump tactics to do so. She’s even happy to manufacture and spread fake news, to boot.

The Liberals’ tactics leading up to the June 2018 election have been to smear Brown as an anti-woman social conservative, even though he’s on the record as saying that social conservative issues are off limits. Period.

Let’s face it, it would be political suicide to embrace social conservativism in 2017. No shrewd politician would want to die on that hill. The “hidden agenda” angle also hounded former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Paranoid Liberal pundits would continually warn that Harper would make abortion and gay marriage illegal and even bring back the death penalty. He was in power for nearly a decade and there was not even a hint of his interest to do so. In fact, just as Brown has said, Harper took social conservative issues off the table.

But it hasn’t stopped the hysterical and desperate Ontario Liberals from dealing in similar wedge politics à la Trump.

Most recently, a new well-funded organization called Working Ontario Women (WOW) has sprung to life with vicious anti-Brown ads. Turns out WOW is bankrolled by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) with a 2 million North America membership. WOW’s website tells that they fight for protecting women’s rights, including marriage equality and the right to choose, improving women’s health and expanding access to women’s health care and fighting for fair wages and equal pay. All noble objectives.

But why pick on Brown who’s on the same page as WOW? WOW’s website also claims that the organization is “led by women.” But once you dig deeper through this pop-up organization which has less than 150 followers on Twitter, you get a big clue on who really runs it. WOW’s puppeteer is a big L Liberal guy pulling the strings from SEIU. This sheds light on why WOW is pro-Wynne and anti-Brown. Meet Michael Spitale, SEIU Healthcare ‘s Director of Government Relations and very much a man. Spitale’s worked on Wynne’s Leadership campaign and was Director of Political Affairs for the Liberal Caucus, not to mention that he’s the former President of the Ontario Liberal Party.

This explains not only SEIU’s coziness with the Liberals, but also the extent to which it actively works to get Liberals elected time and time again. SEIU has openly campaigned for Energy Minister Glen Thibeault and others. SEIU’s also donated thousands of dollars to the Liberal Party.

SEIU is so tight with the Liberals that they are the only union to have been invited to a partnership with the government for a new training program for personal support workers. This incestuous relationship even led to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union President Warren (Smokey) Thomas to denounce the sweetheart deal as a “shady inside relationship” that “dangerously” erodes democracy.

So, next time you see an ad on TV by WOW, remember that it’s courtesy of Wynne in the finest of Trumpian tradition – deceitful, deceptive and meant to divide.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

What a difference a week makes

In last week’s column, I lamented the sad state of oversight affairs in Ontario.
The Invisible Man, Ombudsman-light Paul Dubé, is like Punxsutawney Phil the scared groundhog who saw his shadow and rushed back to his burrow. You wouldn’t know his job is to fight for the “little guy.” But all he seems to want is please his political masters in government. God forbid he ruffles any feathers.
Another Officer of Parliament, French-Language Commissioner François Boileau, isn’t coy one bit about where he stands. Apparently, it’s in a threesome photo op embrace with Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs Frances Lalonde. Can you imagine former Auditor General Sheila Fraser cuddling-up with former Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin at a photo op?
As all this lovefest was going on between Officers of Parliament and cabinet ministers, Auditor General Bonnie Lysik was sharpening her spear to pierce through the government’s Hydro One rebate scheme. A breath of fresh air amidst the incestuous atmosphere surrounding some of the current crop of overseers.
There are two very troubling findings in the AG’s report revealed by the Financial Accountability Office.
First, we learn the government’s been “cooking the books,” as PC leader Patrick Brown put it. We already knew the 25% hydro discount would cost us $39.4 billion in the long run. Now we learn the debt won’t be with the provincial treasury, but funnelled through Crown corporations so the Liberals can magically balance the budget.
When gangsters do this kind of thing, we call it money laundering. But for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, it’s business as usual. All this deviousness will add another $4 billion to the almost $40 billion in interest we’ll owe from the 25% “discount.”
What could $44 billion buy? Enough transit and health care infrastructure to go a long way to fixing this province’s problems. But instead that money is being used by the Liberals to get re-elected.
Second, in order to make this ruse work, the Liberals used different accounting standards from those that should have been used to further skew the numbers in their favour. It’s Wynne’s version of alternative facts, courtesy of accounting practices in Texas, New York and Minnesota.
Wynne keeps telling us we needed the 25% discount because people are suffering from high electricity rates. Sure, we’re suffering, but who’s to blame in the first place? The people who’ve been running the province for the last 14 years – the Liberals. There’s no question hydro infrastructure needed upgrading. But it was done recklessly without any forethought about consequences. Green energy was massively foisted upon us and the enormous expansion of electricity production far outweighed what we needed. Now we’re stuck with the bill.
Far from showing humility, the Liberals responded viciously to the AG’s report, disputing her findings and attacking her personally.
It’s no wonder Dubé and Boileau prefer copping out and hiding behind bushes or group-hugging Liberal ministers. It’s a lot safer. Thank goodness, we have the Financial Accountability Officer and AG in our corner to call it as it is.

by André Marin André Marin No Comments

The death of oversight

Hydro One’s Ombudsman, Sophie Petrillo, has released her first annual report. And a glib and chest-thumping Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault was pointing to declining complaints as proof that things have improved. Not so fast. Less complaints can be attributed to a myriad of reasons. For example, if the Ombudsman is too cozy with Hydro One – which it is, in this case, can mean that the public has no faith in the process, ergo less complaints.

Having a closer look at the skinny 14-page report shows it to be devoid of much substance and bereft of any kind of information to draw any real conclusions.

The crux of a compelling Ombudsman’s report are the human stories behind the complaints so the reader can get a flavour of what beleaguered Hydro One customers have to deal with. Don’t look for them here. The heart of the report is bureaucratese language laid out over 8 bullets that is neutered to the point of being meaningless.

For example, the Ombudsman made recommendations on modifying “how managers in the field investigate complaints about service.” Say what? We are left hanging. What gibberish nonsense. What ever happened to the: Who was involved, What happened, When did it take place, Where did it happen, Why did it happen and How did it happen?

But that’s what we get with a government which has been in bed, or at war with, independent oversight.

French-Language Services Commissioner François Boileau seems to have adopted the mantra that if “you can’t beat them, join them.” He travelled to Ottawa last week to be used as a prop in a slightly nauseating photo op for Attorney General Yasir Naqvi and Marie France Lalonde, Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. Smiling widely cheek-to-cheek, he appears in a threesome embrace with the ministers while wearing a red tie behind a podium with a Liberal red banner stating, “Stronger Access to Justice in French.” I can’t remember in my 20 years of oversight, an Officer of Parliament so callously abdicating his independence. The only message missing was an outright “vote Liberal” banner.

Back at my old office, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé has managed the nearly impossible. When he was appointed he acted like a 5-year-old sitting in a pilot’s seat. “This is my dream job, this is my dream job!” he sounded. He said he would do things differently. And he sure has. Ever heard one peep from his office? Neither have I. He’s returned the office to the obscure backwaters.

Meanwhile, there’s an ongoing war between the financial numbers of the Auditor General, the Financial Accountability Officer and the Ontario government. For example, the government dug in that last year’s deficit was $991 million while the Auditor General begs to differ and maintains it was $2.44 billion.

Effective oversight protects the public’s interest and reinforces confidence in government. It requires a strong and independent voice. Are you listening Boileau and Dubé?
But it also requires the government to accept that the relationship is, by definition, not always a bed of roses. Tension and friction is a necessary evil. Premier Kathleen Wynne shouldn’t expect Boileau or Dubé to be Liberal cheerleaders. Nor should she declare war on her financial overseers.

Sadly, this is the place we’re in currently. And it’s eroding our ability to keep the government in check.