May 11, 2014

Ontario politics: “Insular, petty and involves a cast of characters you wouldn’t want to meet wandering down a dark alley”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:02

It’s election season once again in Ontario, and Richard Anderson looks at the current state of play:

I know most of you can’t stand Ontario politics.

Especially those of us who live here…

It’s insular, petty and involves a cast of characters you wouldn’t want to meet wandering down a dark alley. Still it’s the largest province in Confederation so attention must be paid, however grudgingly.

The last decade of provincial politics has revolved around the astonishing acrobatics of the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals. They have lied, overspent and borrowed to an extent without precedent in English speaking Canada. Those of us who remember the Bob Rae years had assumed that they had seen the worst. Apparently it wasn’t. After a brief house cleaning under Harris-Eves we were returned to spendthrift form. The provincial debt has doubled in ten years. Nothing else in Ontario has grown anywhere near as fast.

A political party that was this incompetent, this obviously corrupt, would you think be headed for certain defeat at the polls. Transforming the engine of the Canadian economy into its busted leg took some doing. A treasure trove of natural resources, close proximity to the largest American markets and a highly skilled workforce. Ontario has, what seemed until recently, to be nearly indestructible advantages. A pack of Gibbonese monkeys could be running the show at Queen’s Park and the economy, somehow, would still keep moving along.

But no one saw Dalton McGuinty coming. How could they? With the personality of a mediocre non-entity and the political cunning of a dishonest child, he won two majority governments and narrowly missed a third. How has been something of a mystery. The Dalt had certain inborn advantages. His sheer nebbishness made him seem unthreatening. Yet here we stand at the bottom of a deep hole he himself dug. There were, of course, his weak and bungling rivals. Ernie Eves looked and sounded like an unenthusiatic version of Gordon Gekko. John Tory’s ability to self-destruct is near legend. Tim Hudak isn’t a real boy at all.

Yet the greatest advantage that Dalton McGuinty had, and which Kathleen Wynne retains, is the electorate. There is no greater advantage to a scheming and incompetent politician than a disengaged and misinformed electorate. That describes the voters of Ontario almost perfectly. This might seem a tad puzzling to some. Generations of Canadian voters have been been able to hold their governments to rough account. Semi-literate frontier farmers were able to follow the twists and turns of the Pacific Scandal and send John A, temporarily, packing. Today the ordinary voter sees greater crimes and follies with nary a batted eye.

March 28, 2014

McGuinty staffer alleged to have wiped key computer hard drives

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:43

I’m sure there’s a perfectly simple, non-suspicious reason for the outgoing chief of staff of a provincial premier to arrange a non-government employee having access to key computers at a change of administration… because otherwise this would look particularly bad:

The Kathleen Wynne minority government went into serious damage control mode after the release of an OPP warrant which alleges criminal behaviour in the office of the premier.

The explosive document, made public by a judge Thursday but not proven in court, alleges a former chief of staff for ex-premier Dalton McGuinty committed a criminal breach of trust by arranging for another staffer’s techie boyfriend to access 24 desktop computers in the premier’s office as Wynne took over the reins in 2013.

A committee investigating the Ontario Liberals’ cancellation of gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga, at a loss of up to $1.1 billion, had already ordered the government to turn over all records related to that decision.

Wynne said the allegations, if true, are “disturbing” but she was not aware of and would not have condoned such activity.

“I was not in charge of the former chief of staff, I did not direct the former chief of staff, I did not direct anyone in my office to destroy information, nor would I ever do that,” Wynne said. “And, in fact, we have changed the rules about the retention of information.”

OPP investigators probing the alleged illegal deletion of e-mails executed a search warrant last month on a Mississauga data storage facility used by the Ontario government.

July 26, 2013

New poll shows Liberals trailing in two byelection races

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:14

The Toronto Star reports on the latest polling information for the Ontario byelections:

The Progressive Conservatives are well ahead in two longtime Liberal strongholds — one in Toronto and the other former premier Dalton McGuinty’s Ottawa riding, according to a Forum Research poll.

The polling firm on Wednesday looked at three of the five Aug. 1 races:

  • Etobicoke—Lakeshore, where Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday is leading.
  • Scarborough—Guildwood, where the Liberal candidate Mitzie Hunter has the edge.
  • Ottawa South, where almost half of the voters would support Tory candidate Matt Young.

Regardless of the outcomes, the Liberals’ minority position in the 107-seat legislature will not be affected.

Winning Etobicoke—Lakeshore would mark a crucial breakthrough for the Conservatives in Toronto, where they have been shut out of since 2003, and an important win for Tory Leader Tim Hudak, who is consistently the least popular party leader.

“This race was very competitive to start with, and Tim Hudak has been showing up a lot. Doug Holyday has been handling the media well and it’s beginning to show,” Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star Thursday.

Holyday was a high-profile last minute entry in the race.

June 11, 2013

Remember the Canadian political scandals?

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:49

Andrew Coyne got the secret decoder ring from one of his readers:

June 6, 2013

“[D]espite breaking the Archives and Recordkeeping Act and ‘undermining’ freedom-of-information legislation, the scofflaws will not face penalties because there are none”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:40

It’s mighty handy to have thoughtfully passed a law against deleting official records — that includes no penalties whatsoever — just before you start breaking that law with abandon:

Top Liberal staffers — even in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office — illegally deleted emails tied to the $585-million gas plant scandal, a parliamentary watchdog has found.

“It’s clear they didn’t want anything left behind in terms of a record on these issues,” Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said Wednesday.

Her findings came in a scathing 35-page report prompted by NDP complaints that key Liberal political staff have no records on the controversial closures of plants in Mississauga and Oakville before the 2011 election.

However, despite breaking the Archives and Recordkeeping Act and “undermining” freedom-of-information legislation, the scofflaws will not face penalties because there are none, said Cavoukian.

“That’s the problem,” she said, noting the inadequate legislation was passed by the McGuinty Liberals. “It’s untenable. It has to have teeth so people just don’t engage in indiscriminate practices.”

Attorney General John Gerretsen said the government would consider changes.

“Any law, in order to be effective, there have to be some sort of penalty provisions,” he said. “We’ll take a look.”

If I were a betting man, I’d say that the chances of this “look” producing anything useful would be less than 1 in 10. If this were a private firm or an individual accused of deleting records that the government had an interest in seeing, I rather suspect they’d creatively find something in the existing body of law to use as a bludgeon. It’s charming that they didn’t think to include any penalties if the culprit was a government employee.

April 11, 2013

Ontario’s Green Energy Act is pushing the province to the top … of the retail electricity price table

Ontario loves to be at the top of rankings, but Ontario electricity users should be upset that we’re surging to the top of this particular ranking:

Ontario’s Green Energy Act (GEA) will soon put the province at or near the top of North American electricity costs, with serious consequences for the province’s economic growth and competitiveness, concludes a new report from the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian think-tank.

“Already, the GEA has caused major price increases for large energy consumers, and we’re anticipating additional hikes of 40 to 50 per cent over the next few years,” said Ross McKitrick, Fraser Institute senior fellow and author of Environmental and Economic Consequences of Ontario’s Green Energy Act.

“The Ontario government defends the GEA by referring to a confidential 2005 cost-benefit analysis on reducing air pollution from power plants. That report did not recommend pursuing wind or solar power, instead it looked at conventional pollution control methods which would have yielded the same environmental benefits as the GEA, but at a tenth of the current cost. If the province sticks to its targets for expanding renewables, the GEA will end up being 70 times costlier than the alternative, with no greater benefits.”

[. . .]

The study shows that the GEA’s focus on wind generation is particularly wasteful: 80 per cent of Ontario’s wind-power generation occurs when electricity demand is so low that the entire output is surplus and must be dumped on the export market at a substantial loss. The Auditor General of Ontario estimates that the province has already lost close to $2 billion on surplus wind exports, and figures from the electricity grid operator show the ongoing losses are $200 million annually.

The wind grid is also inherently inefficient due to the fluctuating nature of the power source. The report calculates that due to seasonal patterns, seven megawatts of wind energy are needed to provide a year-round replacement of one megawatt of conventional power.

“Consequently, the cost of achieving renewable energy targets for the coming years will be much higher than the Ontario government’s current projections,” McKitrick said.

February 5, 2013

Ontario facing fiscal crisis that is worse than California’s

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:17

In the Financial Post, Jason Clemens and Niels Veldhuis look at the under-reported fiscal problems Ontario has to deal with … and soon:

‘I do not want Ontario to become like California,” Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan once proclaimed. And it’s not hard to understand why — California is a fiscal nightmare. It has the lowest bond rating in the United States and its own treasurer, Bill Lockyer, referred to the state budget as “a fiscal train wreck.”

Yet, despite all that is said about California’s finances in the media and financial markets, Ontario is in much worse shape.

Back in 2002-03, the fiscal year before the governing Liberals took office, Ontario’s net debt (assets minus liabilities) stood at $132.6-billion. In the ensuing decade, the province’s debt ballooned by almost 78% to $235.6-billion (2011-12). Most worrying, however, is that if Ontario continues on its current path (status quo in terms of spending and revenues), its debt will balloon to over $550-billion (66% of GDP) by the end of the decade (2019-20).

[. . .]

On a per-person basis, Ontario’s bonded debt (the concept of net debt is not used in U.S. public accounting) currently stands at nearly $18,000, over four-and-a-half times that of California at $3,800. As a share of the economy, Ontario’s debt (38.6%) is more than five times that of the Golden State (7.7% of GDP). This is a stunning difference in the burden of debt, particularly given the attention and concern focused on California compared with Ontario.

While the two jurisdictions face similar average interest rates for their debt, the large difference in the stock of the debt means equally large differences in interest costs. Specifically, Ontario spends almost double what California does on interest costs in dollar terms and a little over three times what California spends as a share of the revenues collected, 8.9% compared to 2.8% of revenues. This is money that could have been spent on health care, education, public safety.

January 24, 2013

Dalton McGuinty, custom-tailored for Ontario politics

Filed under: Books, Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

Chris Selley discusses a new book on Dalton McGuinty, which raises more questions about the soon-to-be-former Premier than it answers. For example, I would never in a million years have guessed that McGuinty once held views like this:

And we learn that Mr. McGuinty, upon entering politics after his father’s death, was widely seen as cut from the same cloth: “the odd duck from Ottawa South with the socially conservative views [who] could have fit quite comfortably into the [Progressive Conservative] caucus,” as Mr. Coyle puts it. He was the guy who voted against same-sex spousal benefits in 1994, bemoaned Ontario’s soaring debt levels and preached self-reliant smaller government.

“Too many people today have come to view government as the first resort instead of the last resort,” he wrote in a 1994 op-ed. “Most forget that our first schools, universities, hospitals and all forerunners to our modern social programs were not run or even funded by government. These services were provided by individual volunteers and charitable organizations.”

To strongly disagree with the original author — someone with views like that would most certainly not have fit with the Progressive Conservative caucus of the day: Ontario PCs were almost interchangeable with Ontario Liberals and “self reliance” and “small government” were radical, beyond-the-pale notions that had no place in either caucus. Such heresies belonged out with the uncivilized cowboys of Alberta (or even Texas), not in the smug, comfortable centre-of-the-universe nexus of Ontario politics.

Mr. McGuinty finishes his journey as pretty much the opposite of all of the foregoing, as the paragon of a mushy Canadian progressive nanny statist. One former MPP suggests to Mr. Coyle that this is simple a matter of “growing up” — but this is an absurd dramatic licence we afford only to politicians. Normal people’s views don’t change that much between the ages of 40 and 60 without some epiphanous triggering event.

Ideology aside, the “evolution” Mr. Coyle describes will be interesting enough for political junkies, but it’s not very revelatory: At first Mr. McGuinty was an introverted and not-very-organized politician; he won the party leadership more or less by accident; and eventually, with some savvy backroom help, he developed into a well-organized, professional, bog-standard progressive Canadian politician with all the advantages that entails.

Had Mr. McGuinty been an evangelical, of course, he never would have gotten away with this: The less of a social-conservative agenda Stephen Harper & Co. pursue, the bigger government gets under their watch, the more they are accused of plotting a theocratic small-government revolution. But conservative Catholics can publicly transform into liberal Catholics entirely in less than two decades, and they will almost always get the benefit of the doubt.

October 17, 2012

Dalton McGuinty’s “legacy”

All the media chatter about Premier Dalton McGuinty running for leader of the federal Liberals must be coming from folks who want to watch a national train wreck, says Michael Den Tandt:

Set aside that, with nine years as premier of Canada’s most populous province, constituting more than one-third of the national population, McGuinty would be past his best-before date at the best of times.

And let’s ignore his long track record of broken promises, beginning shortly after he was elected on a solemn vow to run balanced budgets and hold the line on taxes. He made that promise in writing. He broke it without a shred of visible remorse, blaming the other guys.

Let’s set aside the e-Health scandal, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. scandal, the eco-tax affair, and the continuing Ornge air ambulance scandal. While we’re at it, let’s wave off the abrogation of the rule of law in Caledonia. That’s all old news.

Forget the voluminous independent study by economist Don Drummond, who found, in a nutshell, that McGuinty’s entire approach to government in the previous eight years had been wrong-headed, slipshod and ruinously wasteful. Drummond recommended a radical course correction. McGuinty nodded sagely, kindly even, and ignored him.

We could even try — come on now, let’s do this — to ignore the Green Energy Act. This was the ideologically driven plan, still in place, to create an artificial market for “green” energy and erect thousands of 50-storey industrial wind turbines across Ontario, destroying the landscape for the sake of energy that only flows when the wind blows — that is, intermittently.

[. . .]

Let’s set aside, also, the cloying, nanny-state condescension of McGuinty’s approach to leadership — never a principle too firm to be melted into formless goo, never a controversy too sharp to be smothered in a warm quilt of apple-pie hokum. Never mind that, temperamentally, McGuinty is Mitt Romney without the millions. These are intangibles.

October 16, 2012

Whither Ontario?

Filed under: Cancon, Government — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:27

Blazing Cat Fur celebrates the departure of Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, but warns that there’s little joy for the Tories (or ordinary Ontarians for that matter) even with McGuinty off the stage:

So what’s next for Ontario? Tim Hudak will not be the one to lead Ontario out of the wilderness and I don’t blame Hudak. I doubt any conservative will be elected premier for a very long time in Ontario.

McGuinty turned Ontario into a have not province and in the process sold Ontario to the public service unions. No conservative candidate, no matter how blue the 905 etc, can realistically expect to win against Fortress Entitlement, aka Toronto. If you want to see the future of Ontario then look to Detroit. Successive Democratic party regimes looted the tax payers to pay for the promises made to their “friends”. The resulting sense of entitlement became institutionalized, a part of the political DNA. Ontario is no different, look at how Toronto is run, the entitlement spiral is well on its way there. The public service unions will continue to demand more and our politicians will continue to grant them more and there’s nothing you or I can do about it except move. It’s a simple numbers game and there’s more of them than there are of us.

One can only hope that he’s being too pessimistic. But the politician most likely to gain from McGuinty’s resignation isn’t even a member of the Liberal party: it’s NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who may be able to ride the tail end of the federal NDP surge into Queen’s Park as our second NDP premier.

July 28, 2012

Premier-speak for Dummies (that is, voters)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:14

Andrew Coyne provides the beginnings of a Premierspeak-to-English dictionary:

When the premiers decry the absence of federal “leadership,” similarly, they do not mean they want the federal government to actually lead anything. They want it to follow: to do exactly as they say, notably in matters of funding. Some other terms in the provincial lexicon:

Unilateralism. “We are in a period of unilateralism on the federal government’s part,” Charest complained, citing the health care funding decision (in premierspeak: ultimatum). Ottawa is said to be acting “unilaterally” when it spends federal money as it pleases, that is without consulting the provinces. Provinces, on the other hand, insist on the right to spend federal money as they please. For example, when Charest took delivery of $700-million in federal funds offered up in the name of fixing the “fiscal imbalance” and used it instead to cut taxes, that was not unilateralism. See: federalism (profitable).

Negotiations. The federal government, says Ghiz, “did not want to sit down with the provinces to negotiate on health care.” But what was there to negotiate? Negotiations imply a give and take; each side brings something to the table, and offers them in exchange. The provinces bring nothing to these “negotiations.” They do not offer anything in exchange for more federal money. They simply demand it.

Co-operative federalism. When the feds agree to do as the provinces say (see: leadership), or more properly when the provinces agree to let them. Manitoba’s Greg Selinger: “We remain very committed to the notion of co-operative federalism.”

Matt Gurney: The LCBO and the “social responsibility” joke

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Health — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:08

Following-up yesterday’s post on the call to break up the LCBO’s monopoly, Matt Gurney points out that the “social responsibility” claim is a farce:

It’s impossible for the LCBO to really pretend that its primary goal is to prevent Ontarians from drinking when it advertises heavily in print and broadcast media and has periodic sales and events to introduce consumers to new products. You’d think that would be enough to kill the social responsibility argument, but apparently not.

But there are plenty of other things that do. If Ontario believed that it had a social responsibility to directly control the sale of potentially harmful and addictive substances, why are cigarettes sold in every convenience store, milk mart and gas station in the province? Cigarettes kill an estimated 13,000 Ontarians every year. It’s completely inexplicable that this deadly substance can be sold by non-government monopolies while less lethal substances are tightly controlled under the banner of social responsibility. If the only way to ensure that alcohol is consumed in a socially responsible way is to have the province control its sale, why doesn’t that apply to tobacco? What about the two products is different in such a way that makes one OK for convenience stores and one not? This is the unanswered question that drives a stake through the heart of the social responsibility argument. Either the booze controls aren’t about social responsibility or the province is massively dropping the ball on the smokes. Which one is it, guys?

And it’s not like Ontario is somehow blind to the problem of smoking. During the tenure of Premier Dalton McGuinty, the province has cracked down on smoking in any number of ways, including but not limited to outlawing smoking in restaurants and bars (even those with specially ventilated smoking areas), making it illegal to smoke in a car containing a child (including, memorably, even if the child is a teenager who is also smoking), and forcing convenience store owners to cover up their cigarette displays, lest a child see a brightly coloured box and become a tobacco addict by default. All of these steps clearly demonstrate that Ontario is aware of, and concerned about, smoking. Yet I can still buy a pack at my local convenience store. Hmm.

July 15, 2012

What’s a waste of $180 million among politicians?

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:09

Rex Murphy explains just why Ontarians are so justifiably cynical about politics and politicians:

Add all these up and I think we have a good notion of why politics are so little regarded, why so many politicians are abused or scorned and why public life holds so little invitation for those of delicate moral scruple, or a functioning conscience.

But now I’d like to add one particular item to that list: the Dalton McGuinty campaign’s decision to cancel an already-in-progress, contract-guaranteed gas-fired electricity plant outside Mississauga, Ont. It was cancelled, according to the current Ontario Energy Minister’s own words, by the Liberal campaign during the last election. (Everyone who is either sentient or not an absolute Liberal partisan — and pardon the redundancy — realizes that happened because opposition to the plant threatened a Liberal seat or two in the election.)

The cost of that “campaign” choice is now acknowledged to be $180-million.

Now if even a million of the amount had gone into some private pocket, or a bank account of someone close to the Ontario Liberals, the scandal would be nuclear. But because the money is merely wasted — because the whole $180-million just got thrown away, effectively doled out just for partisan advantage — people don’t quite reach white-hot anger.

But something else may be going on. People’s contempt for actions of this sort may be so deep that for a while it remains unspoken. Arrogance and self-interest on this level leaves most normal people speechless. They resign themselves to the sleaziness and corruption of the game. They learn to quietly despise politics. At that point, in a democracy, all are losers. And make no error: It was the Ontario Liberals this time, but once in power, every party, from the Tories to the Greens, is capable of acting in the same way.

July 14, 2012

Ontario’s latest headache in the education ministry

Filed under: Cancon, Education, Government, Humour — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:29

Mark Schatzker explains the new disaster unfolding in the Ontario government’s education file:

According to reports, a number of large unions, including CUPE, IATSE and the United Steelworkers, are already courting prominent Toronto-area student leaders. It is expected that any negotiation will include a list of long-standing student grievances. Top among them is the issue of merit based marking.

“Someone has to do something about all these losers who hog all the best marks,” said Stu, a grade 11 student at Central Etobicoke High School who did “brutal” in Functions and Applications this year.

His friend and co-organizer Luke says a union will be able to push for a “marks tax” on the top one per cent of students. “You have these total nerds who get, like 98 in Bio,” Luke explained. “We think they should give five or ten per cent of those marks to the students who get 45.”

“We have to stop rewarding greed,” Stu said.

Over at Parkside Elementary School in Scarborough, Isabelle, who is in grade seven, is also taking up the fight to make Toronto schools a closed shop. At the top of her grievance list: “geographism.”

“The way it works right now,” Isabelle explained, “is that you have to go to whatever school is closest to your house. But what if your best friend from music camp goes to a different school? How is that, like, fair?”

Sources in the Ministry of Education say the province is already close to signing a deal with elementary students with a benefits package that includes: cupcake Fridays, a ban on quinoa, and a 5.7 per cent increase in recess every year for the next four years, raising it to 20.9 minutes by 2017. (It is presently 15 minutes.)

July 3, 2012

Ontario government considering “streamlining” universities, reducing from four-year to three-year degree programs

Filed under: Cancon, Education, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:09

I rarely find anything interesting in Heather Mallick’s Toronto Star writings, but her Sunday article on possible Ontario government changes to the university system raises some valid concerns:

The Ontario government has run a hasty educational reform plan up a flagpole and is hoping you’ll salute it. Don’t.

The discussion paper, titled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge,” is as mystifying as the gentlewomen’s pompous, verbose porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which reads to me as if it were written by a small weird girl-child, or perhaps Conrad Black.

Without Star education reporter Kristin Rushowy to translate the jargon — which curses the education sector more than any other — I would not have known that basically the McGuinty government wants to cut four-year university degrees to three and “support flexible degree structures that provide new learning options made possible by advancements in technology,” which means online degrees.

[. . .]

This report heralds bad things for Ontario students.

I opposed ending Grade 13 and was proved right, universities frantically offering catch-up courses for students who couldn’t spell or add. I opposed the “30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant for students from middle-income families” that the report boasts of, because the $160,000 cut-off is far too high. I opposed turning colleges into universities because a diploma is just as valuable as a degree, but they are not interchangeable.

And I oppose cutting degrees to three years, not just because other provinces and countries won’t accept this, but because fourth year is when you come into your own intellectually. The report refers repeatedly to the unfortunately titled Bologna Declaration aimed at harmonizing EU higher education — trans. “Yurp does it so we can too” — although I note that there has been talk in Britain of “accelerated” two-year degrees, at which point I despair.

H/T to the Phantom Observer for the link, who twittered:

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