Thursday November 14, 2019
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Ontario does not have a revenue problem…

by Kelly Harris

Hidden amidst the announcement of more money for health care, education and accelerated deficit reduction in the 2019 Fall Economic Statement Nov. 6, was an interesting comment on environmental programs in Canada.

The Dark Side of Social Media

by Catherine Swift

Most people who are active on social media – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like – probably think that the main downside of social media is the many opinionated, argumentative and downright distasteful trolls you are bound to encounter along the way. The recent Canadian election revealed a much darker element of social media networks as it became clear that a very deliberate and surreptitious effort was underway to censor and distort information that was not favourable to the Trudeau Liberals. As these networks become more pervasive and influential in our day-to-day lives, this should be of great concern to anyone who values free speech and fair elections.

The best predictor of future behaviour…

by Kelly Harris

On Wednesday, Nov. 6 Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips will give his mid-year report card on the province’s finances during the Fall Economic Statement (FES).

It will go something like this: “Thanks to the hard work of Ontario’s all star ministers the province is ahead of schedule to balance the budget within four years. By targeting efficiencies, and not cuts, the province is protecting the services Ontarians need most, and thanks to the great work of Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, making Ontario open for business, we have been able to increase revenues all the while lowering taxes.”

From his grave in Sleepy Hollow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American essayist, almost seems to be aiming his words at Canada. Election 43 is one for the history books and many have an opinion about its outcome.

Over the past week, many political observers , pundits and those in media have suggested Canada is in for a rough ride in the coming years. Western alienation, they say, is at an all-time high, Quebec nationalism, they say, is on the rise and left of centre politics, they say, will consume the policy agenda in Ottawa.

Well-funded union advertising campaigns have convinced many Ontarians that Premier Doug Ford is making cuts to education that are hurting our kids.
Is this true? No.
These claims are demonstrably false. The current government has increased education funding by $700 million beyond what the previous Liberal government spent, including a $1.6 billion Teacher Job Protection Fund to ensure that no teachers would lose their jobs due to a change in class sizes over the next four years.

Benching Ford Nation – the wrong plan?

by Kelly Harris

More than 7,000 Liuna members from across Ontario marched on Queen’s Park to protest the government and hear the leader of the official opposition speak.

It was April 23, 2018, the government they were protesting was that of Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and the opposition leader they were there to hear speak was new PC Leader Doug Ford.

Is education deal a new MO for Ford government?

by Janet Ecker

Score one for the provincial government. At the eleventh hour, Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce reached a deal with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) who represent 55,000 education system support staff.
In an unusual move, CUPE had quickly abandoned its work-to-rule efforts and decided to take its members directly into a strike. This would have shut down hundreds of schools across the province, leaving frantic parents scrambling to make alternative child care arrangements.

And you want to be my Latex Salesman?

by Kelly Harris

Joe Biden served Barrack Obama for eight years as his vice-president. By all accounts he wasn’t a total disaster and from what I know he never wore black face.

Mr. Biden is in the fight of his life for the Democratic Party nomination in the United States, the same country Mr. Obama was president. So you would expect the former leader of the so-called free world to support his friend, former running mate and fellow American. Nope.

In politics you complain up

by Kelly Harris

There is an old adage in politics that you complain up. Anyone who has watched a Niagara municipal council meeting understands that. And when a senior level politician complains down it is often seen as petty almost oafish.

Then there we were Wednesday. Justin Trudeau used Doug Ford’s name nine times in a single announcement. It wasn’t the most he has invoked the Premier of Ontario, that was on this writer’s birthday, Sept. 23, when he said “Doug Ford” 13 times.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation released its policy wish list in advance of the 2019 federal election.
“We believe these 19 policies – some small, some big – will leave more money in the pockets of Canadians, give them better value for tax dollars spent and hold our politicians more accountable,” said CTF Federal Director Aaron Wudrick “We encourage all parties to steal any and all of these proposals as part of their 2019 campaign.”

Rae-Day Relic still Regulates Ontario Credit Unions

by Kelly Harris

Hidden deep in April’s budget delivered by then finance minister Vic Fedeli was a commitment to modernize credit union rules in Ontario.

The decrepit Credit Union and Caisses Populaire Act, 1994, was written before, well, the Internet and is one of the few surviving relics of the Bob Rae era in Ontario. So if you happen to be one of the half-million or so on the Niagara peninsula and Golden Horseshoe that is a credit union member, take comfort knowing that Rae-days may be gone, but the rules governing your life savings remain largely the same.

The common denominator in education disruption

by Janet Ecker

Summer days are fading. Labour Day is over. Kids are back in school. Must be time for another labour dispute in our education system!
Ontario’s parents may be forgiven for thinking they are in a sequel to the movie “Groundhog Day”, when the hero wakes up every morning to repeat the day before. Lucky for him, he uses the repetitive time to learn important life lessons. It would appear the teachers’ and educational workers’ unions have not.

My initial reaction was visceral. Seeing the Prime Minister of Canada in blackface – at nearly 30 years of age while working in education no less – was profoundly disturbing.
In the days since, my feelings are more reflective and personal and have allowed me to put the pattern of Mr. Trudeau’s behaviour into perspective.

Debating the debates

by Kelly Harris

The value of debates during an election campaign has long been in question and never moreso than following the MacLean’s/CityTV Leaders’ Debate Sept. 12 in Toronto.

The strategy of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skipping the debate was pretty simple. It was a frontrunner strategy where he saw no upside as the NDP was floundering; the Greens were cutting into their votes and the Liberal attack on the Conservatives hadn’t changed since the 1990s – just go with ‘hidden agenda’.

Pot Calls the Kettle……Incompetent

by Catherine Swift

We are now coming up to the one-year mark of cannabis being declared legal in Canada, so the retrospective analyses have started to come in. The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation (OCRC) recently announced that it had incurred a $42 million loss in its operations to date. Ever-critical of the Ford government, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) used this occasion to lambaste the government for incompetence, claiming that if the government had followed through on the Wynne government’s plan to have a cannabis retailing network left in government hands, such as the province largely does with liquor, things would have been much smoother. It certainly is refreshing and unusual to hear a large government employee union express concern over competence. After all, they are typically preoccupied with fleecing the vast majority of Ontarians who are private sector taxpayers to the maximum extent possible and ensuring that any additional money thrown at government services goes into union coffers and more compensation for already-overpaid bureaucrats instead of improving the quality of public services. This is indeed a rare and welcome change of pace for OPSEU. But, as always, the true concern of OPSEU is not really competence of a government entity, but its ongoing frustration with the election of the Ford government and the consequence that it was not able to put its hands on yet another big pot of union dues in the form of a government-union controlled cannabis retail network.

Canada must be, A Just Society

by Kelly Harris

The World Justice Project 2019 Rule of Law index ranks Canada 9th in the world with high-scores for “no improper influence” and “no corruption.”

I wonder what next year’s rankings will find given the SNC-Lavalin Scandal and the ham-fisted way the government mishandled it and continues to do so. The amazing thing about this, if it was ever really about jobs, is that there was a way to do it properly.

Government spending in Ontario is still out of control

by Jasmine Pickel

They say, when delivering negative feedback, to use the sandwich approach: compliment, criticism, compliment.
So when it comes to the Ontario Progressive Conservative party’s financial performance, let’s start by commending the government’s Fiscal Sustainability, Transparency and Accountability Act, which improves transparency in public reporting. That includes the recently released first quarter report. Fixing the fiscal mess in Ontario requires being transparent with the populace about just how dire its finances are. So great work there.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been damned if he does and dammed if he doesn’t for most of his tenure at the top of Canada’s natural third party.

First off, Queen’s Park’s former best-dressed Member of Provincial Parliament decided to introduce himself to Canadians before running for a seat in the House of Commons. This was decried by some as a bad move because Ottawa was where the national press is. So he ran and won a seat in Burnaby – a place he has no ties to and doesn’t represent an NDP power-base because it’s on the wrong side of Canada for national media attention.

The golden parachute

by Kelly Harris

Shortly after the 2011 provincial election I made the decision to take the Queen’s Park Golden Parachute and move on to greener pastures. My numbers may be wrong, but I clearly remember they were a grand total of 12 to 14 weeks and the paycheque I cashed was nowhere near the $450,000 plus two senior staffers to former Premier Kathleen Wynne pocketed.
So I was a little incredulous to see the former premier defend the decision saying it was in line with other jurisdictions, when from my experience it wasn’t even in line with her own – albeit the opposition side of things. I immediately felt what it is in line with is the entitled way her government acted for many years when dealing with Ontarian’s money.

The pundits will be chattering about the political impact of federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s bombshell report into the SNC-Lavalin affair until election day. But this is also an opportunity to strengthen government accountability to prevent a repeat of the circumstances that gave rise to the scandal. Dion concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest laws by pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in a decision not to defer criminal prosecution of the firm.
Whichever party forms government after Oct. 21 must implement two key reforms: separating the roles of the attorney general and minister of justice; and, putting an end to omnibus bills, which prevent proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Why keep the cost of carbon hidden?

by Kelly Harris

The Ford Government has given Ontario gas stations until Aug. 30 to place stickers informing motorists of the cost of the Federal Carbon Tax.

The idea of course is to inform motorists and carbon consumers of the additional tax. The number one issue for Canadian voters heading into this year’s election is the cost of living and new taxes, well; they increase the cost of living.

Strike two for PM

by Janet Ecker

An old politician once said that “voters rarely vote for what they say they want.” This fall, when Canadians choose their next federal government, they will have a chance to prove the truth or falsity of that statement. They need to think carefully about the signals they will send to politicians at all levels of government about what they consider acceptable conduct.
In 2015, Canadian voters chose a leader who promised sunny ways and a government that would be more accountable, more transparent and more ethical than the last one.

The phoney supporters

by Jacqui Delaney

For months we have heard about the dangers of the spread of misinformation and disinformation on the internet as we head into the federal election.
Minister Karina Gould has even threatened shutting down certain sites during the writ period to combat the problem.
Earlier this week, we saw a troubling example of a kind of disinformation we should all be concerned with and should all do our part to debunk and combat.

Taxpayers counting on Premier Ford to save smarter

by Jasmine Pickel

Premier Doug Ford was elected to clean up the fiscal mess in Ontario, but his government’s attempts to do so have been hard to watch. If Ford doesn’t fix his strategy, he may lose his chance to fix the province.
Ontarians want less spending. We just have one request: save smarter.
Here are a few ideas.

It’s the Cost of Living, stupid

by Kelly Harris

In the past 20 years of covering elections, working on elections and managing politicians there is a common thread of top issues. It is always health care, health care, and health care. Unless of course, as former President Bill Clinton famously said, “it’s the economy stupid.”

So small wonder the federal parties seem to be tossing about to figure out an agenda that has neither of those issues as number one. Health care, because everyone says it in polling regardless of the reason, I suspect, so they don’t feel stupid, is sitting at number two on the latest Abacus Data issues poll July 15.

A Federal Election Preview

by Anne McGrath

We may have just hit the halfway point of summer but Canada’s political parties are already revving up their campaign engines. As we enter the last full month before the writ drops H+K’s political strategists, Anne McGrath, Melissa Lantsman and Omar Khan share what you need to know about each of their party’s paths to victory.

Tempest in a Wine Glass

by Catherine Swift

Despite being in the summer doldrums when most folks are more concerned about hanging out on the dock with a cool beverage than paying attention to the news, there was a bozo eruption from the left this week that got some undeserved media play. The whole thing started with a story from an online so-called news service called Queen’s Park Today, concerning a story on the Ontario Conservatives’ online Ontario News Now outlet about Premier Ford having paid a visit to an Ontario winery, namely Pelee Island Winery, and saying good things about the Ontario business. Another politician visiting a business during the summer months when legislatures are not sitting and making some complimentary public statements about it is something unremarkable that happens every day. That should have been the end of it and, if it had been a Liberal or other non-Conservative government in power, it likely would have been.

Pipeline Protesters Shouldn’t be Funded by Taxpayers

by Kris Sims

The next time you see pipeline protesters chaining themselves to a bulldozer, know that your taxes may have paid for their activism.
The federal government has given $2.5 million of your money to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives so it can “shine a bright light on the fossil fuel industry by investigating the ways corporate power is organized and exercised.”

Political appointments

by Janet Ecker

Recent coverage of the political appointments’ controversy in Premier Doug Ford’s government brought to mind George Washington Plunkitt, an infamous New York politician in the early 1900’s who once said, “I never accepted a dishonest dollar.” As long as his voters received good value for the money spent, “honest graft” was okay.
While such an attitude is frowned upon today, federal and political governments inevitably get dragged into similar controversies about “cronyism” or “corruption” when faced with the daunting task of appointing literally thousands of individuals to various roles on government agencies, boards and commissions.

Banana Republic North

by Catherine Swift

If we believe the worst predictions of the climate change alarmists, we may be able to grow bananas in Canada in the not-too-distant future. However, it seems that policies of the Trudeau government are on track to deliver Canada into the ranks of banana republics much sooner.
Last week the final report of the pompously-named “Journalism and Written Media Independent Panel of Experts” was released. This is basically the group that was selected to oversee doling out $600 million taxpayer dollars to struggling old-school newspapers that are, like so many industries in this day and age, being made obsolete by advances in technology. The panel is composed of a number of different journalist, news organizations and Unifor, the avowedly anti-Conservative union that represents journalists in a number of publications. Calling this group “independent” is laughable at best, as their undoubted bias in giving out tax dollars effectively to themselves is basically akin to putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank. Adding pro-Liberal Unifor to the mix at election time is nothing short of disgraceful, and should appall all Canadians.

Shut it down CBC

by Kevin Vallier

Canada’s public broadcaster should be ashamed of itself.
Word got out recently that the CBC was exploring the idea of doing a series about the horrific and brutal 1991 and 1992 killings of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14. The man charged with those murders also admitted to raping more than a dozen other women between 1987 and 1990. His wife at the time, who, by all accounts, played a very significant role in those murders, and the killing of her own sister, is now enjoying her freedom and has been for several years. He continues to serve a life sentence for abduction, sexual assault and murder.

Here’s an under-reported tragedy: it’s a one-hour drive to a luxury golf course from the nearest airport. Cue the mournful Sarah McLachlan ballad. It’s such unnecessary suffering.
The Cabot Links golf resort is a luxury facility set amidst the landscape of stunning Inverness, Cape Breton. It’s $125 for a plate of caviar and $320 for an 18-hole round of golf. The Cabot website says the links are a “scenic two-hour drive” from the Sydney airport. For chartered flights, the Port Hastings airport is only 80 km away. Helicopters are also available. The course confidently claims: “getting to Cabot is easy.”

Ottawa’s carbon tax is so bad it’s uniting Alberta and Quebec

by Franco Terrazzano

Imagine a tax so bad that it’s uniting Alberta and Quebec. With all of the heated rhetoric over pipelines and equalization, that sort of unity seems like an impossibility. But it turns out the tax is all too real and it’s Ottawa’s carbon tax.
The Trudeau government has been busy uniting the provinces against its economically damaging policies. Six premiers wrote to the prime minister urging him to change or scrap legislation that bans tankers on the West Coast and makes approvals for future pipelines virtually impossible. And following the Alberta’s government’s announcement to challenge Ottawa’s carbon tax in the courts, the Quebec government is now taking on the tax by intervening in Saskatchewan’s Supreme Court challenge.

The 2020 regional budget

by Bruce Timms

Is the cart before the horse? Regional Council agreed on June 20th to use the Municipal Price Index (MPI) to guide on-going automatic budget increases and directed their staff to prepare a bylaw to replace an old policy that had used the lower Consumer Price Index (CPI) escalator ahead of approving budget committee recommendations.
The Budget Committee approved base budget increases as follows; 2.7% for Regional Departments; 3.0% for agencies, boards and commissions (Police, NRH and NPCA); and 2.1% for waste management. This was based on an MPI that includes a 3.3% compensation increase and adds up to 2.85% overall tax increase.

Imagine if we treated all rich people like Kawhi

by Aaron Wudrick

We all want Kawhi Leonard to keep playing basketball for the Raptors. We want him to stay so much badly that even Canadian politicians are getting into the polite pleading.
“I see lots of businesses offering Kawhi Leonard free food, an apartment and even a houseplant if he stays with @Raptors. So I feel that I should do my part. Hey Kawhi, if you stay we’ll give you free health care!” tweeted Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor.

Bombardier cashes out while taxpayers get stiffed

by Aaron Wudrick

Imagine pouring billions of dollars into a business and not being able to tell if you got anything back in return.
That’s the real-life story of Canadian taxpayers’ relationship with Bombardier, the hapless Montreal-based aerospace company, which last week announced it was selling off its money-losing regional jet business to Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for $550 million.

Thank those who serve whenever you can

by Kevin Vallier

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a great race in Niagara-on-the-Lake known as the Niagara Ultra. I highly recommend it for any of the runners out there. It’s well organized, has a great route down the Niagara Parkway and back and you can select from a number of distances including 10km, half and full marathon and even a 50km distance.

This year had an added special touch. Upon crossing the finish line runners were handed a water bottle and their finisher’s medal by members of our Canadian Armed Forces. There were at least six of them, maybe a couple more. They were young, wore the uniform with pride and very gracious and humble.

Whew! What was that?

by Janet Ecker

Once again Ontario Premier Doug Ford left supporters and critics alike very surprised by his unprecedented cabinet shuffle – unprecedented in both timing and scope. Governments often tweak a cabinet from time to time, but rarely do you see such massive changes so early in a mandate. And even rarer is a change in Finance Minister.
Affable, well-liked and considered competent, Vic Fedeli has been moved to the Economic Development portfolio; admittedly an important post for a government focused on being “open for business” but a significant demotion from the second most important position in government.
What gives? The good news is that the Premier is admitting his government has problems that need to be fixed. Three public events where you get roundly booed and half a dozen public opinion polls showing your support heading downwards can do that to you.

We can’t afford wall to wall pharmacare

by Aaron Wudrick

In early 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau appointed former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins to chair an advisory council on the implementation of a national pharmacare program.

This week, the council issued its final report recommending a top-to-bottom overhaul of prescription drug coverage that would effectively wipe out the existing workplace and private drug plans that cover more than two-thirds of Canadians, and replace them with a one-size-fits-all government plan for everyone, at a cost of $15 billion per year.

Trudeau fans the flames of Western Alienation

by Niagara Independent Staff

Several months ago The Niagara Independent started publishing articles from time-to-time about a piece of legislation that was getting little attention in Ontario but a lot of attention in Western Canada. Some readers thanked us for shedding light on the issue while others wondered why we cared so much about an “Alberta issue”.
Well, that Alberta issue has now become a Canadian issue which means it’s an Ontario issue. And people in this province should pay attention.

Difficult budget meeting ahead

by Bruce Timms

Niagara Region Council is set to hold a Budget Review Committee of the Whole meeting on June 20 to discuss 2020 budget guidelines for staff to follow. This is the most important budget meeting of the year for Council. Staff are asked to prepare detailed budgets for each department based on the guidance provided to them by council based on the percentage increase or decrease council wishes to see. This meeting decides between zero based budgeting or budgets based on a percentage change from last year’s budget.
The discussion will be different this year because the provincial funding changes for 2019 will now likely be imposed in 2020.

The Real Income Inequality

by Catherine Swift

In a move guaranteed to pump up the volume of public sector union caterwauling – if that is even possible at this point – this week the Ford government decreed that core public sector wages would be capped for the next three years with a maximum increase of one per cent. During last year’s election campaign, the Conservatives spoke in generalities about the need to constrain the growing cost of government as an essential part of any strategy to get the province’s financial affairs back into balance. What they meant by that just got real this week.

For several days last week, barbs were traded over the Trudeau government appointing a Unifor representative to a panel that will decide which news organizations will receive $600 million in government funding over the next five years. Unifor’s membership includes 12,000 journalists working at media outlets across the country.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer argued that Unifor is a “highly partisan group with highly aggressive and partisan goals,” which has “made it clear their objective is to help the Liberals win the next election.” He said that Unifor’s appointment to the panel was part of Trudeau’s plan to “stack the deck” in the Liberals’ favour for the election. Liberal heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez deflected the criticism, accusing Scheer of “playing a dangerous game” by implying that journalists can be bought with government handouts.

Another Erosion of Our Freedom

by Catherine Swift

We Canadians are a fortunate people. Throughout our history we have been the beneficiaries of a consistently strong economy, based in large part upon the sheer good luck of having abundant natural resources that are in demand in the rest of the world. We are also geographically blessed, being located in a part of the world not often subject to natural disasters and next door to the most robust free enterprise economy in the world which, despite many Canadians’ closet resentment of anything American, has been a boon to our country in many ways. Looking at the chaos happening in much of Europe currently as a result of the migrant crisis, ongoing violence in the Middle East and other global disruption, we should also be thankful that we are insulated from much of that turmoil by having large bodies of water separating us from those catastrophes. The hard work and ingenuity of Canadians has surely played a role in our national success as well, but we also have to recognize the important of sheer dumb luck.

Why media bailouts are bad and wrong

by Jacqui Delaney

“There’s no place for the state in the newsrooms of the nation.”

To borrow a phrase from none other than the current Prime Minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau, which itself was borrowed from a 1967 Globe and Mail editorial – there’s no place for the state in the newsrooms of the nation.

I say this, not only as someone who is diametrically opposed to the Liberals politically but also, as someone who spent more than 20 years working in news media.

Funding based on positive results is a good thing

by Janet Ecker

Ask most teachers in the kindergarten to grade 12 system what they think of outcome-based metrics or system-wide testing and you will be greeted with a less than enthusiastic, even hostile response. Their unions have fought the provincial government for years over anything that would provide sound data on the quality of teaching, the progress of students as a group or the performance of a school.
But as any manager worth his or her salt knows, whether in the public or private sector, what gets measured gets done, to use the old canard. Most employees outside schools are familiar with the annual exercise of goal setting for themselves and for their organizations.

Protecting the model of care at West Lincoln Memorial

by Sharon Pierson

I would like to update our community on work happening to protect and maintain services at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital (WLMH) until we can rebuild it.
Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) leadership and WLMH site physicians are working around the clock, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, to determine how best to address challenges in meeting the appropriate standards of care in the surgical and obstetrical areas of our facility, with the safe storage of supplies being a particular challenge.

Bigger, but not better: dispelling the “City of Niagara”

by Nicholas Tibollo

Since the province announced it would be reviewing (and perhaps amalgamating) Ontario’s eight regional governments back in January, many have wondered aloud what such a restructuring may look like locally.

Although several options have been tossed about, one particular model for reform seems to be getting more airtime than most.

Next up for the Trudeau Liberals: a plastic tax?

by Aaron Wudrick

They say misery loves company and for the Trudeau Liberals that apparently includes miserable tax policy.
It hasn’t even been a month since Ottawa imposed its hated carbon tax on much of the country and lo and behold, it already has another new tax on the table.
Last year, Environment Canada commissioned accounting firm Deloitte to undertake a study of Canada’s $35 billion plastics industry. The resulting report, released earlier this month, noted that only 9 per cent of plastics are recycled.

Ontario’s battle over beer

by Christine Van Geyn and Grant Dingwall

Some cockroaches hiss as a defence mechanism. It’s startling, but any bird that realizes the hissing is harmless can have an easy lunch.
Right now, The Beer Store is busy hissing about beer sales expanding into corner stores.
Recent reports cite “beer industry insiders” as saying that expanded sales would be a breach of a 2015 contract between the provincial government and The Beer Store that guaranteed what is essentially a monopoly on sales. These insiders claim the taxpayer liability for breaching this contract could be in the “hundreds of millions” or even up to $1 billion.

As Vancouver drivers suffer gas-price pain, carbon tax backers go suspiciously quiet

by Aaron Wudrick and Kris Sims

While British Columbians mutter profanities as they watch gas prices soaring as high as $1.79 a litre, carbon-tax advocates who should be popping champagne are instead quietly avoiding eye contact.
Anyone who wonders if gas prices matter to ordinary people should spend an afternoon watching a busy border crossing. British Columbians are flocking to Washington State to fill up, where, even after the exchange rate, they’re saving about 50 cents per litre.
For a vehicle with a 70-litre fuel tank, that works out to saving $35 per fill up. Multiply that by two fill ups a weeks for the average commuter family in Langley (not a lot of people can afford to live downtown with outrageously high housing costs) and suddenly you’re looking at either spending in Canada or saving in the States $70 extra per week — or $3,600 per year.

You can’t please everyone

by Janet Ecker

For those who thought Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s first budget would be a “blood-on-the-floor-slash-and-burn” exercise, there was disappointment.
For those who thought the still-new Ontario government would exercise strict fiscal discipline and eliminate the budgetary deficit in four years, they too were let down.
Thus, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s promise of a “Goldilocks” approach, balancing the budget not too quickly nor too slowly, was indeed kept. Either direction is a gamble for the government – too fast risks significant damage to services, but too slow means the budget might not be balanced before the next economic downturn occurs.

Provincial budget confirmed good news for WLMH

by Julia Kamula

“A new hospital is on the way,”! Premier Doug Ford announced at West Lincoln Memorial in November. His commitment was reinforced again last week in the government’s first budget, appropriately entitled Protecting What Matters Most. It’s a very welcome commitment, given the long history of neglect and underfunding the hospital has faced from past governments.
We are thankful to be planning the rebuild and talking with our provincial government partners about getting shovels in the ground as soon as possible. The fact is we cannot wait any longer. The single most important thing we can do to keep the hospital open and thriving for years to come is rebuild it – and soon. Every day it gets harder to manage the risk of trying to provide modern health care in a crumbling 75-year-old building.

Taxpayers Federation cautiously optimistic about Ontario budget

by Christine Van Geyn

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is cautiously optimistic about the provincial budget recently tabled by Ontario Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli. The budget includes a plan to achieve a balanced budget by 2023, which is one year after the next provincial election. The current deficit is $11.7 billion, down from $15 billion when the government took office.
“Today makes it clear that balancing the budget is a core goal of this government,” said CTF Ontario Director, Christine Van Geyn. “We are concerned that the commitment will not be fulfilled within this government’s first term, but the government is moving in the right direction without imposing any new or higher taxes. While more restraint should have been shown in the first year, overall, the plan looks good for taxpayers.”

Should Ontario Place be sold? Yes.

by Christine Van Geyn

Ontario Place looks like the set of some futurist film about an apocalyptic wasteland. The pods sit empty, the small children’s village has been shut down for 17 years, and the winter light offerings are more meagre than an average suburban street at Christmas. Tumbleweeds might as well be rolling down the unoccupied paths on the west island.
The problem is that governments make bad landlords. For proof, consider the Auditor General’s report that found the government spent $19 million in 2016-17 to maintain over 800 empty buildings. Ontario Place is just one of many neglected government properties. It received an over $2 million operating grant from Ontario taxpayers in 2016, the most recent numbers available. And operating expenses increased by more than $1 million between 2016 and 2015.

The makings of a provincial budget

by Janet Ecker

The most critical date in the life of any government is the day they unveil their first budget. This is where reality strikes — what did we really mean by this campaign promise or that? What takes priority? How can we afford it all?
For voters, it’s the first real chance to assess a new government. Seeing where the government puts taxpayers’ money shows what the government’s real priorities are. Its choices offer important insights into how the government makes those decisions and how transparent it is about it.
For example, is it clear what is being spent on which program or are details buried deep in the budget papers and appendices?

Ford government’s first budget must demonstrate self control

by Christine Van Geyn

The famous marshmallow experiment at Stanford University studied the lives of children who were offered a choice between one marshmallow immediately, or two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes. The children who could wait tended to do better in life, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment and even body mass index.
The lesson of delayed gratification is one that the new Ford government should keep in mind going into its first budget on April 11. The previous Liberal government’s failure to learn to put the long term ahead of the short term resulted in the province’s $13.5 billion deficit and $324 billion provincial debt.

Province’s wine industry needs fair shake

by Kevin Vallier

In speaking with a number of wine industry leaders and combing through numerous studies, financial analyses and reports one thing is clear; Ontario’s craft wine industry is at a crossroads and the Ford government needs to make sure they choose the right road when making changes to legislation regarding alcohol sales in Ontario.
Simply putting booze in big box stores isn’t going to help. In fact it will do more harm than good when it comes to craft wineries. While many Ontarian’s, particularly in Niagara, fancy themselves sophisticated wine connoisseurs the fact of the matter is more often than not they will reach for $9.99 import bottle instead of the $14.99 VQA offering.

The Manning Conference

by Catherine Swift

Last weekend I attended the Manning Centre Conference, an annual event chaired by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning. This get-together is often referred to as “Woodstock for Conservatives”, but without the great music, unfortunately. Needless to say, much of the discussion in the corridors pertained to the unfolding soap opera with the Liberals and the SNC Lavalin scandal. The formal sessions focused on everything from immigration issues, the impact of social media, pipeline politics, environmental policy and digitizing government, among others, and there were keynote addresses by former George W. Bush senior advisor Karl Rove, Andrew Scheer, Doug Ford and General Rick Hillier. All in all an interesting weekend of conservative-oriented discussion and networking.

Most people don’t expect their governments to be perfect. But they do expect governments to make some effort to honour commitments, be straight with taxpayers and make the best of circumstances as they come.
In the 2015 election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised he’d run “modest” deficits for a few years, then balance the budget in 2019.

How the World Should Act Against Climate Change

by Paul Ferraro

Mitigating climate change is easy. We need only make it more expensive to emit greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, that would also make energy more expensive, and many people would prefer that governments make energy less expensive. Witness the protests started over a modest gas tax in France, a leader in international climate change negotiations.
Rather than work against this incentive — and continue to be surprised at the glacial pace of progress against climate change — an international agreement should try to harness it. It’s time to abandon the effort to secure a global deal to lower emissions, and instead work toward an agreement to make sizable investments in clean-energy technology.

Time to cut interest rate with Canada ‘one notch’ from recession

by Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani

The next move from the Bank of Canada will be to cut to interest rates, according to David Rosenberg, who says the economy is just “one notch away” from a recession.
Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff + Associates, told BNN Bloomberg that the central bank has to shift rates with the changing times, or risk falling behind the curve.
“We just came off two straight quarters of negative growth in real final demand. So, if we’re not in a recession yet, we’re just basically one notch away,” Rosenberg said.

Last Thursday marked 10 years since a spritely young politician from Hamilton staved off veteran MPP Gilles Bisson and former executive director of Greenpeace Peter Tabuns to become the first female leader of the Ontario NDP.

In her tenure at the top, Andrea Horwath has taken the provincial Left from obscurity to Official Opposition: going from 10 seats in 2009, to 40 in 2018.

In the lead-up to last year’s election, some pollsters even predicted Horwath would be named Ontario’s 26th premier (before a strong majority delivered Doug Ford’s PCs 76 seats).

International Women’s Day – Women and Politics

by Janet Ecker

Events happening in Ottawa these days – where two of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most respected cabinet ministers, both women, resigned on principle – add an interesting backdrop to this year’s International Women’s Day.
Former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Jane Philpott are well regarded, both inside and outside of the Ottawa bubble. Resigning from a cabinet position, a role highly prized within the political world, is not done lightly. Whether you agree with their reasons or not, it takes an individual with a deep sense of ethical boundaries.

Evolution and the Trudeau-Wilson-Raybould Saga

by Marc Kealey

The culmination of activities in Ottawa with respect to the testimony of the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould at the Justice Committee and the subsequent fall out has laid bare that Canada’s system of Government has been affected over the years, through dramatic judicial and political reforms. Reforms designed to transfer policymaking dominated from the bureaucracy to the political executive – the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office.
Further, this transition – in the context of Magna Carta – where in 1215 the supremacy of parliament and, therefore, the role of the member of parliament was paramount – has now morphed or, more importantly, produced over recent decades a centralization of power. The entire issue facing the Prime Minister, his office and his Government is focused squarely on this evolution.

Protest convoy highlights jobs calculus

by Aaron Wudrick

When a recent convoy of trucks rolled into Ottawa, it kicked up a cloud of controversy, but one core issue at its heart: jobs.
There are two sides to the jobs question.
On one side, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he wants to build pipelines the energy sector desperately needs. On the other side, the prime minister also promises carbon taxes and similar measures will stimulate a surge in so-called green jobs. But the convoy is a clear illustration that Canadians don’t trust Ottawa to gamble with their livelihoods.

Horwath Invokes Health Care Sacred Cow, Delivers Load of Bull

by Christine Van Geyn

The problem with calling on sacred cows is that the result is often a load of bull. That’s what taxpayers got with the NDP’s not-so-bombshell release of leaked draft health-care legislation in Ontario.
On Jan. 31, NDP leader Andrea Horwath released draft health-care legislation her party had obtained through a leak from an Ontario bureaucrat. Horwath held a press conference where she outlined what she called the Progressive Conservatives’ secret plan to privatize health care.
It’s precisely these kinds of claims that make improving healthcare in Canada so challenging.

Clearly define education objectives

by Janet Ecker

Some political observers think the Finance Minister is the most powerful cabinet minister, after the Premier. And while technically true, the Minister that often gets the most political attention is the Minister of Education.
It’s not hard to see why. We all went to school. We all have children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews who are in school. Or we have a family member who is a teacher.

Like a character in a Greek tragedy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is suffering for perpetrating an anti-democratic abomination he once decried: an omnibus bill.
Keeping that promise may have saved him from accusations that his office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who suddenly resigned from cabinet on Tuesday, to let SNC-Lavalin negotiate a so-called remediation agreement instead of facing full prosecution for millions of dollars worth of corruption in Libya.

Liberals’ poorly designed ‘free tuition’ program like a bad tattoo

by Christine Van Geyn

Government entitlement programs are a bit like tattoos: if they turn out badly, it’s hard to get rid of them. That’s what happened with Ontario’s short-lived and failed experiment with so-called free tuition (or, more accurately, taxpayer funded tuition).
Once an entitlement is granted, recipients view it as a right and it becomes someone else’s obligation to pay for it. Rolling that entitlement back is a huge challenge, even if it has proved ineffective and unsustainable.

The new west and the future of Canada

by Angus Reid

I’m a child of Western Canada. Born in Regina after the Second World War, raised in Winnipeg, now a resident of BC and half of my six siblings live in Alberta. I’ve come to know this part of Canada through the dual lens of personal experience and thousands of polls. And I’ve spent enough time in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal to discover the many myths and misconceptions about this vast region.
I have witnessed a massive change in the role of the West, largely driven by demographic forces. In the early 50’s the Canadian population fulcrum, with Ontario in the middle, was decidedly tilted east. Western Canada had barely a quarter of the then-total population of 14 million. Quebec and the Atlantic provinces hosted slightly more than forty percent of the country.

The future of West Lincoln hospital

by Rob MacIsacc

It was the news we were all waiting for when Premier Doug Ford announced “A new hospital is coming soon,” at our West Lincoln Memorial site in November.

On a tour of the building that morning, Premier Ford underscored his commitment by signing it onto a white board, leading staff to joke that they would never allow his writing to be erased.

Premier Ford’s commitment is a significant milestone. We are at an important juncture in West Lincoln Memorial’s history. People are understandably passionate about a hospital where their babies are born, where their neighbours work and where their aging parents receive medical care.

A balanced budget lasts longer than a crash diet

by Janet Ecker

Balancing a government’s budget is like losing weight. We all know people, if we haven’t done it ourselves, who start the traditional January crash diet, experience that first wave of excitement as the pounds drop off, only to see the weight creep back on as old eating habits reassert themselves. Reining in government spending to match government revenues is not that different.
The last two governments increased spending to unsustainable levels. Ontario now has the largest debt of any provincial, state or territorial government in the world. Interest on that debt is now one of government’s largest expenses, dwarfed only by health and education spending. The agencies who rate Ontario’s credit rating have continued to downgrade it, in effect telling the world’s investors that we are a riskier place for their money.

Amalgamation can be good, but not for everyone

by Robert Hiltz

News the Ontario government is looking to review the state of two-tiered municipalities in the province, and maybe begin another round of amalgamations, has got me thinking about Ottawa.
It’s the city I grew up in, and in the late 1990s was one of the regions amalgamated by then-premier Mike Harris. For a good part of the city, amalgamation has made sense. It took a patchwork of smaller municipalities that were separated by borders that were little more than lines on a map. Now services are streamlined and the city hums along quite content.

The year is only a few weeks old. With more than 90% of 2019 yet to happen, it is not too late to predict what will occur. The following article contains only good news. After the disastrous end to 2018 from the Trans Mountain pipeline decision to the Canadian oil price collapse, no need to rehash what went wrong, or what could go wrong.
This year is my 40th of writing about the Canadian oilpatch. The only conclusion I have reached after four decades of being a non-impartial analyst and reporter of the affairs of our industry during multiple boom and bust cycles is oil people are better at extrapolating than forecasting. We assume that whatever happened yesterday will happen tomorrow and thereafter. If things are good they’ll always be good. If they are bad, they’ll remain awful.

It’s time to tear down 24 Sussex

by Aaron Wudrick

Imagine your house was 150 years old, and hadn’t seen major renovations in 50 years.
Imagine it still had asbestos in the walls — that are also cracking in at least six spots — and that there’s water damage throughout. Imagine ancient electrical wiring and deficient plumbing. Imagine it being too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter. Imagine spending hundreds of thousands of dollars just to keep the heat and lights on, and the snow in the driveway shovelled.
Welcome to 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of Canada’s prime minister.

Political leadership is a tough thing to learn. There’s a lot going on all at once. You’ve got an agenda you want to get passed, but you’ve also got a stable of ambitious personalities to manage in your cabinet and your caucus. Add to that the glare of journalists hungry for stories and you got…a lot. It’s a lot.
Which is why it was so interesting when Quebec Premier François Legault shuffled his cabinet and replaced his environment minister earlier this week. The premier provided a good lesson for other leaders on how to handle mistakes.

More Union Malarkey

by Catherine Swift

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is undertaking a Charter challenge of the Ontario government’s actions to change the sex education curriculum, and the proceeding began this week. The basis of the case is that by temporarily reverting to the curriculum that originated in 1998, but was in place as recently as 2015, the government’s actions are unconstitutional as they purportedly put children at risk by failing to be inclusive and do not meet the needs of today’s students. The union claims to be fighting for the students. This is pretty tough to swallow since Ontario teachers’ unions clearly couldn’t care less about students when they encourage teachers to go on strike, enforce “work-to-rule” conditions, cease extra-curricular activities or engage in other disruptive workplace practices. Serious issues such as the fact that about half of Ontario’s Grade 6 students fail to meet basic math standards don’t even register as a blip on the unions’ radar screens. It is most probable that the courts will reject the EFTO’s lawsuit, while valuable court resources and taxpayer dollars are tied up in this effort that has much more to do with trying to make the Ford government look bad than any interests of the students or even most teachers.

Even if everything’s terrible, it’s still worth your time

by Robert Hiltz

It’s a new year, and so I’m gripped with the senseless sort of optimism that comes with the season. Everything’s got the fresh and shiny veneer that comes as the calendar flips over to something new.
And as 2019, something else dawns with it; an election year. And because of the general positive feeling of the season—perhaps it’s the latent eggnog fumes—I’m almost hopeful for what’s to come this time around. Federal politics might actually be a shiny and desirable thing in these next 10 or so months. Big debates! Honest dialogue! Zero memes!
But who am I kidding?

Top 10 predictions for 2019

by Niagara Independent Staff

While some media outlets prefer to look at the past and compile a list of what’s already happened, writers at The Niagara Independent decided to play prognosticators. In no particular order, here is our Top 10 list of what we think is likely to happen in Niagara, Ontario, Canada and beyond in 2019.

How to stop the so-called “War on Christmas”

by Nicholas Tibollo

Since the turn of the millennium few celebrations have been subjected to the eye-rolling lunacy of political correctness quite like Christmas.

From the clumsy editing of classic carols, to the unceremonious swapping of traditional salutations for generic greetings, various efforts have been made to make the holiday season more “inclusive”.

Secularists, non-Christian religious groups, and ultra-progressive political factions have all taken their respective shots in the so-called “War on Christmas”.

Auditor General’s Naughty List is Ford’s To-Do List

by Christine Van Geyn

The auditor general just gave the premier a thoughtful Christmas gift: a 1,000-page to-do list.

For the past few years, the Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report has been more like a gift for the opposition and a lump of coal for the government.

This year, the government has the convenient excuse of blaming everything in the report on the previous government. After all, the programs and spending reviewed were related to decisions by the previous government. But that doesn’t get Premier Doug Ford off the hook for what comes next. The auditor general has essentially handed his government a to-do list of immediate changes that need to be made, especially if the government is serious about tackling the $14.5-billion deficit.

Will governments ever learn their lesson on corporate welfare?

by Aaron Wudrick

There’s an old saying about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Never has this been more true than governments in Canada when it comes to wasting your money on corporate welfare.

This week, General Motors announced out of the blue that it will be mothballing its plant in Oshawa  and eliminating 2,800 jobs in one fell swoop. It’s a bitter pill to swallow for thousands of GM workers and their families who had no clue whatsoever that such devastating news was coming. They’re furious, like so many other Canadians from coast-to-coast.

After all, this was the same company that, together with Chrysler, begged for a bailout in 2008 at a cost of more than $13 billion taken from taxpayers’ pockets. Then-industry minister Tony Clement argued such a massive bailout was needed in order to “achieve a viable industry.”

The Motherhood Penalty

by Dr. Sarah Kaplan

Ontario has had the world’s most advanced pay equity legislation for more than 30 years. And yet women in the province still earn significantly less, on average, than men. Why?
We read the papers and see Iceland and the U.K. and other jurisdictions passing new laws focused on equal pay, and our first reaction is to think that Ontario needs to get on the bandwagon. But, in reality, Ontario’s 1987 Pay Equity Act (which is further bolstered by the Human Rights Code and recent changes in the Employment Standards Act) is actually state of the art. Many of the pay transparency provisions emerging in countries around the world are occurring in jurisdictions that did not have the excellent legislation that we already have. And their provisions are not as effective or targeted as those that we have in place. If you review the company reports coming out of the U.K., you will learn, for example, that the large Canadian banks operating there have a 30 to 60 per cent wage gap. But, those reports don’t tell us anything about pay. Instead, they simply show that these companies (and most of the rest of the companies reporting) have few women in top jobs (which pay more than jobs at lower tiers of the organization). It says nothing about whether or not women and men are paid the same for the same jobs.

Vision and innovation needed in wake of GM announcement

by Alexander Lutchin

The closure announcement of GM’s Oshawa Assembly Plant is a huge wake up call for our leadership in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park. This is not just an Oshawa problem – this is an issue that will have ripple effects across our nation and certainly in Ontario. Here is the problem: our government leaders are being reactive, rather than proactive. This needs to change now!

How does the Oshawa plant, which is one of the most award-winning facilities on the planet – and at one time considered one of the largest auto plants in the world – meet its demise on a rainy Monday morning in November alongside four other facilities in the US?

Simply put, we did not have our finger on the pulse of GM, or the future lane the auto industry is driving onto at high-speed. That is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. Platitudes are nice – Prime Minister Trudeau said he is very disappointed, Premier Ford said he asked the question of “what could be done?” several times – but platitudes do not solve the serious problem we are facing in this sector.

Too many young people attend university

by Nicholas Tibollo

Of the some 165,000 private, public, and Catholic high school students in Ontario who graduated in 2016 (based on an 80% four-year graduation rate), around 89,000 applied to university in-province, with close to 67,000 formally registering as full-time students.

Based on these numbers, approximately 41 per cent of all local graduating high school students enrolled in first-year, full-time study at one of Ontario’s 21 universities in 2016.

And that figure just includes Ontario institutions. If one factors in local students who chose to attend university out-of-province or internationally, the number approaches half of Ontario’s 2016 secondary school graduating class.

Are we there yet? The long road to a balanced budget

by Christine Van Geyn

Ontario is starting down the long and difficult road of improving the province’s finances, and, like kids in the backseat on a family vacation, taxpayers will be demanding to know “when will we be there?”
Based on the recent fall economic statement, unfortunately, the answer is: no time soon.
The provincial deficit stands at a staggering $14.5 billion. This is down $500 million since Aug. 30, when the Independent Financial Commission of Inquiry issued its report.
This is a start, albeit a slow one.

Is 30 per cent okay?

by Wolfgang Guembel

If you look back at voter turnout in the St. Catharines municipal elections from 2000 to 2018 you’ll notice a pattern: 27, 29.7, 40.7, 31.0, 34.3, and 33.6. This pattern of low voter-turnout is not dissimilar across the region. In fact, voter-turnout in cities such as Welland and Thorold dropped from close to 50 per cent in 2000, down to the low 30s in 2018.

I believe we can, and should, make changes both municipally and socially to help increase the number of residents who cast a ballot. Our local government can introduce electronic voting, ranked ballots, term limits, and ditch the archaic lawn signs. Each of those have strong academic arguments (maybe not the last one, that’s my own). Generally, the only people who don’t like them are those afraid of losing their long-time seat and those who do well when only 30 per cent of the voting population shows up. Socially, we can put on our jacket and look in the mirror. If you see a red poppy on the lapel, ask yourself if you voted.

Have you ever had a job that comes with a generous expense account? How about one where you get to keep your expense account even after you leave the job?
If this sounds too good to be true, you haven’t heard about the great deal Canada’s governors general have been getting for the last 40 years.
As the Queen’s representative in Canada, serving as governor general is arguably the most prestigious appointment in politics, with most serving for between five and seven years. While often described as a “figurehead,” there is no denying that, constitutionally, the governor general plays an important ceremonial role in our system of government.

Give Bill 47 a chance

by Julie Kwiecinski

Last week, small business owners across Ontario breathed a collective sigh of relief after the new Ontario government introduced legislation to stimulate job creation and repeal most of the labour changes in the previous government’s Bill 148.

From Main Streets across Ontario, small business owners have been telling us that the cumulative impact of Bill 148’s tsunamis of significant change – on top of the minimum wage increase – has become too much for small businesses to bear. That it’s burying many businesses in significant added costs and excessive red tape.

Geography & Destiny: How Niagara’s Location Shapes its Future

by Brock Dickinson

I’m writing this month’s column from the lobby of the elegant Carolina Inn, a luxurious boutique hotel in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Imagine Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Prince of Wales hotel if it were built as a set for Gone With the Wind, and you’re not far off. Of course, Niagara-on-the-Lake has some amazing hotels like this because Niagara is one of the world’s great tourism destinations. Chapel Hill – maybe not so much.
What draws people to a place like Chapel Hill – and makes these kinds of high-end hotels possible – is that it’s nestled in the heart of the North Carolina Research Triangle, one of the world’s greatest innovation and technology ecosystems. It might not be as well known as a place like Silicon Valley, but for more than half a century this part of North Carolina has been leading the world in the development of new technologies, and the industries based on them.

Affordable beer is great – but what’s next?

by Christine Van Geyn

Premier Doug Ford’s announcement that he was cancelling a scheduled tax increase on beer is good news.

The cancelled tax increase would have hiked the tax on beer by three cents a litre, and would have been the fourth provincial tax increase on beer in as many years, and the fourteenth beer tax increase in Ontario since 2004. These tax increases are all in addition to the federal tax on beer, which now increases automatically every year, and has been dubbed the “escalator tax” by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Website exposes A Better Niagara group

by Kevin Vallier

Niagara’s municipal election is now just 10 days away and there’s no doubt the online rhetoric will reach a feverish pitch in what’s left of the campaign. One group in particular, A Better Niagara, has been aggressively pushing a message of change through their website and social media channels.  The group has been politically active for months, holding seminars on how to run a proper campaign, recruiting candidates that will agree with what A Better Niagara espouses, and attacking certain current councillors (conservative) while promoting others (usually NDP affiliated) that suit their ideology.

Recently, a website, abetterniagara.ca has surfaced which exposes the left-wing connections behind A Better Niagara. Using photos, documents and social media posts – the site picks apart A Better Niagara’s claim to be non-partisan, exposing the group as a left-wing NDP front who are simply trying to get as many of their endorsed candidates elected as possible. In exchange for their endorsement, A Better Niagara goes so far as to make candidates sign a pledge to the group to uphold their values and agree to justify their actions if required.

Back in February, the Trudeau government announced the appointment of former Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins as chair of its “Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.” As the council’s name suggests, the mission is to come up with a proposal for a nationwide program that will address the cost of prescription drugs.
Consultations wrapped up last month, and Hoskins is expected to report his findings sometime in spring 2019. For a government facing re-election next year, the timing is fortuitous, and it’s widely anticipated that his recommendations will form the basis for a major plank in the Liberals’ 2019 election platform.

Leaning to the Left

by Catherine Swift

It is a much-discussed phenomena that the majority of the so-called mainstream media in Canada – the established newspapers, radio and television networks – tend to favour a left-leaning news perspective. In some instances, this is not surprising. For example, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is typically funded from the public purse more lavishly when a Liberal government is in power in Ottawa. Shortly after being elected in 2015, the Trudeau government poured several hundred million more taxpayer dollars into the CBC than the $1 billion or so they were already receiving, so their subsequent cheerleading for Trudeau and all things Liberal doesn’t exactly come as a big shock. What is surprising in the case of the CBC is that there are still some Canadians who actually believe their coverage is fairly balanced.

What’s next for the Ontario PCs?

by Melissa Lantsman

It’s official, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was the ‘newsmaker’ of the summer and there is no slowing down in sight. And, if you think you’ve seen it all, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Last week, Premier Ford invoked the constitutional notwithstanding clause to override a judge’s surprise decision that blocked his government from cutting the size of Toronto city council. The legislature was called back before its original intended date of September 24th to retable a slightly amended version of the Better Local Government Act. 

The sun needs to set on Policy Horizons Canada

by Aaron Wudrick

If you’re like most Canadians, you’ve probably never heard of Policy Horizons Canada. It’s a taxpayer-funded government think tank made up of thirty or so ostensibly smart people tasked with deeply pondering the future and proposing cutting-edge, outside-the-box public policy ideas.
Unlike most government departments, which beaver away at implementing real government programs, Policy Horizons is a $3 million blue-sky, anything-goes outfit. It’s all about conducting “strategic foresight on cross-cutting issues” or as one former employee put it, “setting up a mental model for being aware of the future.”

Getting the Trans Mountain expansion back on track

by Aaron Wudrick

For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Federal Court of Appeal’s recent decision to overturn approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was a political thunderbolt that instantly derailed progress on one of his government’s most critical files. Luckily for the purveyor of sunny ways, the storm clouds came with a silver lining: a careful reading of the decision also offers some guidance on how his government can get Trans Mountain back on track.
There has been no shortage of twists and turns on the pipeline front for Trudeau. Having directly or indirectly killed off alternative pipeline proposals and under immense pressure to get one built, he proceeded to buy a way out of the problem, and in so doing shifted the project’s risks from Kinder Morgan shareholders onto the backs of Canadian taxpayers.

Another NAFTA SNAFU

by Catherine Swift

Considering that the recent round of trade negotiations between Canada and the US have been a series of missteps, miscalculations and mistakes on Canada’s part, the recent boast by Canadian labour unions that they have been more extensively involved in the negotiation process than ever before gave one more reason to lower our expectations for a favourable outcome for NAFTA.
The Trudeau government has been overly beholden to the unions since its election in 2015, in large part because of the extensive support and massive amounts of money spent by the unions to elect the Liberals and oust the Harper Conservatives. In fact, one of the first acts of the newly-elected Trudeau government was to eliminate Bill 377, which required a very basic level of transparency from unions as to how they spent their union dues which are forced by law on employees in unionized workplaces. The unions’ vociferous opposition to even a basic level of financial transparency, which is a requirement of unions in virtually all developed countries, was a big red flag that the unions were well aware that their spending habits on partisan political activities and various wacky social causes would not meet with the approval of many of their members.

Labour Day Reality Check: public versus private sector pensions

by Aaron Wudrick

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) recently released an analysis of federal pensions based on data compiled by Statistics Canada, which shows that risky defined-benefit pensions are vanishing in the private sector, but remain overwhelmingly common within government.
This data provides support for a widespread sentiment: that government employees get very risky, very generous pensions, paid for by people without pensions. Government employee unions like to crow about their success in cajoling government into enriching their members – but always avoid mentioning it comes at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.
In 1997, 83 per cent of government employees had defined-benefit pensions, while the private sector figure stood at 23 per cent. Today, the figures are 80 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.

Canada Doesn’t Need Another Tax – This Time….a Death Tax

by Aaron Wudrick

These are challenging times for the Canadian economy. An unpredictable president to the south has contributed to uncertainty around NAFTA, while American business tax cuts have erased Canada’s longstanding competitive tax advantage as we struggle to attract foreign investment.
Even the Justin Trudeau government, which as recently as its spring budget was content to pretend all was well, finally seems to be acknowledging there’s actually a problem that needs to be tackled.
But how? Would you believe that against this depressing backdrop there are still those who argue that what we really need are even more taxes?

Who wants to elect a Regional Chair anyway?

by Mark Towhey

When someone asks you where you live, how do you answer?
If you say, “Niagara Falls,” or “Welland,” or one of the other towns in the Niagara region, then you’re well-reflected in the structure of the regional government.
If, however, your answer is, “I’m from Niagara Region,” you may be disappointed in the provincial government’s recent decision to rob you of the chance to vote directly for a figurehead politician to nominally lead your amorphous homeland.

Niagara’s new Standard of news reporting

by Marc Kealey

The work we do often puts us in the position to comment in media on issues we are the subject of or on the nature of the work we do for others.  Fuller disclosure – K&A is presently a focus of a media report in Niagara Region about a mandate we had for the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).  We struggle with why our mandate is worthy of any media attention at all.  The scope of the work and the fees we charged were approved by the NPCA under its Board’s contracting process.

What I know of reporters and media is a lot.  Good reporting is ostensibly about the discipline of verification.  In the end, verifying information is what separates fact from fiction and/or propaganda.  Attend a lecture at journalism school and the first lesson is focused on understanding what happened and reporting it correctly.

Verifying sources and fact is a discipline.  The discipline of verification demands the profession act in a particular way—objectively. As media has evolved, though, it doesn’t mean nor do I imply that reporters be free of bias. Quite the opposite – objectivity calls for reporters to develop methods of testing information. The standards of test from our experience are transparency and evidence.  These standards evolved in media so that biases wouldn’t undermine the accuracy of a reporter’s work. In other words, the method is about objectivity, not that the reporter ought to be.

PM fine tunes his Cabinet with an “Election Shuffle”

by Chris George

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled his cabinet yesterday, bringing five new ministers to the table and creating a new portfolio for border security, an issue that has become a political vulnerability for the government over the past months.

Political analysts view this shuffle as a political move in advance of the 2019 election. There are additional ministers from Ontario and Quebec, where the Liberals need to maintain and, if possible, grow their seat count. David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University explains “The shuffle gives Trudeau an opportunity to put his best players on the pitch before the campaign.”

Don’t Like Congestion? Then Pay for It

by Cornelius Christian

Toronto was recently ranked the sixth worst city for commuting in the world. A typical GTA resident spends 1.5 hours travelling to and from work. When politicians are asked about this sorry state of affairs, responses range from Doug Ford’s call for more subway lines, to Jagmeet Singh’s appeal to encourage bicycling.

While these suggestions are good, a better one exists: make people pay for congestion.

What this means, in practice, is that those who drive in central Toronto would pay a flat fee, per day, of $10. The money collected from the fee can then be used to subsidize public transit. This simple policy would greatly reduce road traffic, since many would just opt out of driving.

The Value of Freedom

by Catherine Swift

This past week we celebrated both Canada Day and US Independence Day, so it seems like a great opportunity to reflect upon the essential value of freedom in our society. We have been so blessed with a relatively free society in Canada since the nation’s birth that many Canadians have come to take this precious value for granted. We do so at our peril.

I am a Shoe Smuggler

by Brock Dickinson

I have a confession to make. I have been wrestling with the wise guidance and insights of U.S. President Donald Trump, for – as it turns out – I am a shoe smuggler.
For those of you who have been hiding out in the witness protection program, and may have missed the news, the President has once again Made America Great by commenting on trade with Canada. “The tariffs to get common items back into Canada are so high that they have to smuggle ‘em in,” said the President recently. “They buy shoes, then they wear them. They scuff ‘em up. They make them sound old or look old. No, we’re treated horribly.”

Oops… We elected the wrong MPPs. Now what?

by Mark Towhey

Three of Niagara’s four provincial ridings elected NDP members of provincial parliament Thursday night. How will they fare when it comes to focusing Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government on Niagara’s most pressing issues? If you said “not well,” you’re probably right. The good news is there’s something you can do to improve Niagara’s chances at seeing some provincial love over the next four years.

The lone government member of provincial parliament from Niagara is Sam Oosterhoff in Niagara West. As the youngest, though no longer least experienced, MPP in Ontario, can he deliver any of the region’s goals? It’s going to be tough.

Given the run up to this election and the weirdness from each of the three main Party campaigns, I’d venture to say that there has not been an election this strange since the “Dooms Day Election” of 1917, when then Prime Minister Borden- fighting against Wilfrid Laurier tried to create a win by introducing the strangest of legislative initiatives. It backfired.

Sound familiar? In a sense, the Wynne Government took great pains to move the government so far to left with legislative and policies decisions that long-time Liberals scratched their heads wondering if this was really the Liberal Party anymore. The Budget in 2018 was likely the last straw for Wynne’s government, notwithstanding that her popularity had taken the biggest hit in polling history – the lowest at 12% – the promise of a balanced Budget was thrown to the curb so that the science experiment created by Wynne and her brain-trust to control the left of the political spectrum would pay dividends – they thought.

How Low can the Left Go?

by Catherine Swift

Following the ebb and flow of the Ontario election has once again reminded me of the extreme tactics typically used by the left to try to promote the election or policy outcome they favour. Of course all manner of promises and warnings are made by all parts of the political spectrum on a regular basis, and especially at election time. But the left does have a unique and odious tendency to get down and dirty with their commentary, resorting to personal attacks and threats as means of supposedly advancing their position.

False Advertising Ramps Up in Ontario Election

by Catherine Swift

Now that we are in the last week before the Ontario election the race appears to be neck-and-neck between the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP. As the pressure builds, the NDP has responded by making up more and more tall tales about what the PCs will supposedly do if they win the election. Some of the more recent ads include accusations that the PCs will close dozens of hospitals, fire thousands of nurses etc. Where these numbers come from is a mystery, but what can be certain is that they are absolutely false and completely invented by the NDP.
Every election has its share of political parties stretching the truth about their opponents, but in our current era of social media and internet bombardment of the voting public, it raises the question of whether we need a whole new way of overseeing elections to provide some means of limiting the ability of any political party or other entities involved in election advertising and partisan activities to promote bald-faced lies.

It sucks to have to root for Justin Trudeau.

But now that his ego has written a $4.5-billion cheque that the rest of us are going to have to cash, what else can we do? On Wednesday, Trudeau’s finance minister Bill Morneau and natural resources minister Jim Carr were trotted out to announce that the federal government is solving the Trans Mountain pipeline impasse by buying the entire project from Kinder Morgan. The government is also providing loan guarantees to ensure pipeline construction gets underway this year.

Open For…. Sanctuary?

by Chris Sagir

Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Doug Ford has campaigned vigorously on his “Ontario – Open for Business” policies.  Andrea Horwath of the New Democratic Party (NDP) on the other hand has largely campaigned on higher taxes for the “rich” and expanded “free” government services.  This is all predictable, but recently Horwath has promised to make Ontario a “Sanctuary” province.  A deeply disturbing policy, that one could say even borders on insanity, would among other things, provide free health care and welfare services to illegal immigrants.

In the NDP universe where there are limitless resources, the sky is coloured by rainbows and unicorn sightings are frequent, making Ontario a “Sanctuary” province is also thought to be good government policy. Let us examine some evidence we have about how this type of policy will affect and disrespect all taxpayers and legal immigrants.

The Problem with Unions

by Catherine Swift

There was a time when labour unions actually did care about all workers and advocated policies that were geared to give average people bargaining power in the workplace. Those days are long gone. Although today’s unions still claim to be the voice of the average worker, they have instead become merely another self-interested lobby group that is all about lining their own pockets at the expense of others. There is of course nothing wrong with any group advocating for their own interests in a free society, but all such groups should be on a level playing field to do so. Yet unions in Canada have a highly privileged status not enjoyed by other interest groups or even by unions anywhere else in the developed world. Therein lies the problem.

Flirting with Disaster

by Catherine Swift

As we get closer to the June 7 Ontario election date, it seems this contest has become a showdown between the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and the Ontario NDP. It appears that the collapse of the Ontario Liberals can hardly get any worse, as recent information suggests they may only hang on to a couple of seats in the newly expanded 124-seat legislature. If current trends hold, the Liberals could fall below eight seats and as such they would lose official party status and all of the resources that come with it. As a final indignity, it appears that leader Kathleen Wynne stands to lose her own seat.
That the Ontario Liberals were highly unpopular has been known for some time, so the only surprising thing about this is the extreme extent of the Liberal’s demise. What is surprising, however, is that the NDP is giving the Conservatives a run for their money. Part of the Liberal success for the last 15 years has been that they moved to the left of the NDP and grabbed a good chunk of traditional NDP voters, so it is only natural that as the Liberal brand weakened many of these votes would shift back to their traditional roots. But polls indicate that NDP support is well above historical levels at present and has not merely regained what it lost to the Liberals in recent years.

Ontario power politics: Glimmer of light

by Tom Adams

Electricity concerns have been major political issues in Ontario over the entire course of the McGuinty/Wynne Liberal governments starting in 2003. Judged by their platforms, their 15-year sojourn on the opposition benches has been too brief for the PCs and NDP to develop credible options for disgruntled electricity voters.

For this election, the Ontario Liberals have hitched their wagon to their Fair Hydro Plan. It provides temporary rate relief for residential customers — high and low-income alike — through government borrowing. The Fair Hydro Plan has attracted a storm of criticism from the Auditor General and the legislature’s Financial Accountability Officer.

A Modest Proposal for Hydro One

by Brock Dickinson

It’s spring, and the only thing popping up faster than the dandelions are the provincial election signs. And just as April showers bring May flowers, election signs are often a prelude to poorly-thought-out pronouncements and vague “plans” that melt away under closer scrutiny. This year, part of the springtime fun will focus on Hydro One.

As someone who works in economic development, I see how electricity costs are hurting us in Ontario. I do a lot of work for clients in New York and in Michigan, and when luring companies to their states – including companies from Ontario – they routinely play the power card. The fact of the matter is that power costs are extremely high in Ontario, and they’re getting higher. This hurts our competitiveness, it hurts our businesses, and it hurts every homeowner in Ontario.

Ontario’s Police Act is offensive

by Mark Towhey

Cst. James Forcillo remains a police officer – even while serving a 6-year prison sentence.

Whoever forms the Ontario government after June’s election, one of their priorities should be immediate and wholesale reform of the laws that govern policing in this province. As evidence of its abject uselessness, I give you the case of Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo.

Forcillo was tried and convicted in the 2013 killing of 18-year old Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar. Forcillo was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in federal prison. He appealed. This week, his appeal was denied. He’s now a federal inmate serving a six-year sentence. He’s also still officially a constable in the Toronto Police Service until and unless an internal disciplinary tribunal decides his actions were “discreditable.”

Liberal Gun Bill: all smoke & paper

by Mark Towhey

In late March, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced new legislation to clamp down on law-abiding citizens who use firearms at work, on their farms, to feed their families, to compete at the Olympics and for recreational shooting. These new measures severely limit personal freedoms and will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Not a single, solitary soul will be safer as a result.
Why now? Well, because Trudeau wanted to distract your attention from his tickle trunk full of culturally inappropriate dress-up costumes and the fact he and a number of his ministers like to hang out with convicted terrorists. That is, when they’re not accusing key allies of criminal mischief to malign their government.

The Niagara Region has invested in the arts over the last few years, and programs like Jarico Films for Youth have really benefitted because of it.

Jarico Films has been working to offer the youth of the region a hands-on learning experience while working within the film industry.

“A lot of schools already have really good drama programs, and some schools have really credible video production programs but they only go so far and teach so much,” said Jason Lupish director of the program. “I think what we offer is sort of an extension of what can be offered in schools.”

90 Minutes to Clear should be standard for Ontario roads

by Mark Towhey

Thursday morning, a major collision closed all eastbound lanes of Highway 401 near Winston Churchill around for over four hours. There were no major injuries but, in the hours the highway was closed, a massive traffic jam formed and it, in turn, caused an even worse smash-up. The secondary accident critically injured more drivers and took another three and half hours to clear. But, that wasn’t the end of it. A number of other crashes occurred all along the 401 as the lengthy closures and traffic jams caused traffic chaos everywhere.
Highway accidents and the lengthy road closures that follow them put additional lives at risk and cost Ontario’s economy billions of dollars every year. People are hurt in secondary accidents caused by road closures. Ambulances and emergency services are delayed en route to unrelated emergencies and while transporting critically-ill patients to hospital.

With 9 weeks to go until the June 7 provincial election, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, under newly-minted leader Doug Ford, is far ahead of the governing Liberals in every major opinion poll. The big question is: can he maintain the lead? Or, will he become just another PC leader – in a long line of PC leaders – to bungle the campaign in the eleventh hour?

The answer to that, depends largely on the answer to this: Does Ford know why he’s winning? If not, the Tories’ prospects are bleaker than they appear.

 

Foreign Influence in Canadian Elections is Alarming

by Senator Linda Frum

It is a fundamental tenant of Canadian democracy that Canada’s electoral process belongs to the Canadian people and only to the Canadian people.  Nothing is more central to preserving the integrity and legitimacy of Canadian elections than ensuring that no outside influence is involved.  I imagine most Canadians trust that foreign influence is illegal in Canadian elections.  And yet, alarmingly, it is not.

Due to the lax rules surrounding third party election activity in Canada, foreign entities can contribute unlimited amounts of money via Canadian third parties for the purpose of attempting to influence the outcome of our elections (Third parties are groups that register to advocate for or against a political agenda).

Water water everywhere, but not a thought to think!

by Marc Kealey

Thursday March 21, 2018 was World Water Day. The intent and focus of such an occasion, I would assume, is to create awareness about the value of water. What are most people in the region doing to honour is auspicious occasion? For the vast majority – nothing. In fact, I’d reckon few knew of the event or even cared.

I submit, we should care…and more now than ever.  Water sustains life. It’s said that people can live without food for long periods of time but living without water – even for short periods of time – is as fatal as trying to survive without fresh air.

Forster’s Thoughts on the Throne Speech

by Cindy Forster

Looking at the state of affairs of the Liberal government these days, it’s no wonder people are jaded by politicians.

On the one hand we have a Liberal government proroguing government, making empty promises to dodge a failed 15 year record and on the other hand, a Conservative party embroiled in turmoil, barely fit to manage their own, let alone govern.

Meanwhile, families continue struggling. Every day I get emails, calls and office visits from our community. With the Welland Hospital on the chopping block of Liberal government cuts, skyrocketing hydro bills, ongoing cuts to seniors services in our community, cuts to healthcare services and all levels of our education system, we’re at a cross roads.

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