Tuesday November 20, 2018
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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).

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.