Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Would anyone who still supports the Ontario Liberals please stand up?

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

It must not be easy being a Liberal in Ontario these days. The governing party is failing at every turn, the province is drowning in debt, and the leader has made increasingly concerning categorizations of her opponents as “racists” or “homophobes.” The notoriously anti-conservative, pro-Liberal Working Families Coalition seems to have completely disappeared from the web since their appearance in the 2014 election. Even Kathleen Wynne’s political staffers have fled the provincial capital for the national capital, hoping that Team Trudeau will offer them a better chance of remaining employed and staying out of jail past the year 2018. (Team Trudeau is formerly Team McGuinty.)

The Liberal scandals have compounded into at least a full book’s worth of material, and a summary of those same scandals written this spring shows no sign that the Liberals have learned their lessons or attempted to change course. Just since this spring we’ve seen two of the Premier’s staff criminally charged for allegedly deleting emails surrounding the gas plants scandal. We’ve seen the Deputy Minister who worked to revamp Ontario’s sex education under then-Education Minister Kathleen Wynne sentenced for child porn crimes. Debt continues to climb. Our credit rating was downgraded (again). Even missing snow plows the government (read: taxpayers) paid for have become a scandal in recent months! When the government spends multiple Question Periods trying to explain its snow plow financing scheme, it can no longer focus on big, important issues, for instance health care or education. The provincial government is completely imploding on itself, devoid of new ideas, new supporters, or even really the legitimacy to continue.

To repeat this list over and over and over again should be in and of itself enough reason to throw the bums out. What will it take for Ontarians to finally demand change and elect someone to clean up the mess? The Opposition Conservatives and New Democrats have shot themselves in the foot in previous elections by failing to properly articulate this horrible record, allowing the Liberals to change the message into “yeah, but what about what those guys might do?” Even Liberal supporters must agree that there is a turning point where they simply cannot support them any longer.

Maybe it’s their latest scandal. On Saturday, the Toronto Star exposed the latest scandal: the Ontario Tire Stewardship has been using taxpayers’ money to dine on fancy wine and steak dinners, luxury outings, and – most seriously – making donations to the Ontario Liberals and New Democrats.

This is wrong on so many fronts, but it’s just business as usual for the Liberals. The Stewardship has already responded that their lavish dinners are a minor “administrative cost” – the big expenses are in check, so let us enjoy our wine, steak, and vineyard tours in peace, they say. And the Liberal Party doesn’t seem to care at all – they claim the Stewardship isn’t controlled by the government, despite the fact that the Stewardship falls under Waste Diversion Ontario (which reports to the Minister of the Environment), was created by a law passed by the legislature, and collects a tax from taxpayers when they purchase tires (the Stewardship admits they are a trustee for these fees).

The revelations that these same lushly-treated executives have been making political donations to the provincial Liberals and New Democrats smell of a potential kickback scheme, where the government has mandated the Stewardship to collect taxpayers’ money and the Stewardship conveniently thanks the governing party by making generous donations. It is too early to tell whether this is the case, but the Auditor General must be called in to investigate.

This has all the makings of your typical Liberal scandal. The Auditor General will be called in to investigate the mess, will issue a damning report that will make headlines for a few weeks, maybe the Liberals will fire the head of the Stewardship, a few ministers will make statements, and then they’ll close the books and expect Ontarians to forget about it. Like their eHealth or Ornge scandals, they will attempt to claim that the Tire Stewardship is a “private” company not affiliated with the government – those darn capitalists were operating right under the Environment Minister’s nose without authority! A fancy-sounding “action plan” will put the issue to bed and the Liberals will expect Ontarians to move on.

But Wynne’s Liberals are only right if we let them be right. Where is the outrage from Ontario’s citizens? Where is the outrage that this is what we’ve come to expect from the Liberals’ 15 years in power? Where is the outrage that this isn’t the first, or second, or third, or fourth scandal, but rather a proven history of scandals and corruption? It’s the same old record playing over and over again, but what if, this time, instead of shaking our heads and turning the other way in disappointment or disgust, we actually did something about it? What if we actually held the Liberals accountable? What if 2016 for the provincial Liberals becomes what 2004 was for the federal Liberals, and there is only one clear direction for the government to go in but two years’ time?

2018 cannot come soon enough. In the time between now and then, the Liberals had best clean up their act and at least attempt to put a new face on their party, and the Opposition had best be preparing to take government and fix this mess.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ontario Liberals caught (again) spending taxpayers' money on lavish dinners, donations to themselves

The Liberals appear to have been caught (again) using and abusing taxpayers' money that somehow conveniently winds up being donated back to the Ontario Liberal Party.

The Toronto Star reported today on the Ontario Tire Stewardship, the organization set up to collect recycling fees from Ontarians so that their used tires can be recycled. Somehow, that money is being spent on lavish steak and wine dinners, expensive tasting menu tours, new iPads for the Directors, and - most seriously of all - donations to the Ontario Liberal Party and Ontario New Democrats.

As Ontarians have seen since the Liberals took office, it is the Auditor General who will have to be called in to obtain the facts and issue a report on what's really going on here. That's why it's important that you contact her and ask that her office open an investigation.

Contact the Ontario Auditor General and ask her to look into this latest scandal:

You can contact us at:

Office of the Auditor General of Ontario
20 Dundas Street West, Suite 1530
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2C2
Telephone: (416) 327-2381
Facsimile: (416) 327-9862
TTY: (416) 327-6123
email: comments@auditor.on.ca

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Where is the balance between helping refugees and fiscal responsibility?

Published for the Prince Arthur Herald

What is the balance between settling the world’s refugees and the reasonable need and expectation that the Canadian government should be trusted to responsibly monitor Canada’s pocketbook?

It’s a fair question.

But before answering, let’s dispatch with the ridiculous notion that any questioning of anything to do with the resettlement of Syrian refugees is inherently racist. Ever since Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne said that opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Canada was racist, anyone asking any questions has had to wonder whether they too would be so hyperbolically labeled. (Wynne’s rhetoric was so vile and unprofessional that even former Liberal cabinet minister and British Columbia Premier Ujjal Dosanjh denounced her.)

Polls have shown that Canadians are overwhelmingly supportive of welcoming refugees into Canada, and all three political parties pledged to do more to settle refugees in the recent federal election. Canadians don’t reproduce enough to maintain a sustainable population level, we have long-relied on immigration to sustain and increase our population, and assisting people fleeing from blood-thirsty terrorists is a laudable goal.

But that doesn’t mean that questions about the logistics, efficiency, and costs of doing so should be off the table from public questioning and scrutiny. Canadians should be able to expect that the government has their interests in mind – that the government will continue to be fiscally responsible regardless of how admirable the end goal is.

A recent social media post currently making the rounds makes the following claim:

This morning’s Vancouver Sun states that Syrian refugees will be paid a meal allowance per person per day of $15 for breakfast, $16 for lunch, and $30 for dinner by the Federal Government. Thus, a typical family with four kids will receive $186/day or $5580/month for meals alone. This from a government that somehow cannot afford more than about $1100/month for all expenses for pensioners.”

The premise is correct but the conclusions are not. The Vancouver Sun article does indeed say that the government “will reimburse up to $15 per person for breakfast, $16 for lunch, and $30 for dinner.” Those figures come from the government’s request for proposal, publicly posted and available since December 10, 2015. A family of four is therefore entitled to up to $244 in meals per day ($60 for breakfast, $64 for lunch, and $120 for dinner; or $61 per person), or $7320 per month – much higher figures than the viral post suggests.

This is not money going directly into refugees’ pockets – it’s the maximum per-day caps for which the government will reimburse the hotels that are accommodating the refugees. The average Canadian family spent $411 per month on groceries in 2013 – or less than 6% of what the Liberals are reimbursing for refugees’ food. Let’s consider that there would be some added expense due to the fact that each refugee would be limited in his or her ability to keep and prepare food in their hotel rooms, meaning the hotels would need to prepare more easy-to-store convenience foods. However, that expense would be more than offset by the fact that hotels can prepare meals in bulk, which should make the meals cheaper, not more expensive, than if a family of four were preparing the same meals at home. It’s hard to see how these meal caps are not at least a little rich.

This is not a question of food quality, nor is it a question of quantity. But you have to wonder why hotels wouldn’t charge the maximum amounts for reimbursement, knowing full-well that the government has already determined that those amounts are reasonable.

For perspective, public servants traveling away from home on government business are reimbursed up to $16 for breakfast, $16.80 for lunch, and $44.40 for dinner – basically the same as the refugees’ reimbursement for breakfast and lunch but more generous for supper. In this instance, too, the public servants are away from home, in temporary accommodations - probably a hotel – and do not have the ability to keep and prepare food as if they were at home with a stove, oven, and large fridge. But in this instance the need to be staying in a hotel is directly related to government business, it’s for a short-term (the benefit for a public servant drops to 75% after the 31st day - not so for the refugees), and, unlike the refugees, costs cannot be reduced by preparing food in bulk.

Canadians should be able to judge for themselves whether these meal expenses are appropriate and necessary or lavish and expensive. Canada spends $12 per day to feed one prisoner. No one is suggesting that refugees could or should be fed the same food as prisoners, but surely there is a reasonable balance to be found between $12 and $61 per person per day.

Finally, there is the matter of the “consultants” and numerous add-on services that risk embarrassing the government. Montreal’s refugee coordinator making $1800 per day was rightly embarrassing. Why Montreal could not employ a city employee, why the city hired someone with a close personal connection to the mayor, and how the salary figure of $1800 per day was chosen are all valid questions. With salaries like this you can bet that Canadians are going to begin to ask whether the Liberals are really keeping the finances in mind at a time like this, and if there will ever be a point where the government says ‘this is too much.’

Saving refugees from some of the world’s worst warzones is an admirable goal. And to be clear, the Liberals have not exceeded their announced budget of $1.2 billion over six years for settling refugees (yet). But the government owes it to Canadians to continue to manage our finances prudently, ensure that Canadians receive good value for the money we spend, and ensure that suppliers provide services at reasonable rates comparable to what Canadians receive. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Liberal-connected CBC commentator who resigned over conflict of interest allegations is back... commentating

Bruce Anderson, the father of Kate Purchase, Justin Trudeau's Director of Communications, continues to comment on his daughter's handiwork - despite resigning from the CBC for precisely that conflict of interest.

In a Globe and Mail article published on January 1, 2016, Anderson praises Justin Trudeau for "telling us how he feels."

Anderson had to resign from his position as a commentator for the CBC when his daughter was hired as Trudeau's Director of Communications. In his own words, he regularly commented on "how the government of the day is doing, including its communications effectiveness," so "fair minded viewers might reasonably have doubts" about whether his commentary was appropriate, dispassionate, and what he would truly say if his daughter wasn't directly employed by Trudeau.

Anderson's family connections have been the subject of previous allegations of a conflict of interest submitted to the CBC Ombudsman, who ruled that the conflict was acceptable to the CBC as long as it was mentioned when Trudeau was "the main focus of discussion." The family also has close connections with Peter Mansbridge, who officiated Purchase's wedding and was given "unprecedented access" to follow Trudeau around on the day his government was sworn in.

Seeing how Anderson's Globe and Mail article directly comments on the Liberal government's communications strategy - i.e. his daughter's exact job - it's hard to see how his latest article hasn't placed him in that same conflict of interest.