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The True Cost of a Ford Government

It’s almost been a year since the election of the Ford Conservatives in Ontario, but for many it’s felt like so much longer. Part of that feeling is due to the fact that the Ford team hit the ground running, putting forward their agenda all over the place, rarely stopping to think about what they are doing, let alone consulting anyone on it.

They have tried to push through a lot, that is for sure, and that has come at a cost to Ontarians. It was with that in mind that I saw a couple stories that have been bubbling up across the province, bringing about their own interesting reactions. The first revolves around the Ford Conservatives promise to sell beer in corner stores, the huge potential price tag that they didn’t seem to be aware of and the blowback coming from it:

A billion dollars to break a contract? Paid for by Ontarians? In a time when this government is running ads talking about how much debt we have? Yeah, that all makes total sense. Yeesh!!! This move is so very typical of this government and how they have operated thus far, and their responses to the criticisms have been equally typical. What makes this different is the reaction from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, someone who the Ford team usually courts closely and is very simpatico with. To see them come out and attack this government on this move tells you a lot, as it shows that most sides of the spectrum are pretty unhappy with this move.

Adding to that though is seeing the US Chamber of Commerce, another organization with a strong conservative bent to it, speaking out against this move. They point out the dangers to investment in Ontario if the government believes that it can simply cancel contracts with businesses willy nilly and without compensation. And you know what? They actually have a point there. We expect our government to uphold the law and not be above it, yet that is exactly what this Ford Conservative government is trying to do. That’s going to result in more lawsuits, more legal fees and very likely losing in the end. That means more tax dollars from the people of Ontario going away from the services that we depend on to cover this boneheaded move. So “For the People”, right?

Another story that has been bubbling up a bit more has been the fight around Bill 108, the “More Homes, More Choices Act”. Long story short, if passed this bill will give the Provincial government more say in planning in communities, reduce the amount of funds that a community can collect for development fees and make life easier for developers. This is all happening at the same time as the provincial government is also cutting transfers to municipalities for all kinds of things while Premier Ford tells them to “find efficiencies”. Getting squeezed at both ends, that’s led to Ontario’s mayors to react in more creative ways:

I have to admit I admire the creativity that Mayor Marianne Meed Ward is showing here. Her municipality, like others, is being told to do more by the Province to save money, while at the same time stripping them of ways to actually pay for that more. And to add to that pain, in Ontario municipalities are very limited in how they can raise funds. Normally that leaves them only one option: raising property taxes. You’d think that someone who spent a bit of time around the council table in Toronto and once ran for Mayor might understand this better than others, but this is Doug Ford we’re talking about.

So in a very “poetic justice” kind of way, in Burlington that council have come up with the best way to show their citizens, in a very transparent way, why their property taxes will most likely go up even more this year. They will be adding a new line in their tax bills, including “the FORD levy”; Financing Ontario through Reductions and Downloads. Not only would this idea show local rate payers why they are seeing their bills go up, it also gives another dig at a provincial government that has been far less than transparent in their first year of governing. It will show people the true impact of the Ford Conservatives cuts, something that a government who keeps telling us there is only one taxpayer obviously needs to be reminded of.

We are almost at the first anniversary of that election and still have another three years ahead of us to go. But what’s coming clearer and cleared by the day is that the true cost of Doug Ford government is getting quite high, while delivering very little of what it promised. And what makes it worse is that we haven’t seen the worst of the job losses and services cuts yet. That true cost is going to continue to rise and will surely not be as the Conservatives advertised in the last campaign, which is something to ponder for the Fall Federal election to come.

Disturbing Morning in Committee

Our parliamentary system has many different parts to it, some of which we don’t see as often. Everyday you can turn on CPAC and watch what’s going on in the Chamber of the House of Commons itself, but that is only part of the action that takes place. A lot of it happens in committee rooms all around Parliament Hill as different committees discuss and debate various topics of national importance. While all of those meetings can be heard and listened to online, the majority of them are not televised. Some are everyday, but they are in the minority.

Therefore most Canadians don’t see what happens and what takes place in those committees, unless something gobsmackingly bad happens. That was the case from the whole Michael Cooper incident last week, for which he was removed from the committee by the Conservatives. While that was a very weak response to what he did, it brought more attending to what the Justice Committee was studying at the time, which is the serious topic of online hate. So it was with that in mind when I heard about the agenda for todays meeting, and more specifically, who was called to testify:

Let that list sink in for a moment folks and think about what it means. At the start of every committee study, it is common practice that each party submits a list of witnesses they would like to call, usually in order of their priority. Being that the number of meetings are usually limited, each party isn’t likely to get many of their witnesses called, so normally the practice is to put the witnesses you want to hear from the most near or at the top of your list, to help ensure they get invited to come. Normally in a committee study like this, many eminent and qualified witnesses will never get to appear because there simply isn’t enough time to have them all testify. So the fact that those names ended up getting invited to this meeting and were seen as a big enough priority for the party that invited them, is just shocking to me. So how did they get there? PressProgress takes it from here:

According to their reporting, neither the Liberal MPs nor the lone NDP MP on the committee had any of these three people on their lists. And given that there are only three recognized official parties in the House of Commons, therefore only three parties officially recognized in committees, that leaves just one left; the Conservative Party of Canada. And who was the lead Conservative on the committee and the Vice Chair of the committee? None other than Mr. Cooper himself. Did he place the invite? There was no comment from Mr. Cooper’s office but someone from that caucus put that name in there. Someone in Mr. Scheer’s caucus thought that this would be a good idea. So what exactly did this testimony bring to this committee today?

What a bloody circus. Did this committee really need to hear any of this from these witnesses? What exactly did the Conservatives expect to gain from putting these people up to say these things? What the Conservatives did here is beyond the pale in my eyes because they gave people a legitimate platform, the legitimacy of Parliament, to say the things that are quoted above. This meeting was just ugly and I don’t think helped to fight online hate speech at all.

My only question is who are the Conservatives going to punish for this crap and does Mr. Scheer really expect everyone to just gloss this over? This is a serious lack of judgement from someone here and if Mr. Scheer doesn’t come down on whoever that is hard, it just shows that he also has a serious lack of judgement, beyond a serious problem within his caucus. We’ll see what comes from this episode but this mornings Justice Committee meeting was far from the best moment that a committee has seen in this Parliament or any other.

A Call for Justice

Today is an important day in Canadian, as an important piece of work has been released to the public. The work of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women was released this morning in a moving ceremony, a moment that many people have been looking towards for many years. In the Indigenous community, today marks a moment where our stories and lived experiences are being told widely and in some cases, heard for the very first time:

Today is a day that many Indigenous people openly wondered if we would ever see. In the run up to the last election, almost all of the political parties pledged to have this National Inquiry if they were elected. Upon their election in 2015, we started to look towards the incoming Liberal government for follow through on this important promise, expecting it to be kept. And despite issues and problems that happened through out, today came and we saw the report come out, which you can read here.

Over 1,200 pages and 231 “Calls for Justice” included, the report is an important milestone, one that marks the beginning of the work, not the end. The work must continue to see these recommendations taken from words to action, and not have the same fate of other important reports that have ended up in a pile gathering dust. As we look ahead to that important work though, we need to see the reaction to what this report has to say from our political leaders and parties, because they are the ones who will be expected to lead. It was with that in mind I saw this play out late last week, something that made my stomach turn:

Time for a little confession everyone; there are very few politicians, let alone people in general, who make my blood boil like Bernard Valcourt. The level of contempt that I have for this man, who now trolls victims and families from his Twitter account in his basement in Edmundston, is beyond compare. To read his comments are not shocking to me, as this is the same person who sat in his seat on the day that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made its final report in such a disrespectful way. That report released in 2015 made it plain the genocide that took place in this country, something that is a fact. So to see Valcourt dare to question that today when this report says the same in 2019 is beyond disgusting and inhumane. And then to turn around and accuse people of being “propagandists” is even worse. What a petty little man.

But here’s the thing folks, we all know that Valcourt is not alone in his thoughts. While I appreciate the sincerity in Cathy McLeod’s Tweet where she disowns Valcourt’s comments and I don’t doubt her honesty in them, I also don’t doubt that there are members of her caucus and card-carrying Conservatives out there who agree fully with Valcourt’s ignorant sentiments. One thing that was omitted from McLeod’s tweet was any pledge or promise to enact those calls to justice, which speaks volumes too. The fact remains that if the Conservatives had their way, there never would have been a national inquiry, as they were the only party who fought it tooth and nail.

For me this response from Valcourt hurts. Of the many things I had to chance to be a part of, one of the hardest was being a part of the Special Committee that was formed in the last Parliament on this issue. On that committee we sat for weeks and weeks as we heard testimony from families of victims, support groups and Indigenous peoples from all across the country. We heard stories that will never escape my mind and heard of such pain and loss that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. Every night after those meetings, I would go home and give my young daughter the biggest hugs and just hold her because I couldn’t get out of my mind the fact that my daughter, simply by the virtue of being Métis, was far more likely to end up in that situation than other women and daughters in this country. That’s a feeling that so many Indigenous parents and families have gone through for decades, something that this report brings to the fore.

If you have a soul, you can’t see these things, hear these stories and walk away unmoved. I know that Bernard Valcourt has heard them and given his lack of empathy or care for these victims and their families, I can only assume that his soul departed his living body long ago. And honestly this is part of the challenge that we face as a country going ahead; it’s accepting the truth of what’s happened in this country and stopping the denial that acts that fall under the definition of genocide have happened here. This is our history, whether if we like it or not. Canada is not above that.

The only way we can do better is to accept the facts and start working towards being better. Our future is not set in stone and is full of possibilities. But in order to reach that future, we can’t ignore our history, past and recent. We can’t simply close our eyes to what has happened because it’s uncomfortable for some to hear and accept. People like Bernard Valcourt are not a part of the solution, they are a part of the problem. And if we listen to them, the problems of the past will be repeated again and again. We cannot do justice to the families and friends of the victims if our country allows people like Valcourt to have us bury our heads in the sand, ensuring that more families will face the same pain. This is a time for empathy and love for one another. That means accepting our past and acting on these calls for justice to ensure our future is better. Gathered dust doesn’t help to make our future better, and really the only thing that should gather dust here is the views and opinions of the like of Bernard Valcourt.

Power to Change the Channel?

In the past month there has been a lot of ink spilled over the various parties plans for the environment and to tackle climate change. The New Democrats have, in particular, been wedged out of this conversation to date, with very little put on the table and only a fair bit of rhetoric to judge everything on. That has left many wondering what the Orange Team was going to put forward in this regard. Well today NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh put his plan out there in a big announcement in Montreal, something  that seems promising:

I should start by noting I’ve probably been one of the more vocal critics of the NDP lately when it’s come to this policy and finding the right balance; that was one of my big points when I was on The Agenda a couple of weeks ago. After that appearance, I started to hear rumblings about what might be coming down the pipe from the NDP in regard to this plan. Those rumblings left me cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the caution. I had heard some ideas that made me quite excited, so I waited to see what would come out.

And what came out today was a very good start on this road. First off, the tone was much better than what the NDP has been pitching lately. This is a positive message, focused on good details about how this plan will not only work but strive to not leave anyone behind. It’s full of carrot with very little stick, which I believe is crucial to make it work. It’s also framed in compelling yet very NDP language. This doesn’t feel like the NDP trying to “out Green the Greens” or “out Liberal the Liberals”; this feels very much like the kind of practical New Democrat policy that I grew up with, that would be brought forward by a Gary Doer, a Jack Layton or a Roy Romanow. If this is the overall direction where the party is going, I think that’s great. But it also does this by tapping into some of the momentum and movement towards a “New Green Deal”. It’s a good balance, something we haven’t seen in a while under this leadership.

The other thing I love about this plan is the details all through out, with something there for just about everyone. In order to really fight climate change, we have to throw the whole kitchen sink at it; there is no silver bullet or single solution here, so the only way we will achieve our goals is to use every lever that we have at our disposal. This plan that this approach, and that’s probably the most heartening for me to see in all of this. On top of that, while the plan talks about ambitious goals (like the renovation of all homes and buildings by 2050), it actually chunks up that huge task, showing how it can be achieved in a reasonable way within the control of the Federal government. On the house example, the plan points out that they will focus on social housing and government buildings first, which is a perfect way to approach that. Social housing units are some of the most energy inefficient buildings we have in the country and most are crying out for renovations. The same is true for many government offices and buildings. So starting there gives us a chance to take care of some of the heavy lifting up front and in a way where the government can act quickly. So it’s not only practical, it’s trying to do this in the most efficient way.

The plan also draws in many other levers that rarely come up in this discussion. There are promises around the building code, which the Federal government sets the minimum standard for and is reviewed every five years. Using the building code to mandate more efficient homes is a great way to use existing structures to make a big bang. Another example is using Via Rail; the plan talks about ramping up high-frequency rail services to allow more people to commute. For me, that’s just music to my ears. I personally live two blocks from a Via Rail station and because there aren’t trains that leave in the morning for me, I can’t use it to commute. But with this plan, I could commute and leave my car at home. Better yet, for younger families who can’t afford to buy a home in pricier markets, this could allow them to move a bit further out of the city, purchase a cheaper home in a smaller community, while still work where they are. That’s a win-win, and it can reduce our carbon footprint. The plan also talks about leveraging Via Rail to start rural bus services, which is a great way to fill the hole left by Greyhound while rolling out zero-emission busses. Another win-win.

There is a lot here that I like, but the final thing that I will point to is the Canada Climate Bank proposal and how it could be used. I am a fan of this bank concept because it will give Canada a lever to not only help grow investment in cleaner energy for communities, it can help grow the next clean energy industries here at home. When we have this debate, we usually end up talking about the jobs that we have and the jobs that will be in the future. The problem with that discussion is that the future part is usually very abstract, with little definition and no way of knowing what it is. For any transition plan to work, it needs to have more detail and more realism behind it for people to see and be able to picture. The Climate Bank helps to do this, because it shows how you’re going to grow those new businesses, or support industries to come to Canada that might go elsewhere. It’s a very tangible thing that goes a long way to helping this along. On top of that, this piece of the plan shows how this can be rolled out in specific ways to specific regions to meet their specific needs. A great example is creating micro-grids in Northern remote communities, a great and cost-effective way to serve those communities and give them the energy independence that they need, while also helping them get off of costly diesel generation. In a country our size, the only plan that will work is one that is flexible enough to allow individual regions to do what works best for them, and this plan seems to deliver on that.

This plan is not perfect and there are other things I had heard rumoured that I would have loved to have seen in this, but this strikes a balance that I feared would not be there under this leadership. This is a plan that can work for all parts of Canada and is laid out in a reasonable, well thought out manner that is built of examples that already work. The NDP and their policy team deserve a huge tip of the hat for this. This is a plan that focuses on helping people and bringing them together, not dividing them and wedging them apart. It’s something that the NDP is uniquely positioned to do and in this age of political upheaval, I’m glad to see that at least with this plan, the NDP has managed to find their footing in that position again. Will this plan have the power to change the narrative around the NDP? Time will tell but I believe this plan is reasonable, achievable and can create a new conversation around how we proceed as a country in the low-carbon future.

Unparliamentary Behaviour

The House of Commons is in the home stretch before the Fall election, as the final month of sitting is underway. We’ve heard time and time again that this election is going to be a nasty one, nastier than what we’re used to, and so far, that prediction has seemed to hold water. But on Tuesday this week, something happened in the House of Commons Justice Committee that went so far beyond the pale, so far beyond what is acceptable from a Parliamentarian, that it needs to be called out:

I needed to take a few deep breaths after reading that to get calm again because just how wrong that is on so many levels. For starters, in our Parliamentary tradition witnesses are treated with a great deal of respect, even when we don’t agree with them. Sometimes there is heated debate about their opinions but very, very rarely does it ever devolve into cheap personal attacks. What Michael Cooper did on Tuesday is the worst example of what I’ve ever seen in my time in Parliament, bad none. Mr. Suri was there testifying on the behalf of his group and should have been shown that respect, even if Mr. Cooper disagreed with his testimony. But he couldn’t give that basic respect, something that doesn’t shock me and I will come back to later.

Secondly, the entire line of attack from Mr. Cooper was some of the most ignorant pearl-clutching that I’ve ever witnessed. The idea that many of these terrorist attacks have been made by people connect to or inspired by the Alt-right is not in dispute. Nor is it in dispute to see certain conservative outlets defend and sometimes promote these kinds of individuals and their views. A great example of this came in my Twitter timeline this morning out of the US, where a Fox News host did this just the other day:

That folks is an avowed conservative news network, saying on national TV that “conservatives” are being censored, then listing an infamous list of alt-righters, conspiracy theorists and alike. That “conservative” network is calling those people “conservatives”. That’s the same network where conservative politicians flock to, including Canadian ones when they are graced with the opportunity. We see the same kind of language, complaints and such from Canadian alt-right outlets, grasping at the same straws. Remember even Andrew Scheer, when it was seeking the Conservative leadership, went on Faith Goldy’s former show to flog himself and to try to get support. This is all on the record and clear as day.

So Mr. Cooper may not like “conservatives” being linked with acts like these, but when those who are doing the attacks say it themselves and the evidence shows that is where they are getting their inspiration from, the link is clear. The facts don’t care about Mr. Cooper’s feelings. And you know what’s an even worse way to try to prove that you’re not linked? Reading the damn manifesto of one of those terrorists in a House of Commons committee, ensuring it ends up in Hansard for all time. That is not just a total insult to the victims who lost their lives at that man’s hand but is a stunning terrible example of crappy political judgement.

I can understand why Mr. Cooper doesn’t like or chafes at these facts; heck, who wants something they believe in to be linked with such horrible crimes on innocent people? No one wants to wear that millstone around their neck, so I get that anger. But instead of attacking an innocent witness whose sole “offence” here was simply to tell the truth, Mr. Cooper should be looking at his own party, going after them and telling them to clean up their act. The fault here lies with the party that isn’t trying to repudiate or reject these ideologies and that hateful rhetoric, not with the person who dares to point out the facts.

What happened on Tuesday was shocking to me but the fact that it came from Mr. Cooper wasn’t a shock to me at all. In his first term, he’s become known for being a full on partisan of the worst sort, giving no respect to opponents or those who he disagrees with. He’s part of a younger generation of Conservative MPs who seem to feel this is how they should act, and the do so with a disturbing level of zeal combined with a lack of life experienced combined with even less judgement. You saw that when he wouldn’t even apologize for having stepped so far outside the lines of what is acceptable of a parliamentarian.

By acting in such a way, he’s not only doing our democracy a disservice, he’s doing the same to people who serve in the same party as he does. The other day I saw someone who I follow on Twitter comment that they wished there were more decent and good politicians out there. When I saw that, I just thought to myself about how many MPs we do have like that in this Parliament, in all parties, including the Conservative Party. They exist, they are there and while I disagree with them on most things, they are respectful of their colleagues, their duties and of being a good example. I would hope that some of those Conservative MPs would take Mr. Cooper aside and give him the chewing out that he so richly deserves for his abhorrent behaviour on Tuesday, if they haven’t already. There is no excuse and no respectful justification for doing all of what Michael Cooper did on Tuesday. By doing what he did, I believe he proved Mr. Suri’s whole point and I would hope that if Mr. Cooper was sincere, he would reflect on that and venture to do better. But I won’t be holding my breath waiting for that to come.