Thursday, June 28, 2007

Not the worst idea ever... but not the best either

The City of Edmonton is poised to purchase/rent a few of these Kros Urinals (left) [hattip-Bourque] to put out on Whyte Ave during weekend nights to keep drunks from urinating on the street.

The pilot program is going to cost $20,000.

Now I agree if you have to choose between having people peeing on the street or peeing in one of these weird contraptions, probably best to have them available, but is that the only option?

Last I checked public urination is illegal. And it should be especially illegal when it happens on a sidewalk that I have to walk on.

So, why not just have the cops arrest these people and put them in jail?

Even the most inebriated person should pick up that there's a police officer standing right next to them and perhaps they shouldn't urinate on that building. Especially if they just saw their buddy hauled off in 'cuffs for doing the same thing.

Call me old fashioned, but isn't this trend towards harm reduction just enabling people to break the law?

Read the whole story here.

For no reason at all....

I just randomly I stumbled up on this letter to the editor of the Regina Leader on April 9, 1896.

It really struck me that some of the same tensions that exist today, between Alberta and Saskatchewan (then Assiniboia) as well as between the new West and the East, were just as prominent back then.

Here's an excerpt:

If we are tired of this state of things (as who is not?); if we desire to gain the full management of our own affairs, as is our full and rightful status as citizens of this Dominion, one thing is certainly necessary. Laying aside narrower aims and aspirations, we must make such an unanimous application to become incorporated as a Province as the federal authorities can not choose but hear. The voice of our member is only one among 215; but the united demand of our 40,000 citizens, expressed in petitions, mass meetings and conventions, cannot help but be heard. We must take the first step ourselves as one people. And, as we shall only be asking that which on every principle of reason and justice is our own, only one result can follow. The pretensions of Ontario and Quebec to know what we want better than we do ourselves, will speedily collapse before a show of resolute unanimity on our part, and the present attitude will speedily change to one of welcome to the last new province of the Dominion -- youngest in point of date, but designed perhaps in course of time to become the greatest and most important of them all.” Against this Alberta movement (which is being pushed with characteristic western vim and energy,) we have to set the apparently apathetic position of Assinoboia. But this apathy is more apparent than real. There is a strong feeling of discontent, and it is none the less strong, because it has not yet found expression in action.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

China making a great leap

Middle class Chinese are increasingly owning their own homes, and when the government does things that threaten their home ownership, they speak out. Next up: the Canadian reserve system.

Toronto Considers Spending $10,000 to Evaluate New Sidewalk Tax Proposal

If you were hopeful that Toronto was finished with its efforts to impose new taxes, you were wrong. Today at the public works committee Councilor Vaughan will propose a new sidewalk tax in the entertainment district. He wants council to approve spending $10,000 in consultations about a new sidewalk tax.

He wants to tax bars and clubs that have line ups to get in. He argues it is an effort to calm foot traffic in the area.

To me this is just one more tax grab in Toronto on top of the new Miller car tax, the new Miller home buying tax, and the new Miller garbage tax.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jacques Bensimon - living large in Cannes

You remember this guy, right? He's Jacques Bensimon, the former chairman of the National Film Board of Canada.

Mr. Bensimon came into the CTF radar back in January, after spending $102,286.26 last year on taxpayer-funded travel.

Read the evolution here.

The most recent post pointed out Mr. Bensimon's penchant for racking up the hospitality expenses with a September 2006 dinner with the GG her husband and Jacques' wife where they drank a $75 bottle of wine and finished their "working dinner" at 11:30PM on a Friday night.

Since then, we filed a few more Access to Information requests for Mr. Bensimon's travel and hospitality receipts.

The first is a trip Mr. Bensimon took to Cannes last year costing taxpayers $8,653.32. 78% of that bill was for "accommodations," so we wanted to find out where he stays while in Cannes.

Here's what we got back:

For starters, Mr. Bensimon rented an apartment for 12 nights at a cost of $6,459.28 or $538.27 per night!

The apartment he rented is located here. And for $538.27 per night, it's not surprising that it is right on the coast overlooking the Mediterranean.

Interestingly, it only cost taxpayers $3,430 to put him up for the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, and $775 in 2004 for the festival.

Either it has got a whole lot more expensive to go to Cannes since 2004, or Mr. Bensimon decided to live it up on the taxpayers’ dime this past year.

More on Bensimon later this week.

Saskatchewan: And now for some great news

Next phase of business tax relief (the best move this government has made in...well...ever) kicks in after Canada Day. Spread the word.

Specific tax reductions this year include:

  • Reducing the general Corporate Capital Tax rate on existing capital from
    0.3 per cent to 0.15 per cent on July 1, 2007 and fully eliminating it on July 1, 2008;

  • Reducing the general Corporate Income Tax rate from 14 per cent to 13
    per cent on July 1, 2007 and reducing it further to 12 per cent on July 1, 2008; and

  • Increasing the small business threshold from $400,000 to $450,000 on July 1, 2007, and increasing it further to $500,000 on July 1, 2008.

Toronto: What goes around...

One day soon, the joke will be on them.

Throughout the afternoon the arrogant bunch left the speakers to sit and cool their heels for hours while they returned to other items that easily could have waited.

When the first speaker, Bill Johnston, chairman of government relations for the Toronto Real Estate Board, expressed his opposition to a proposed Toronto land transfer tax that will duplicate the provincial one, the Millerites badgered him with silly questions for more than an hour.

So-called fiscal conservative Gloria Lindsay Luby nervily suggested the alternative was an 18% property tax hike. And just what did Johnston think of that, she huffed. "You're proposing taking 18 gallons of blood from this citizen to benefit another citizen just because its easy," he said.

When Carol Wilding of the Toronto Board of Trade dared say the taxes being considered (on land transfers and vehicle registration) will "erode" the city's economic competitiveness and should only be used as a "last resort" after city officials "crunch the numbers" to reduce expenditures, His Blondness angrily declared declared a provincial audit indicated Toronto is efficient compared to other Ontario cities.

Who is the King of Denial fooling? According to the city's own documents, Toronto falls well behind other cities on 40% of the measures audited -- including the transit cost per vehicle and the cost of solid waste disposal per tonne.

Largest Municipal Tax Hike in Canadian History One Step Closer

Last night the executive committee of the city of Toronto voted in favour of two more new taxes: a new land transfer tax of 1.5% and a $60 vehicle registration tax. Combined these taxes will take another $365 million out of the pockets are hard-working Toronto families.

This is the single largest municipal tax hike in the history of Canada. And it comes only one week after the city voted in a new garbage tax which will general another $56 million. Together the three new taxes will soak us for another $420 million a year.

There aleady is a land transfer tax of 1.5.% in Ontario and a vehicle registration tax for Southern Ontario already was already $74.

Thanks to tax and spend Miller and his friends on executive council, residents of Toronto will have to pay these taxes twice; once for McGuinty and once for Miller.

There is only one last hurdle for these new taxes - a vote by the full city council in mid-July. Keep your fingers crossed but don't hold your breath.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Totontonians Pay Health Tax Twice, Their Own AND the Unions'

Not only do we in Toronto have to pay our own health tax, now we are on the hook for $18 million to pay for the TTC and other unions' health taxes. Paying it once was too much, but paying for it twice is even more ridiculous. Mayor comrade Miller should renegotiate with the unions so they pay their own damn taxes.

Better yet, Pinocchio McGuinty should just scrap the tax.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Alberta: Can you say "knee-jerk"?

In an obvious knee-jerk reaction to losing Ralph Klein's old seat in Calgary, Premier Stelmach has just increased the size of his cabinet by 3 people. 2 from Calgary and 1 from Edmonton. Plus, he has made Calgary Cabinet Minister Ron Stevens the new Deputy Premier.

The new associate cabinet ministers are:
Yvonne Fritz, MLA for Calgary-Cross, as Associate Minister of Affordable Housing and Urban Development

Cindy Ady, MLA for Calgary-Shaw, as Associate Minister of Tourism Promotion (with responsibility for Alberta's participation in activities pertaining to the 2010 Olympics in British Columbia)

Gene Zwozdesky, MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek, as Associate Minister for Capital Planning

This increase in cabinet also flies in the face of a promise Premier Stelmach made during campaign promise (emphasis mine):

I believe that a smaller Cabinet executive that focused on the priorities of building a stronger Alberta, managing growth, and improving the quality of life is more effective in meeting the immediate challenges facing the province.(Read the quote here:

In turn, wouldn't Stelmach believe a larger cabinet is less effective? Obviously or he wouldn't have cut the size of his cabinet in the first place.

Further, in his December 15, 2006 press release the Premier is quoted as saying: "The people of this province told me they wanted more effective government, not more of it."


Is adding an associate minister of tourism more effective or just more, Mr. Premier?

I would also think that more hands around the cabinet table come budget time is going to make it tough for them to keep a lid on spending. Not that there's even a lid to be found anymore in Alberta.

Lastly, to my recollection (which isn't all that long), this is the first time a cabinet swearing-in ceremony has taken place in Calgary instead of at Government House in Edmonton.

That alone reminds me of another desperate move from a former Ontario government...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sask: CTF on the air

I'll be on 620 CKRM's Newsline at noon (Saskatchewan time) to talk about tax freedom day. For Saskatchewanians, the big day is tommorow.

Listen live.


Colby Cosh is really smart.

Always look on the bright side

Complaints about "grumpy staff" and filthy hospital rooms in Saskatoon have doubled over the past year. A hospital official is turning her frown upside down.

"It makes me happy, actually, because we want to know what's going on in terms of situations where we're not meeting people's expectations, or not delivering the service we should, or when there's been a misinterpretation of what we've intended, because then we can clarify that," says Jean Morrison, vice-president of performance excellence and chief nursing officer for the health region.

According to the report, the largest area of concern was how health care services were delivered to patients, making up 37 per cent of complaints. Problems with access to service cheesed off 32 per cent of clients who complained, and nine per cent griped about poor communication. The rate of concerns per 1,000 patients quadrupled in surgery and tripled in medicine.

Complaints about rehabilitation services also spiked from two complaints per 1,000 patients to nearly 36 gripes per 1,000 patients.

I don't know if "cheesed off" would adequately describe my disposition if my son was in a filthy hospital room, but I'm sure hospital staff would see my protests as little more than "griping."

gripe (grīp) v. griped, grip·ing, gripes v. intr.
1. Informal To complain naggingly or petulantly; grumble.
2. To have sharp pains in the bowels.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Toronto votes in new garbage tax and wastes $20k debating withdrawing support for the troops

Trash the tax, don't tax our trash. This idea is simply a $55 million tax grab.
Meanwhile, city council is wasting $20,000 debating the withdrawal of support for our troops by asking city vehicles to remove the 'Support Our Troops' decals.

New slogan for the city: Toronto the Taxed

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Myth Buster: 45 million Americans without health insurance

This is a great new video by Stuart Browning. Only 9 minutes, and well worth the watch.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Picking up what Dr. Day is laying down

Like fresh ocean air:

Canada's top doctor singled out New Democrat leader Jack Layton yesterday for "hypocrisy" for undergoing hernia treatment at a private Toronto medical clinic.

But Brian Day, president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association, was quick to note Layton is in good company.

Former prime ministers Paul Martin, Jean Chretien and Joe Clark also have been treated at private medical clinics, Day told the annual meeting of the Canadian Science Writers' Association.

And he said union leader Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Autoworkers, proved a master at "queue jumping" when he got in for an MRI within 24 hours of injuring his leg.

"Even I couldn't do that," said Day, the outspoken and media savvy orthopedic surgeon who takes over in August as president of the CMA, which represents 62,000 physicians across Canada.

Day, who will serve a one-year term, has been busy honing his arguments - and anecdotes - for what is sure to be a lively year for the normally staid medical organization.

Day, dubbed "Dr. Profit" and the "Darth Vader of health care" by his critics, is a well-known proponent of private clinics and has been operating the highly successful Cambie Surgery Centre in Vancouver since 1996.

In an hour-long speech yesterday, he said Canada's health-care system is inefficient, run by a bloated and expanding bureaucracy, and governed by political leaders who are hypocrites when it comes to their own personal health care.

He flashed up pictures of Layton and the prime ministers who have railed against the evils of private medical clinics, saying they have visited private clinics for treatment in recent years.

"We need some honesty," said Day, who argues it is impossible for the politicians to deliver on their promises of equal access to health care for everyone, for free. "We can't make it equal, but we can make it good for people."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The headline you won't see

"Saskatchewan NDP refuses to honour Kyoto commitments"

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sask: A very expensive publicity stunt

Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert is planning to sue the feds over the equalization. One of the grounds, the Premier says, is the fact that the Conservatives "broke a promise."

I guess that means we can go ahead and sue the province for raising the PST in 2004.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Alberta: Bill 26

About to hit third (and final) reading in Alberta is Bill 26.

It can be read here.

We here at the CTF have been contacted by a few property tax assessors upset that with Bill 26, the government is moving to limit taxpayers’ ability to appeal their property tax assessment.

BUT, it's not necessarily appealing your home property taxes that are being limited, it's regulated property taxes for things like farmland, pipelines, power lines, phone lines, etc.

It's a bit convoluted, but enough to warrant a letter from the CTF.

Our letter can be read here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Equal opportunity offenders

In the history of the CTF we've managed to offend pretty much everyone...or so I had thought. Offending an entire community in the United Kingdom sets a new high-water mark for the organizaton.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

What is widgetry, anyway?


What exactly, on these premises, would be just another widget?

Are shoes subject to the ordinary laws of supply and demand? Try telling that to a child in a snowstorm who doesn't have a pair! Are flashlights a widget? Even been in a blackout without one?--there are times when you'd pay a thousand dollars for a flashlight. If you're homeless, Pizza Pops aren't a widget. They might mean as much to a bum under a bridge as a defibrillator does to a pork-fed executive collapsed in a marbled bank lobby. To a fellow who's just been laid off from the only job he's trained for, food, shelter, clothing, even money itself, all have non-widgetary nature.

So all hail the new lifeboat economics, which instantly replaces orthodox price mechanisms with the scrawlings of an idiot child in the presence of any good that might conceivably be immediately necessary to life, health, or safety. Is there any reason this intrepid nescience should be limited to health care? If we can't plan for an ambulance ride, how can we plan for anything? (Maybe, he said in an ominous whisper, there are no widgets at all.)
Ezra Klein, as an aside:
What I do have a reference for are private vs. public administrative costs. Studies have found that overhead in the private insurance system -- little things like underwriting, and trying to deny you coverage, and advertising -- account for up to 31 percent of US health care spending. If we had a Canadian style system, we would've saved $209 billion in 1999 -- far more than Armey's nameless "regulations" are costing us. And I'd take some sanitation regulations over the claims department at my insurer anyday.

Mr. Klein clearly isn't familiar with c-difficile outbreaks in Canada, which are caused by poor sanitary conditions in Canadian hospitals. Klein's "lifeboat economics," as Cosh refers to it, certainly don't apply to a Canadian patient being shipped unwittingly to a union-run Canadian facility.
There have been continuing problems with outbreaks of C. difficile bacterial infections at Quebec hospitals, including one at the Centre hospitalier Honoré-Mercier in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., that resulted in 11 deaths. A coroner's inquest was called on Nov. 8 to look into the circumstances surrounding those deaths.

Asking a task-force of three barbers if you need a haircut

This is fairly good news.

To get you up to speed: the Alberta government has created a three-member task force to decide whether taxpayers should take on an additional $2.1 billion in debt by taking over the teachers' portion of the teachers' pension unfunded liability.

The first two members were former teachers, one who happens to be a government MLA. The third and final member was offered to the Alberta Teachers' Association, who declined.

The Education Minister in Alberta suggested he may find a third teacher to appoint to this task-force.

But should any teachers (former or current) really be on a government task-force to decide whether taxpayers should take over a debt currently owned by teachers? Isn't that like asking a barber if you need a haircut?

The CTF argued we should have the third seat, but the government has obviously declined.

But at least they didn't add a third teacher...

Get more background on this issue here.

I'll be on CHQR's Calgary Today with Mike Blanchard today at 3:15PM to discuss.

Click here to listen live.

Status of women Canada an irrelevant "relic"

Some people reacted to modest budget reductions to the Status of Women Canada as though that agency was the only thing standing in the way of taking away womens' voting rights.

“We are now taking steps backward on equality rights instead of forward,” said Mathyssen. “By shutting offices, changing the mandate and cutting funding, Bev Oda is not promoting women’s rights. The Conservative Government is not committed to promoting women’s equality,” continued Mathyssen. “They are abandoning women in this country.”

Sounds pretty serious, doesn't it?

Well, turns out SOWC was on its last legs long before the conservatives started trimming the budget.

However, the documents obtained by The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act suggest the agency was due for a major shake-up even before the Tories decided on an overhaul.
A 2006 internal memo posed the question "Where is the organization today?"

The answers: "Unknown; getting worse - low and lowering profile both within and outside of government - lots of turnover with employees - no real stability - concerned about institutional stability - high turnover results in loss of corporate memory."

"We're not showing results . . . we don't have the authority to make things happen."

The documents cited staff burnout, including people leaving out of frustration, a "defeatist attitude" and lack of political leadership, no "clear vision of where it's going and how it plans to get there," and "inefficient attention to results and accountability."

The consulting firm Sussex Circle was commissioned in 2005 to look at the agency. It interviewed officials from the Privy Council and Treasury Board as well as the agency's senior management and staff.

The 2005 study quoted officials as calling the agency a "a relic," an institution that may once have served an important purpose, but whose mission and mandate needed to be rethought or updated.

James Mitchell, author of the reports, declined to comment.

Bumper sticker politics at its worst. The government should never have flip-flopped on this.

Hat tip: SDA comments

Quebec Introduces Carbon Tax

Quebec has become the first province to introduce a so-called carbon tax.

Quebec Natural Resources Minister Claude Bechard says this will not affect the wallets of Quebec citizens because the energy industry will absorb the cost. Says Bechard: "We count on the good will of the gas companies."

Isn't it interesting how politicians refuse to cut gas taxes stating that oil companies will gobble up the savings yet when they raise taxes the same companies are expected to absorb the costs?! Interesting logic M. Bechard...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Saskatchewan two-fer

Number 1:
Fire breaks out in a Yorkton house. Two city workers in a water truck notice the smoke and drive over to take a closer look. Fire chief is on the scene but firefighters haven't arrived yet. Chief asks city workers to use the water in the truck to knock down fire and they go ahead and do a really good job of it -- saving thousands of dollars in damage. Firefighter's union files grievance -- says this violates "contracting out" clauses in collective agreement. Union later sobers up and drops grievance.

Reminds me of the duck mountain flower scandal.

Number 2:
Local farmer doesn't want to see rural school closed because his children will be separated and bussed to different schools in different directions. Offers $75,000 to pay a teacher's salary and benefits. School board turns him down.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Liberal Leadership financial reporting is...

... yet another reason why pre-election disclosure of campaign contributions is needed in Canada.

Just to get you up to speed: candidates for the Federal Liberal leadership election - which ended on December 2, 2006 (185 days ago) - have had 6 months to file their financial statements.

Today, Elections Canada is pleased to inform us, only 3 of the 11 candidates filed their final reports by the June 4, 2007 deadline.

Here's the list:

Incredibly, this is even more of problem at other levels (anything other than federal party leadership elections), so this is not to pick on these people in particular, but again, this shows in general why post-election disclosure doesn't work.

Other than the potential of a fine, candidates who lose have very little impetus to file their returns. They already lost, what more can we do to them?

But, this wouldn't be the case if we had stronger pre-election disclosure requirements in Canada.

Particularly, if any candidate who didn't disclose (at the very least) who has contributed to them and in what amount, by a specified date before the vote would be disqualified.

Sure it's tough to get volunteers to put together your financial statements after you lose, but should that be a legitimate reason not to disclose who funded your campaign? Clearly not.

Harper and Co. should see this as an opportunity to inject some transparency into general elections. Tell voters before they vote, who's in the backroom writing the cheque, or you don't get to run. It's that simple.

UPDATE: I was not entirely clear in the first draft of this post, federal leadership elections have a requirement for pre-election disclosure of contributions only, but no other level of election does. Federal general elections, provincial general elections and municipal general elections all have post-election disclosure requirements. Some municipalities don't even have any disclosure, pre or post election.

The final 8 Liberal leadership candidates all filed 4 pre-election disclosures of campaign contributions. Which, is again good proof as to why pre-election disclosure works and is needed.

What makes Saskatchewanians tick?

For non-saskies who have trouble understanding the Saskatchewan mindset, this morning I came across a perfect example.

Right now, the Saskatchewan economy is pretty hot. There is a significant real estate boom, grain prices are up; and oil, potash and uranium prices remain high.

This morning Saskatchewan talk radio host John Gormley held a quick poll of listeners asking "do you think the Saskatchewan boom is a good thing? Yes or no?"

I stand to be corrected, but I think 3 of the first four callers answered "no," the boom is not a good thing. Eventually the callers balanced out in favour of the "yes" side, but the fact that so many people answered "no" almost caused me to veer off the pothole-ridden street I was driving on into a government-owned telephone pole.

When Gormley asked one caller why she had answered "no" she replied "because it's all Alberta oil money."

There you have it. I've lived in Saskatchewan for five years now and I'm no closer to figuring it out. That is the quintessential Saskatchewan attitude. The "attitude's" adherents are declining in number, but there are still enough of them to slow the province down.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Reducing crime by removing pay phones

Just one question: If public pay phones attract criminals like moths to flame, shouldn't that make it easier to catch them?

Wanted: More MPs?

I've never encountered anyone who has expressed the desire for more politicians.

Gerry probably hasn't either.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Alberta: Ministerial expenses now on-line

As promised earlier this year, Alberta Minister office expenses are now on-line. You can find the information here.

While it is tempting to criticize the government for putting up only vague information, and for falling very short of the federal expense website... I'll refrain.

Bottom line: this is a very good step in the right direction. It's a move forward for transparency, and it should be applauded.

And now that it's up there, we can work on making it better.

Additionally, starting today we'll have a look at the office expenses each month and offer a gold star for the Minister's office with the lowest expenses, and a frowning clown for the highest.

(don't ask why I picked those, it was all about google image search...)

April 2007

This month's Gold Star goes to Treasury Board Minister, Lloyd Snelgrove for having the lowest expenses in April of $318.37.

This month's frowning clown goes to Finance Minister, Dr. Lyle Oberg for having a monthly expense of $6,356.78.

NOTE: Now to be fair, I have no idea if either of these are outliers or if Oberg's office decided to order two years worth of paper in one month, or if not all ministers are using the same criteria, thereby explaining the large or small expenses. But until they provide better breakdowns, we're going to worry about it.

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