Monday, April 28, 2008

End TTC Monopoly

In response to the last-minute city-crippling strike Friday night by Toronto's Transit union, there are wide-spread calls to designate the TTC an 'essential service'. While this will preclude transit stoppages due to strikes, it fails to address the needs to put an end the TTC monopoly. The TTC is owned by taxpayers not the union and it is time that quality of service and reasonable costs trump union demands.

The union has a monopoly on labour and the city has a monopoly on the service while taxpayers have a monopoly on frustration.

Costs for the TTC have grown rapidly while service has declined. This is a direct result of the failure of the city to require the adoption of private-sector measures like those used in; Copenhagen, Perth, Goteborg, London, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Adelaide, Helsinki, San Diego, Stockholm, Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. In these cities there has been competitive tendering for routes. Service has improved and costs have declined.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Weather Channel Founder slams global warming

What does the founder of the Weather Channel think about global warming? In an article in the New American, John Coleman states emphatically--and with confidence--that doomsday scenarios from increasing temperatures just aren't in the forecast.

After years of study, John Coleman is convinced that none of this is true. And thousands of scientists and other meteorologists hold this same dissenting view.

Currently, John Coleman is a TV weatherman for KUSI News in San Diego. But Coleman is most famous for being founder of the Weather Channel. He has had a long career in predicting the weather, working for the first time as a TV weatherman during his freshman year in college in 1953. With this extensive background, we might take John Coleman seriously when he states bluntly that global warming “is the greatest scam in history.”

...THE NEW AMERICAN: As someone who has been in weather broadcasting for pretty much its whole history, are you concerned about global warming?

John Coleman: I’m only concerned about people who are going hysterical about it. How many billions of dollars is our government going to spend to combat something that isn’t real? That has my attention.

Sask nurses want 27% raise

The three year contract with Saskatchewan's nurses expired March 31. Signing the next one is becoming a mounting, yet predictable, public confrontation. Nurses have already floated May 7 as a possible strike date. Randy Burton of the Star Phoenix explains the case.

What the nurses want is both simple and complicated. Easy to understand is a big pay hike, more holidays and six-weeks notice for any change to the work schedule. Complicated is their idea that the number of nurses available should dictate bed numbers, thereby regulating access to the health-care system.

SUN says the idea they should give up anything to achieve all of this would constitute "the most regressive employer proposal in its history."

That's quite a claim even by SUN's standards, a group not known for understatement. You would be hard-pressed to find another group in society who could describe a 10 per cent increase over two years as an attack on working people, but then the nurses have always operated by different rules.

These numbers have been underreported but what the nurses are actually asking for is a 17.3 per cent increase in the first year and five per cent in each of two succeeding years.

For nurse practitioners with advanced training, it is asking for a 65 per cent increase in the first year. That would take them from $39.15 an hour to $64.59 an hour. Among other things, the union also wants triple pay for overtime, an extra week's holidays and the right to refuse all overtime, regardless of the number of patients coming into hospitals.

To put some of these demands into perspective, Alberta nurses recently settled for five and five, Manitoba nurses settled for 4.8 and 5.2 per cent and a three-year deal for Ontario nurses came in at 3.25, 3 and 3. The national rate of inflation is 1.2 per cent at the moment, while Saskatchewan's housing market has pushed its rate up to 3.2 per cent.

A starting nurse in Saskatchewan now makes $26.90 an hour, just ahead of Manitoba at $26.80 but still behind $29.33 in Alberta.
Interestingly, Burton also says Ralph Klein helped foster the current political tone where governments cave and give whatever the nursing unions ask for, instead of standing firmly behind back to work legislation.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Less transparency in Saskatchewan?

On the same day Saskatchewanians found out they may soon know the results of health inspections of restaurants, they realized they might know less about government transactions in the future. Bill 31 raises from $50,000 to $350,000 the threshold for transactions that must be approved by cabinet in an order-in-council, which are then made public within a week. Under the new legislation, such transactions wouldn't be known until the end of the fiscal year, and then with less detail.

Premier Brad Wall initially dismissed the concerns when [NDP Opposition Leader Lorne] Calvert raised them in question period. But speaking to reporters later, he said reducing transparency is not the intent of the changes in the bill and said the government will look at either changing the bill or issuing a directive to ensure that payments under $350,000 are disclosed in a similar manner.

Wall said the change was being made to improve efficiency so that the cabinet spent less time dealing with routine expenditures such as the purchase of picnic tables for provincial parks.

"As a result of today, and this is how I think the system should work ... the questions come and the questions create some opportunities to make this initiative better," he said.

Wall said the legislation does not apply to salaries paid to government employees.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Public sector grows by 175,000 in 5 years

The welfare state should have peaked in the 70's, writes Business Edge's D'Arcy Jenish. However, it continues to grow. Today 3.3 million work in the public sector in Canada, more than 10 percent of the population. Technology, which allows businesses to do more with less people, failed to make the government any smaller. And, even if programs don't work anymore, they often still continue. The Fraser Institute has more on this topic here.

CFL Poison

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), the supposedly eco-friendly alternative to traditional incandescent bulbs, have a staggering potential to harm our water supply. Fluorescent tubes and CFLs both use highly poisonous mercury. Despite this, the Canadian government has ruled incandescent bulbs will be illegal by 2012.

Environment Canada reports the mercury contained in one fluorescent light tube (about 23 milligrams) is enough to render 30,000 litres of water unsafe to drink....

At present, relatively few people are recycling their used fluorescent lights....more than 90 per cent of the lights end up in the trash when they're no longer in use...

The smaller compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) also contain enough mercury that people should treat them with care. According to Natural Resources Canada's Web site, anyone picking up a broken CFL should take precautions like wearing rubber gloves, opening the windows and placing the debris in a sealed plastic bag before disposal. If a vacuum cleaner is used to clean up the mess, the vacuum bag should also be placed in the sealed plastic bag.

The Web site does offer some words of encouragement to people charged with the task of picking up a broken CFL, however.

"All of this can be done by oneself -- no need to call in a hazardous waste team," it says.

Sask gov may sell off crown assets

Potash Corp., a former Saskatchewan crown, is No. 1 on the Toronto Stock Exchange with a value 60 times what it was when it became a private company in 1989. Despite eschewing the privatization of current crowns, Leader-Post political columnist Murray Mandryk says the current provincial government may be poised to divest itself of some crown assets.

Rumours are rife that the new government has engaged the services of CIBC Wood Gundy to sell the government's Saskferco assets at Belle Plaine. There are also rumours the government has entered preliminary discussions to sell off the Navigata SaskTel subsidiary.

Asked about the rumours, Cheveldayoff offered something less than a denial. "At some point, it would be the right time to monetize Saskferco," said Cheveldayoff, although he noted Saskferco wasn't under his ministry.

However, Cheveldayoff is responsible for SaskTel. When asked about selling those subsidiaries, the minister was quick to note Monday his party policy was to, "review all out-of-province operations."

"That's what we're going to do," Cheveldayoff said. "If they're not core, we're going to look at them."

Does that mean all Crown subsidiary assets -- regardless of their value to Saskatchewan taxpayers -- are for sale?

Stay tuned.

The Latest Ontario Ban

Premier Dalton McGuinty will be banning 'cosmetic' pesticide use today. Yesterday it was a reannouncement of the ban on putting cigarettes on display in stores.

Today he is playing up fears of impending eco-catastrophe and trying to look 'green' on Earth Day. To do this, instead of making any meaningful public policy changes or controlling anything in his purview, he is banning the sale of cosmetic pesticides.

There is plenty of research that indicate such bans do nothing but increase the proliferation of pests and weeds. Pest and weeds cause many other problems for health; anaphylaxis and asthma-related problems for example. A sleeping pill has a greater cancer causing risk than health Canada approved levels of pesticides.

But as interventionist governments are wont to do, they would rather issue a ban than actually clean up the environment.

For example, for every litre of water that comes out of my tap, between one and three litres drains into the ground because sewers leak so badly. An issue like this won't get fixed because McGuinty would rather be seen to be doing something that do the heavy lifting of actually doing something.

Doing something requires making a hard choice and prioritizing spending. Prioritizing spending would mean less cash for his pet projects and his union buddies.

So don't hold your breath waiting for this premier to actually clean the environment. He cares more about looking green than actually being green.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Humpreys on the new Edmonton arena

Dr. Brad Humphreys delivered an excellent address to the Economics Society of Northern Alberta luncheon last Friday. I was lucky enough to be in attendance, and Dr. Humphreys was kind enough to e-mail me his power point presentation.

Just to remind readers of a few facts about Dr. Humphreys:

  • He's one of the foremost experts on the economics of professional sport franchises and new arenas;
  • He was asked to testify before the US congress last year on the economic benefits of new arenas (or decided lack thereof), and;
  • He's been hired by the Seattle Supersonics to help get them out of their lease (the city is claiming the team is an economic boon to the city and the team is using Humphreys' research to prove otherwise).
An in-depth interview with Dr. Humphreys can be found on the Battle of Alberta blog. Trust me, it's worth reading in full.

He basically told the audience (and I am totally paraphrasing - look at the powerpoint if you want his words):
  • To remember that the $450-mil figure doesn't include land purchase or infrastructure costs;
  • These initial estimates historically are overrun by 30%;
  • The owner of the arena is often the biggest beneficiary;
  • New arenas can be use to shift development from other areas of town to around the arena;
  • But that it doesn't always work (ie. St. Louis)
  • Taxpayers often end up subsidizing these things;
  • And don't be surprised to see a phony-baloney economic "benefits" report in the near future;
  • There is no legitimate economic argument that can be made in support of taxpayer subsidization;
  • The only legitimate argument for subsidization is that intangible benefits accrue from the arena ('World Class City', civic pride, etc.);
  • But citizens often aren't willing to provide a large subsidy for these intangibles.

The Edmonton Journal's Susan Ruttan was also in attendance (I saw her) and accurately reports on what was said HERE. (hattip: Grabia)

The Edmonton Sun's John Short may have been in attendance (I didn't see him) and provides a poorly researched rant HERE.

Oh, and to answer your questions Mr. Short:

Short: On taxpayers likely paying for a portion of the arena (What right does he have to that opinion?)

A: Uh, I don't know, how about the fact that the arena report says so, as does much of the peer-reviewed research of a distinguished world-renowned professor.

Short: And what right does he have to tell us that the group appointed by Mayor Steve Mandell to point us in the direction of a new hockey palace did not include land costs and the bill for probable LRT expansion?

A: Again, please, just read the darn report, it says so on page 19. Plus, virtually every news story on the issue has mentioned this.

Trip Details for SK Environment Minister Heppner

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has brought details to light regarding Sask Environment Minister Nancy Heppner's trip to Australia. It was a trip the opposition NDP questioned and the Sask Party defended.

Thanks to a Fredom of Information request, a breakdown of the $10,000 in expenses as well as the intinerary are posted here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Funny 'cause it's true

In the Let's Talk Taxes column I released today, entitled '"Try it Now" Minister Liepert', I referenced a 1993 Kids in the Hall skit.

The reference is perhaps a bit obscure to those who are of the generation who didn't quite get the Kids in the Hall, but for those aged 25-40, you may have remembered the "Stalled Car" skit.

Anyway, for those who didn't get the reference, or even for those who did and want to see it again, I managed to find it on-line.


Kids in the Hall

SUN vs. essential services: So what?

In recent days, the NDP has railed against the Sask Party for legislation that would ensure essential services are maintained during any strike action. Yesterday, NDP Labour critic Andy Iwanchuk complained, "What does that do to the system if you have a stakeholder such as the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses [SUN] that are in there and are potentially not co-operating with this or understanding this?"

No worries. The case made by SUN president Rosalie Longmore in a letter to the Leader-Post shouldn't compel anyone, though it gets high marks for audacity.

Longmore complains, “the Saskatchewan Party government has attempted to justify its interference in the collective bargaining process by saying that changes to essential services legislation are necessary to ensure public safety.”

Yet Longmore herself made recruitment and retention a prerequisite to collective bargaining talks with her employer, the Saskatchewan Organization of Health Associations, and then jumped over that employer to secure a nursing recruitment and retention fund from the Sask Party government. Is this not “interference in the collective bargaining process” of her own?

Incredibly, the bulk of Longmore’s argument consists of examples of essential services kept during SUN’s 1999 job action. Not once does Longmore mention that strike was illegal! Just five hours after the strike announcement, the Saskatchewan government ordered nurses back to work. A Court of Queen’s bench injunction followed, meaning nurses could be held in contempt of court, subject to heavy fines or even prison. The only defense SUN had left was public sympathy—something it dare not lose by failing to provide essential services. They were as essential to SUN’s bargaining position as they were to public health.

Furthermore, Longmore’s claim that SUN worked to ensure essential services seems to contradict her comments at the time. On April 13, 1999, she was quoted as saying, "I cannot ask nurses to go back to the working conditions they have left,” and added, “It’s an individual’s choice” whether to defy the court or not. Can union bosses who said they left nurses to their conscience now claim they ordered some back to work to ensure essential services?

The proposed legislation is about many unions, not just SUN. Nevertheless, Longmore, having discussed her nurses alone, makes sweeping conclusions on the government’s motives: “Therefore, it is clear that the true intent of Bill 5 has nothing to do with respect to ensuring public safety, but rather is intended to strip union members of the right to strike.”

Actually Bill 5 affirms a union’s right to strike. Yet, even if this were compromised, why should Longmore care? Legalities didn’t stop her nurses from picketing in 1999—and getting a substantial pay raise for it. Besides, if SUN nurses always have and always will ensure essential services, as Longmore argues, what does SUN have to lose from legislation that guarantees the same?

Bill 5 ensures that essential services of public employers continue during a labour dispute to prevent danger to life, health, or safety; the destruction or serious deterioration of machinery, equipment or premises; serious environmental damage; and disruption of the courts. Such sound goals, already enforced by legislation in every other province, are the reasons why just one in five Saskatchewanians polled have opposed the bill.

While clarification on the scope and extent of Bill 5 is important, SUN's opposition isn't reason enough to flinch on a bill with sound goals.

Lorne Gunter on Global Warming

To top off the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's annual meeting in Regina, Lorne Gunter gave a 40-minute address on global warming. The entertaining speech was easy to understand and filled with commonsense reasons why prevailing views on global warming, and governments' responses to them, deserves some sober second thought. The full video may be seen below.

Part I is embedded below.

Click here for Part 2. Gunter sets out the three questions of his address: 1) Is bizarre weather occurring? 2) Is man the cause of that? 3) If it’s happening and we’re causing it, will it be harmful? Gunter notes that hot weather today is inevitably blamed on global warming, despite the fact such temperatures have been reached in the past, obviously for other reasons. As well, carbon dioxide is a very small part of the earth’s atmosphere.

Click here for Part 3. Gunter illustrates how small the percentage of carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere. As well, the world’s oceans have not displayed global warming.

Click here for Part 4. Computer models are the only place where global warming can be demonstrated. However, the models fall very short. As well, media hype now tends to attribute all unusual weather to global warming, whether appropriate or not.

Click here for Part 5. Gunter tells of a scientist that once predicted global warming would produce hurricanes, but has recanted after receiving more data. Gunter notes that after recent cooling trends, popular wording has been conveniently changed from "global warming" to "climate change." Gunter believes that climate change will be remembered like Y2K--much ado about nothing. More certainly, the science behind global warming is far too questionable to warrant the burdens on our lifestyles and economy forced by policy makers.

Sask Crowns: Opportunities gained and lost

The Saskatchewan Party Government, elected last November, promised not to privatize any of the province's crown corporations. NDP fear-mongering over this issue should be balanced with a look at what the benefits really have been--and could have been--had some of these crowns been privatized.

Recently, John Gormley stated the case succinctly for PotashCorp:

A few months ago, the internationally successful Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan mentioned the value of its stock had risen 5,600 per cent since it first issued shares in 1989.

This is the same company that was once a money-losing dog of a Crown corporation, which was privatized in the late '80s.

If you had purchased $1,000 worth of PotashCorp shares in November 1989 they would have grown to a value to $56,000.

Since that announcement four months ago, that $56,000 would now be worth about $88,000.

At least the Sask Party government did introduce Bill 3, which repeals the 1975 Potash Development Act that allowed the province to expropriate private property and assets related to potash. Rick Mercer should travel to the States so Americans can say, "Congratulations, Saskatchewan, on abandoning Communism!"


A comparison of how Manitoba's MTS and SaskTel have fared since the former was privatized in 1996 is also quite Tel-tale. As the Frontier Centre explains, "None of the traditional fears relating to privatized businesses has materialized. After slightly over a decade, MTS has twice the assets, three times the revenue, and a fifth more jobs compared to SaskTel. Prices are the same and Manitoba’s local telco pays more taxes."


How many other opportunities have been lost? At present, Saskatchewan is holding onto all of its crowns, including a bus company that lost $400,000 last year, despite a $5 million grant from the province. Sadly, this is actually a typical year for Saskatchewan Transportation Corporation.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Canadian content rule obsolete?

Doing a bit of catch up on my newspaper reading, and came across this column by Rob Breakenridge on the growing proof of the obsolescence of the CRTC's Canadian Content requirements for Canadian radio.

Here's a bit:

No one can force music consumers to have 30 per cent Canadian content loaded on their iPods.

No one can force downloaders to ensure that 30 per cent of their peer-to-peer swaps are Cancon.

There's certainly no way to regulate Internet buzz; to ensure that 30 per cent of online chatter is devoted to Canadian artists.

But guess what? Canadian artists are being listened to, downloaded, uploaded, purchased, talked about, swooned over, written about, and appreciated.

All because the artists are talented and the product is in demand.

The Case Against Tax Dollars for Some Films

Bill C-10 continues to cause a stir on Parliament Hill from the arts industry and concerned citizens. The legislation would allow the federal government the discretion to deny subsidies to films "contrary to public policy." The film industry complains the bill would stifle the production of films that aim to "push the envelope", not make a profit. Others say that's precisely the problem.

Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canada Family Action Coalition says polling proves a majority of Canadians would support the legislation. Moral arguments aside, his comments in a recent article make the case for taxpayers:

"The fact that the bank will not give money to certain producers for certain films without basically being underwritten or guaranteed by the taxpayer of Canada, is an indication in itself that there's a problem," said Rushfeldt. "If a bank thought that it would be a decent production that would be viewed by Canadians, supported by Canadians, and might make a profit, the bank would never insist that the taxpayers underwrite it."
The issue isn't a federal concern alone. As the CTF pointed out in a recent column, the 2005 film Tideland received $1.6 million from the Saskatchewan government through tax credits--eight times the $200,000 (U.S.) the film grossed worldwide. Perhaps its low viewership was due to its content. As the Motion Picture Association of America explains, the show was "Rated R for bizarre and disturbing content, including drug use, sexuality, and gruesome situations - all involving a child, and for some language."

It's only one example of films that the public doesn't care to see, yet still have to pay for through their taxes.

Mississauga 'Duping Taxpayers' Update

To the credit of Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, she called the CTF to respond to the post this morning (see below) about council's reduction of the infrastructure surtax to 1% from the original 5%.

Ms. Parrish politely admitted she may have made the remark attributed to her in the National Post. She went on to make a few important points with which it is easy to agree:
1. that taxpayers should not be played like violins; and
2. the federal government should not be on the hook as municipalities are creatures of the province.

Ms. Parrish suggested that it had not been a plan all along to raise and then lower the tax. She explained that public backlash over the surtax motivated the change.

It was a generous move on her bahalf to call and clarify her remarks and Ms. Parrish deserves due credit for having done so.

Did Mississauga Mayor and Councilor Dupe Taxpayers?

Mississauga city council has decided to back off its controversial 5% infrastructure surtax applied to property taxes on top of the 3.9% property tax hike (already twice the rate of inflation) it imposed. Sadly, backing off only means dropping the surtax down to 1%.

Local councilor, Carolyn Parrish (of American-bashing renown) was quoted in today's Nation Post saying, "It was a little bit of politics from us to get people’s attention". Mayor Hazel McCallion's comments make it unclear whether or not it was all a game but she says she sees the benefits of having scared everyone.

Let's get this straight. Either council raised a tax and is lowering it in some kind of calculated PR stunt or Parrish is lying to try to make herself look like some kind of Machiavellian strategist. Either she is lying or admitting to purposely scaring seniors on fixed incomes.

If she is to be taken at her word then council struck substantial fear into the hearts of seniors and home-owners on fixed incomes in some peculiar effort to make a point about infrastructure funding. If she is not to be believed, then, well, she is just another politician flapping her gums, issuing hot airs and lies.

Which is it, Ms. Parrish? Taxpayers have a right to know. Mayor McCallion should come clean and make it clear whether this was a planned stunt all along.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sask election spending disclosed

Want to know who contributed to campaigns in the Saskatchewan election last November? The numbers are here. Each campaign was allowed to spend $48,413. Saskatoon Southeast MLA Don Morgan received much more than he could spend: $125,535 in contributions.

Now the numbers themselves are being used as political ammunition. The Sask Party claims the NDP opposes proposed labour legislation because the latter received $281,000 from unions in the last campaign. The Sask Party itself received $668,016 in corporate donations.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Sanofi Pasteur - Big Pharma Gets Big Cash

Dalton McGuinty is at it again with the corporate welfare. This time global vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur is getting a fat cheque for $13.9 million from the Ontario government (read the Ontario taxpayer). Sanofi's release can be read HERE.

This is a profitable global drug manufacturer headquartered in France with annual sales over $4 billion (Canadian). It is part of one of of the world's most profitable industries - big pharma. It doesn't need subsidies.

Let's hope Sanofi puts the money into researching and developing a corporate welfare vaccine for taxpayers because a little shot in the arm hurts less than the premier's hand in the wallet.

Firefighters endorse CTF tax proposal?

No, not exactly, but there is a fantastic new ad for Sprint's Nextel Direct Connect that suggest that if politicians were more like no-nonsense firefighters things would be better and simpler for all citizens.

They hit on many CTF hobby horses like, balanced budgets, simplified single-page taxes, road improvement (presumably through the use of gas tax revenue...), and clean water legislation (as opposed to carbon taxes and climate change legislation which will not improve the quality of the air or water).

Have a watch:

If there was an extended Canadian version I think it might go something like this:

Fire Chief: How 'bout the budget?
Firefighters: Balance it!

FC: And the taxes?
FF: One page or less!

FC: What about the debt?
FF: Pay it off!

FC: Corporate Welfare?
FF: I don't think so!

FC: Hey guys, what should we do with the surplus in the EI fund?
FF: Give it back!

FC: Anyone want better roads?
FF: We do!

FC: Need clean water guys?

FC: And a carbon tax?

FC: Alright, this is the easiest job I've ever had. We're outta here.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Three Big Brothers Gruff - Orwell, McGuinty and Miller

Increasingly governments and their agencies are spending time and money establishing rules of conduct, behaviour and comportment through legislative means. This simply is government acting as Big Brother to crush freedom of expression in modern society. It comes at the expense of taxpayers and the expense of free will.

Here are only a few examples of the latest items that are being made criminal acts, banned or subject to fine:
Driving while talking on a cell phone;
Smoking in a car with a child in it;
The ownership of handguns;
The use of trans fats in foods; and
Speech deemed to be offensive is already banned thanks to Orwellian Human Rights rules.

I don't' think some of these behaviours are wise but members of society ought to be free to make these choices for themselves not to have them dictated by Big Brother.

Big Brother is even undermining the freedom to hold contrary opinions. For example, regarding the question of global warming and government efforts to address this alleged problem, they brook no disagreement. Those who question whether there is such a phenomenon or whether government spending trillions to address it are not just disagreed with, they are more than ridiculed. Big Brother labels those who disagree as 'global warming deniers' raising the spectre of 'holocaust deniers' and 'hate mongers' like Ernst Zundel and his ilk. Talk about a conversation ending ad hominem!

Ironically, today's workers in the Ministry of Truth imposing the will of Big Brother are the same people who opposed the so-called 'patriarchy' and its imposition of its 'world view' on society because it was harmful and hampered freedom. However, now that freedom deniers - like Ontario Premier McGuinty and Toronto Mayor Miller - have the reigns of power they seek to use their unfettered powers to impose their will on all - because they think they know best what is good for all.

Resistance is futile and will be crushed.

Government has lost its focus on the improvement of core government services; police, fire, roads, water, electricity, health care, environment, spending control, tax simplicity, government transparency, and accountability.

"Thought crime does not entail death. Thought crime is death." We are increasingly sent to Room 101, just more insidiously than in Orwell's 1984

Monday, April 07, 2008

Municipal governments sporting arenas

Municipal governments love blowing cash out the door to build big fancy arenas. For some communities in B.C., such as Abbotsford, it may mean a property tax increase of 15% this year. Not all municipal politicians fall into the "if we build it they will come" fallacy. One B.C. municipality has shown how using P3's can keep project costs under control and bring a better product to the community.

Chilliwack's Prospera centre is a good example of a design-build P3. The City of Chilliwack tendered a fixed price project that would have the winning bidder design the facility. In a more traditional model, such as the Convention Centre in Vancouver, one architect will design the project then a city will put the design out to tender. The City of Chilliwack's strategy was to tender out a problem (what kind of arena can we build within a budget) to the private sector and have the private sector come back with a solution. That way, the City got to pick from a number of designs and was able to work through to an almost final project before the contract was signed.

As the massive cost overruns at the Convention Centre show, going with one design, to be built in the cheapest way possible, can be massively expensive at the end.

B.C. Crown Corporation Rip Off

How is it that the government delivers services because it can't trust the private sector to act in the best interest of the public, but then serious consumer rip offs happen anyway? When a crown corporation delivers a service, and insiders rip off consumers, the taxpayer is on the hook to pay compensation.

B.C. has a peoples' monopoly auto insurer, ICBC. ICBC's training facility rebuilt between 30-40 salvage vehicles (those considered by ICBC to be cheaper to write off than to repair) per year, and then sold them. Between 1998 and February 2008, the training facility sold 98 vehicles to ICBC employees and unsuspecting buyers without revealing the vehicles' repair history. As a result of this funny business at the training facility, ICBC no longer sells rebuilt vehicles. Questionable sales from the facility, however, went on for 10 years.

If a private dealer sold rebuilt vehicles without disclosing its history, its license to operate could be suspended, or even cancelled. Getting shut down acts as a big disincentive to ripping off consumers. Will ICBC be shut down as a result of its misdeeds? Not likely. Competition and the fear of losing the ability to continue on in business are two of the most important deterrents to misdeeds in the private sector - which is exactly where auto insurance should be.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Feds to audit Native Bands

After the Liberals proposed plans to audit First Nations Reserves, Conservatives took power and tried to introduce similar legislation. The opposition weeded that out of the Accountability Act, so the federal government has taken a new tack. They are reintroducing such measures within Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).

To further strengthen accountability measures, INAC recently notified funding recipients that it intends to amend 2008-2009 funding agreements to include an audit clause. The addition of this clause will ensure INAC’s right to conduct audits of funding agreements to make certain that contributions are used for intended programs and services. Applied on a risk basis, these will complement the existing requirement that First Nations provide to both the department and their community members annual consolidated financial statements that have been audited by independent and accredited professionals.

Such moves were opposed by the Assembly of First Nations but welcomed by groups like the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. In January they called for just such measures in a 293-page report. "Where Does the Money Go?" examined 6,199 federal grants and contributions in fiscal 2006-07. Even though 30 federal departments and agencies dished out $5.6 billion to 2,054 recipients, disclosure was so poor, it was difficult to tell if the money was spent well or not.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation proved how true this was through Freedom of Information requests for three native bands in Saskatchewan: the
Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, the Onion Lake Cree Nation, and the Lac La Ronge First Nation. (Click the names to see the FOI results.) All three were multi-million dollar winners in the Top 100 Tory Handouts list. But unlike the only other Saskatchewan entry, the RCMP Heritage Museum, documentation to account for those dollars was scant. The crucial pages were censored, leaving pages of regulations and guidelines, and a few skeletal budget numbers.

For example, the request for Onion Lake, a band of 4600, showed precious little, except for summer work proposals for teenagers, which included subsidies for six students to spend twelve weeks to develop a geneological pamphlet and a history book with pictures. For the most part, it was impossible to tell if the money was put to good use.

And THAT is precisely the problem.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tic Tac Recall Leaves Bad Taste for Taxpayers

Corporate welfare in Ontario keeps on getting worse. Last Summer the McGuinty government threw some cash at Ferrero Rocher - the global candy manufacturer - to build their new Tic Tac manufacturing line.

Well, now we learn that Health Canada has been advised that Tic Tacs are being voluntarily recalled. Premier McGuinty should demand taxpayers get back the $5.5 million the government gave to this corporate welfare failure.

The money was to be put towards a plant expansion in Brantford Ontario for a ‘Confectionery Centre of Excellence’. There is nothing excellent about taxpayers’ dollars funding failed and dangerous products. This corporate welfare grant leaves a bad taste in taxpayers' mouths.

On 31 March 2008 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued a warning advising that Ferrero Canada has issued a voluntary recall of certain flavours of Tic Tacs. The recall concerns small pieces of plastic packaging material that may be inside the Tic Tac container. The affected products, distributed nationally, include Tic Tac Fresh Mint and Orange flavours in 18-gram containers and 18-gram four-packs, as well as 18-gram containers of Spearmint flavour Tic Tacs. The CFIA says it is aware of only one consumer complaint associated with the products to date.

Ferrero Canada Limited is a subsidiary of Ferrero USA Ltd, one of the world’s largest sellers of confectionary products. Ferrero is a private company so its sales and profit numbers are not public. The $140 million Brantford plant opened in 2005.

This is just another example of the failures of corporate welfare.

The Ontario government coughs up about $940 million a year on grants like this one.

Municipal Efficiency

Bruce Hollands of Innovative Service Solutions has put together a three-part series on Municipal Efficiency for our flagship magazine, The Taxpayer.

While the full magazine is only available to those who financially support the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Bruce's series has appeared on Bourque.

Part 3 of 3 is now up on Bourque, and can be downloaded HERE.

And if you're interested in getting The Taxpayer magazine six times a year, you can support the CTF HERE.

Drug Costs: We Told You So

In Saskatchewan, administration costs are eating up the benefits of income testing a poorly conceived drug plan. And the CTF predicted it.

Six months before an election call, the NDP introduced a drug plan that left seniors paying just $15 of any prescription. The Sask Party railed against the plan for its high cost and lack of income testing. Yet, at election time, they proposed that only seniors making more than $64,004 would forfeit the benefits.

Recent reports reveal the cost of eliminating just 7,500 of 150,000 seniors from "pharmacare" is eating up 1/4 of the $2 million saved income testing the $50 million plan. But as our Feb 26 Let's Talk Taxes article reveals, this scenario was entirely predictable.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Jan Harder Costs the Most!

Today's Ottawa Sun reveals that so-called Tax-Fighter Jan Harder of Ottawa City Council is council's top spender when it comes to office budgets.

Councillor Harder spent $36,085, just $4 less than the total allowable maximum of $36,089.

This is the same councillor who runs paid ads bragging that she is "costing you less" as a council representative.

That Councillor Harder would brag that she "costs less" when in facts she costs the most should come as no surprise. This is the same individual who calls herself a taxfighter, denied it, and then pushed the largest tax increase in amalgamated Ottawa's history.

In fact, this led us to recently nominate Councillor Harder for a CTF Teddy in the municipal category for "Talent in Talking Out of both Side's of One's Mouth."

Indeed, a talent on display yet again!

Read her nomination here.

Remind you of anyone?

CTF Posts Sunshine Lists

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has combined and posted to the internet the 12 Ontario Sunshine Reports that have been issued since its launch.

The reports are now in a downloadable and searchable excel file and may be found HERE.

The Ontario Sunshine Report is an annual release of all Ontario civil servants earning in excess of $100,000. It includes provincial and municipal employees, crown corporations, hospitals, boards and agencies.

Anyone who is interested in searching for a favourite bureaucrat or is undertaking research comparisons of the data now has access to the full time series in an easy to use file. The Data Sort function of Excel makes the data easy to pull apart.

As the file is 21 MB it takes a minute to open and download.

It shows that this year the list has grown by 27% with one employee, for the first time ever, breaking the $2 million barrier.

Employees on the list enter an elite club of income earners in Ontario as only the top 5% of income earners make $100,000.

April Fool$

As it is in many provinces, April 1 means a pay raise for Saskatchewan MLAs. Although the basic indemnity has increased to $84,409, fully 44 of 57 MLAs qualify for extra pay due to additional duties. This means the actual average wage is over $104,000. (NOTE: the Sask Party government arbitrarily decided not to pay their seven legislative secretaries the $12,500 they would have received, dropping the number of topped-up MLAs to 37 and the overall average pay to $102,000.) In the past two years, the basic indemnity for MLAs has grown by 15 percent, and the transition allowance (severance pay) has grown by a whopping 30 percent. Click here to see what the new wages are and a chart with each MLA's salary.

As MLA wages have increased, so has that of their ministerial staff and executive council. The salaries of ministerial staff is about $61,000 on average, almost $10,000 more than the previous government just last fall. Higher pay for some positions in executive council has hiked the average salary there to $74,600.

And the 15,000 Saskatchewan civil servants make an average of almost $54,000, far above the general provincial average of $38,800. Yet, public sector unions are already seizing on MLA raises to get similar pay hikes for their own members. Taxpayer beware!

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