Sign Of The Times

A sign on the back of a septic truck:

“Caution – This Truck is full of Political Promises”

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Toronto: Please Stop Calling It A Budget Surplus

According to recent reports it looks like the 2011 operating budget “surplus” for the City of Toronto will come in at around $285 million — far exceeding the $154 million predicted during the budget debate back in January. And while I think it’s great that the City isn’t running a budget deficit, I really wish people in Toronto and especially politicians and the media would stop referring to this $285M as a “surplus”. Because it’s not really a surplus at all.

I’ll agree that from a strict accounting perspective the term “surplus” is accurate: “an excess of revenues over expenditures during a certain period of time”. But that’s not the way most people think of the word “surplus”. If you look in a plain old English dictionary for a definition of the word “surplus” you’ll likely find something along the lines of “being more than or in excess of what is needed or required”, and that’s what most people think a budget surplus is – excess. Which is why some people think that it’s okay for the politicians and special interest groups to find new ways to spend that “surplus” money. Except that $285M isn’t really “in excess of needs”, in fact the City actually needs a whole lot more money than it currently has or can possibly raise without a truly massive increase in taxes and user fees.

First off there’s the City of Toronto debt, which at the end of 2010 was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $4.4 billion. The carrying costs on that debt aren’t cheap and we’d be doing ourselves a big favour if we used every spare cent we could find to pay down that debt. But to make matters even worse the City has a large number of financial commitments that are currently “unbudgeted” – which is a fancy way of saying the City has no money to cover those commitments. One of those unbudgeted obligations is the $700M that Mayor Miller committed the city to spend on new streetcars starting in 2013

So given that the City is already $4.4 billion in debt, and that between now and next year the City has to somehow come up with $700M to pay for those “unbudgeted” street cars, can we please stop pretending that the $285M is “in excess of what is needed or required”. And for the sake of those of us who aren’t accountants can we please stop calling it a surplus.

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David Suzuki For Prime Minister – No Thanks!

The photo to the left is making its way around Facebook and it’s really starting to piss me off. First off, the plural of “party” isn’t “partys”, it’s “parties”. But more importantly I’m both annoyed and stunned that anybody could possibly think that David Suzuki would make a good Prime Minister. Have our standards really gotten that low? What’s next, Don Cherry for Minister of Defense?

Let’s forget about the fact that Suzuki’s apparently been breaking Canadian tax law for more than a few years by involving his charity in partisan politics. The tax rules for non-profit charities say that a charity “cannot be involved in partisan political activities” and that “political activity is considered partisan if it involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, a political party or candidate for public office.” Charities can promote the policies of parties and candidates they agree with, but “must not directly or indirectly support the political party or candidate for public office.” Yet Suzuki regularly endorses politicians he favours at his charity events and when he is out fundraising on behalf of his charity. That is illegal, and Suzuki knows it. But as I said, let’s forget about that little bit of inappropriate behaviour. Instead let’s look at what qualifies him to lead a nation.

First let’s look at his political experience; he has none. He’s never held public office. He’s never been a city councilor, MPP, or MP. He’s spent his entire life on the outside yelling at the people on the inside to do things. He’s never actually been the one on the inside trying to get things done. Now I’m not a big fan of politicians, but even I realize that some experience at the art of politics, not to mention experience actually governing is kind of important when you’re talking about electing a national leader. If people want to convince Suzuki to run for election as an MP to represent his home riding, I’ve got no problems with that. But he has to learn to crawl before he can walk, let alone run.

And then there’s his experience as a leader; he has none. His charitable foundation is actually run by a very experienced group of professionals lead by the Foundation’s CEO who has boatloads of leadership and executive experience in both the private and public sectors. But even if Suzuki does play some sort of leadership role at his charitable foundation, that’s nothing even remotely similar to being the chief executive of a massive organization with hundreds of thousands of employees and an annual budget of approximately $280 billion. Not to mention a debt of over $500 billion.

There is no denying that Dr. David Suzuki is an expert when it comes to his field of study – zoology. But what foreign policy experience does he have? What economic policy experience does he have? When was the last time he was directly involved in the creation of criminal law, or copyright law, or banking regulations? I have no doubt he could provide all sorts of useful policy direction to the Ministry of the Environment, but how about the Ministry of Defense, or the Justice Department? What’s his plan for reducing the government debt, or making sure that the Canadian Pension Plan doesn’t go bust?

I’m sure David Suzuki is a nice guy, and I’m sure he can speak quite eloquently on a wide range of subjects; and there’s certainly no doubt that he’s popular. But none of those traits come even close to qualifying him to lead a political party, let alone a nation.

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Library Strike In Toronto

Facebook is filling up with supportive comments regarding the Toronto Library workers strike. I suspect the silent majority in Toronto is just sitting there thinking, “Seriously? Unemployment is still incredibly high, and the only reason it’s not higher is a lot of people have simply stopped looking. And yet you think this is a good time to go on strike? Seriously? Get back to the negotiating table and get back to work!”

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Copyright Law And The Record Labels

Earlier this year the big record labels in Canada settled a copyright lawsuit by agreeing to pay over $50 million to compensate for hundreds of thousands of infringing uses of sound recordings. Just to be clear, this is the record labels that were committing copyright infringement, not music consumers. It appears that they settled for two reasons, they were as guilty as sin, and if the case went to court they could have been found liable for damages totaling almost $6 billion. It looks like the largest music copyright violators in Canada might be the record labels themselves. Something to keep in mind when considering whether consumer rights should be sacrificed in Bill C-11 in order to protect the profits of those same big record labels.

For more info. on the legal case against the record labels check out: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/5825/125/

For more info. on the various problems with Bill C-11 and how it sacrifices consumer rights check out: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/tags/c-11

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Governmentium and The Skyrocketing Cost Of The Civil Service

Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312. These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that would normally take less than a second, to take from 4 days to 4 years to complete. Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2 – 6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This characteristic of morons promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

—————-

And now back to reality: According to a recent National Post news story there were 22,674 federal public servants receiving more than $100,000 in 2008. By 2010 that number had almost doubled to 42,050. That’s just nuts! How many new levels of management did they have to create to make this happen? What a bunch of isodopes.

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“Every Year In This Country 300 Kids Take Their Own Lives”

I think that at one point or another almost all kids, even the popular ones, and even the bullies themselves become a victim of bullying. But there are some kids that spend the bulk of their childhood as the targets of harassment – and that’s just got to stop because the apparent cost is far too high.

Below is a rant from Rick Mercer of The Mercer Report. In the rant he talks about how it’s appropriate that grief councilors go into a school after a suicide, but he also asks “What about the old fashion assembly? You know, where the cops show up and there’s hell to pay. And they find out who’s responsible.”

I’m not a lawyer, but a quick read of the Canadian Department of Justice’s “Criminal Harassment: A Handbook For Police And Crown Prosecutors” seems to indicate that what we as adults often refer to as “bullying” is actually “criminal harassment”. I think it’s far past time for teachers, school officials, police, parents and most importantly kids to start calling a spade a bloody shovel. And it’s far past time to start treating bullies as criminals.

Maybe if more bullies got arrested and were held accountable for their activities we’d end up with fewer child suicides. After all, don’t we have a responsibility to make sure that it’s the criminals who pay the price and not their victims.

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Sympathy For The Modern School Teacher

The following editorial cartoon is making the rounds amongst Ontario teachers on Facebook. I’m not a teacher, but I know a number of Ontario teachers, which is how I happen to have seen this comic.

Most of the teachers I know are extremely dedicated and put in long hours. But frankly long hours and dedication are what I’d expect of somebody making an average of over $90,000 a year in salary and benefits. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that dedicated, hard working teachers aren’t worth that kind of money. But I am saying that most people don’t make that kind of money and there are a lot of people who work a lot harder for a lot less. Given that the average family income in Canada (ie: the income of an entire family, not just one individual) is less than what an average Ontario teacher makes, I suspect that your average Ontario resident is going to find it kind of hard to feel sympathetic for teachers in Ontario; regardless of how many extra hours they have to work, or how poignant the editorial cartoon is that extols their virtues. 

Except that editorial cartoon isn’t extolling the virtues of Ontario teachers. That cartoon was published by “The Chattanooga Times”, so obviously it’s extolling the virtues of Chattanooga teachers. Of course teachers in Chattanooga, Tennessee face all of the same challenges as Ontario teachers, so it’s not surprising that some Ontario teachers see themselves in that cartoon. Except of course that Chattanooga school boards don’t receive anywhere near the same kind of funding per student that Ontario school boards do, and of course the average Chattanooga teacher makes less than half what an Ontario school teachers does. Let me repeat that, the average Chattanooga teacher makes less than half what Ontario school teachers make for doing what amounts to exactly the same job.

I would argue that the average teacher in Chattanooga, Tennessee probably deserves our sympathies. The average teacher in Ontario – not so much.

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“Canadians” Who Don’t Evacuate Syria Now Shouldn’t Be Rescued Later

On Friday, Canada’s Foreign Affairs department upgraded its travel warning regarding Syria from “Avoid non-essential travel” to “Avoid all travel.” They also said all Canadians in Syria should leave now:

“Canadians in Syria should leave now by commercial means while these are still available,” the department said in a statement.

“Canadians who remain in the country despite this warning should be aware that the Government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance may be extremely limited due to restrictions imposed by the Syrian government,” the statement also said.

Back in 2006 Canada issued similar warnings to Canadians in Lebanon. These warnings were ignored by around 15,000 “Canadians” who then had to be evacuated by the Canadian government at a cost of over $85 million. It was reported that within a month of being evacuated 7,000 evacuees returned to Lebanon.

At the time there was a fairly large outcry in Canada about the cost of rescuing “Canadians of Convenience” who actually lived in Lebanon full time and only held Canadian citizenship as a safety net. “If they don’t live here and don’t pay taxes, and may never be coming back, what is the responsibility of the government of Canada supported by the Canadian taxpayer?” asked Garth Turner, then the Tory MP for Halton, Ont.

The fact is that Canada and her Provinces regularly deny government services to citizens who don’t live in Canada. For example, Ontario residents who spend more than six months out of the country in any one calendar year lose their government health care coverage. This is the case even if those people actually live in Ontario and are paying income taxes in Ontario. If we’re not willing to pay for health care services for people who actually live here and pay taxes here, why are we willing to pay to evacuate people who don’t live in Canada, aren’t paying taxes in Canada, and who don’t bother to heed the warnings of the Canadian government to get out on their own while they still can.

The Canadian government should make it absolutely clear to Canadians living in Syria, and elsewhere in the world, that if they ignore the Canadian government’s warning to evacuate and remain where they are, then they do so at their own peril.

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Ontario Election Results Are Frightening

Three things I find scary about the Ontario provincial elections yesterday:

1) The Liberals won a minority. Under Liberal rule the Ontario government debt has almost doubled, from $148 billion in 2003 to an estimated $283 billion in 2012, this despite a significant increase in “revenue” (the McGuinty government’s euphemism for taxes). Back in August the Liberals happily announced that their budget deficit for the year will only be $14 billion (they initially expected it to be $5.7 billion higher). Which basically means that this year the Liberals knowingly over spent by $14 billion. Now does anybody think, having only won a minority, that the Liberals will actually cut spending by $14 billion; which is what they’d have to do to keep from increasing the debt. A minority government has never, ever, cut spending. So it’s almost certain that by the next election, even if it’s only 12 months from now, the Ontario debt will be over $300 billion. Tell me that’s not scary.

2) A few months ago the polls indicated that this election was pretty much the PC party’s election to lose; and lose it they did. The PC party had a pretty good shot at winning the provincial election in 2007 too – at least until John Tory decided to shoot himself in the foot with religious school funding. The last two elections seem to make one thing perfectly clear, that no matter how badly the Liberals screw up running the province, the Ontario PC party will screw up their own election campaigns even more. Needless to say this doesn’t make me at all confident for the next election. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not hoping for a PC victory as much as I’m hoping that somebody will get elected who’ll reduce spending, reduce the public debt, and actually put some money away for a rainy day (ie: the next major recession – which could be just around the corner if the US economy doesn’t improve). Unfortunately the Liberals have already proven that even when the economy is strong they’ll increase the public debt even while increasing taxes. So for those of us who believe that government shouldn’t spend more than they take in, and shouldn’t be forever increasing taxes, our only hope seems to be the PC party – which is more than a little scary, especially when they can’t win an election even if it’s handed to them.

3) During the 2007 provincial election voter turn out was 52.1 per cent; at the time it was a record low. This election the turnout was even worse, with only 47.6 per cent of eligible voters bothering to cast a ballot. To me, as far as the 2011 Ontario provincial elections are concerned, the ever decreasing voter turnout is the scariest thing of all.

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