Category Archives: Ontario

Budget tomorrow

This blogger waits eagerly.

The Sticky Net

I had no idea the requirements for welfare were so draconian.

You don’t have to be sick to visit a doctor, so we don’t believe individuals should be virtually penniless before they qualify for social assistance.

Governments and financial experts have preached for decades about the need to build savings. But, as the welfare rules prove, those very savings come back to hurt low-income people.

A former factory worker may have been able to accumulate a modest amount of savings in an RRSP. Faced with the shock of going to zero income, that person would undoubtedly visit a welfare office. They would be told to come back when they have cashed in their savings and spent the proceeds. This is one of the reasons welfare caseloads do not soar immediately in the onset of economic weakness. But the requirement of destitution also explains in part why the caseloads continue to rise.

Ironically, cashing out the RRSP means the unemployed workers will face a tax bill the following year for which there is no capacity to pay.

Moreover, the individual will have no extra resources to bridge toward a new job which may require relocation and retraining. This individual gets caught up in the social safety web and struggles to get out well after the economy recovers.

This Probably Isn’t Good For Ontario

I’m firmly in the McGuinty camp, but I still like John Tory. It is bad that he lost the by-election tonight – bad for himself and for Ontario. I’d rather have a good guy like Tory leading the opposition than some fossil from the Harris years. Luckily (or not), most of them are in Ottawa now, but I still worry about the direction Ontario’s PCs will take when Tory resigns.

Answering Your Google Searches!

does the go train go to niagara?

No. As of this writing, the GO Train only goes as far around Lake Ontario as Hamilton.

On the other hand, the GO Train is always coming to Niagara. I’m surprised it didn’t come up in the plot (such that it was) of The da Vinci Code. The plans are really that old. GO Transit is always just around the corner for Grimsby, with St Catharines and Niagara Falls not far behind. (March 2008, July 2007, May 2004, our mayor even has a $1000 riding on it)

It’s easy to moan about the perpetual lateness of our collective GO Train, but I think Niagara residents have to understand the gargantuan task GO Transit and the province face. They can barely keep up with demand in the GTA proper, let alone find the resources for expansion. It takes trains or buses (which take time to manufacture) tracks and stations (which, at the moment, are a problem in Hamilton) and money (which has been in short supply lately).

If Ontario is serious about all this talk of smart growth, we will get our trains and buses. In the meantime, why don’t we figure out a better way to get from St Catharines to Niagara Falls than an hourly transfer at Brock University? Anyone up for some Regional transit?

I beg to differ

From an editorial in a Sun Media paper:

The LCBO established a “social responsibility” mandate in 1993, and uses the price of its products as a tool for controlling alcohol consumption.

The implication is clear: The average person can’t be trusted to drink responsibly if the price is set too low.

In other words, the government knows what is best for you, and will impose its will by charging more for the products it sells.

This hike in the price of beer is just another way for the government to social engineer the behaviour of the citizenry, and that should not be the role of a democratic government.

This most sensational evidence to disprove the notion that an average person can be trusted when confronted with low prices is the now-infamous trampling of a Walmart shopper on Black Friday.

In all seriousness, increasing the price is a straightforward and effective way do discourage consumption. There’s nothing new or sinister about a government changing the tax structure (which is essentially what a price change at the LCBO is) to change people’s behaviour. We do the same thing with tobacco products. This is just the flip side of tax breaks for things we want to encourage, like saving for retirement or buying energy efficient light bulbs.

High-speed Commute

From the Toronto Star:

Written by a team of civil engineers at the University of Toronto, the report estimates the total cost of infrastructure work at up to $27.5 billion. But they say their recommendations address the two most pressing issues today – global warming and global recession.

The report proposes 560 kilometres of high-speed electric track that runs from Toronto north to Orillia, east to Peterborough and west to a corridor that includes Waterloo, Hamilton and Niagara Falls. It would take at least a decade to build and cost anywhere from $4 billion to $20 billion, depending on the route and technology chosen.

The rail system would help create a high-density “mega-region” by improving transportation and attracting what the report calls well-paid “creative” jobs, such as those in aerospace, finance and telecommunications.

“A high-speed rail network knitting Ontario’s cities together could revolutionize the province’s role within the continental and global economic systems,” it says.

Called Infrastructure and the Economy: Future directions for Ontario, the 30-page report was delivered Thursday to economist Roger Martin and urban theorist Richard Florida, appointed by Premier Dalton McGuinty to chart a course to economic prosperity. Its recommendations will likely form part of the final report to the premier, expected in February.

I think the merits of this proposal might be a little hard to grasp because it doesn’t fit our preconceptions about transit in the GTA. When we think of transit as having a discrete hierarchy of layers which operate at different speeds and prices (e.g. buses, then subways, then GO trains, then airplanes), we usually consider high-speed trains to be a replacement for airplanes. But in this case, we’re essentially talking about high-speed GO Transit.

Without discarding the possibility of a high-speed line at least to Montreal in the east (for which there is almost certainly strong, immediate demand), these high-speed commuter lines around the GTA are worth considering.

This spring I visited the Toronto Zoo with some friends. We got on the subway at Islington, got on a bus at Kennedy, and discovered that Scarborough was a lot bigger than we expected. We were on the subway at least 45 minutes and God-knows-how-long on the bus. It might have been possible to take a GO train for part of our trip, but the poor service on weekends and non-Lakeshore lines generally makes this difficult to coordinate.  I’m not suggesting a high-speed GO train from Islington to the zoo, but our little (long) adventure illustrates the difficulty of moving around the city, even with the subway. And we were only crossing the 416! Imagine trying to get from Richmond Hill to Brampton.

Realistically, I don’t expect trains travelling at 400 km/h between Toronto and Waterloo. But even trains running at an average of 200 km/h would perhaps halve the travel time, far outperforming a trip down the 401. I have to wonder, what speeds does Metrolinx have in mind for trains on the future electrified lines (like Lakeshore).

By effectively collapsing space in the GTA we can mimic a denser region without physically moving our downtowns closer together. I’m looking foward to seeing the final report which this high-speed commuter proposal (presumably in modified form) will be a part of.

It’s good to be needed

Ontario will get those MPs it deserves after all.

Suck it, Quebec. It’s our turn for some sweet, sweet pandering.

517,000 Ontario jobs at risk

That was the Toronto Star’s headline Tuesday. In a moment of weakness, stunned by the sheer numbers, I was ready to take drastic measures.

Throw billions at them! Nationalize GM! NAFTA be damned!

Thankfully, Andrew Coyne knocked some sense back into me. Go read this debunking. For those too lazy for links (what are you doing on the Internet?), the most enormous flaw of the study behind the headline was that it assumed the highly unlikely total collapse of GM, Chrysler, and Ford. All at once. Leaving behind a vacuum of economic misery, never to be filled by other companies.

Yikes.

Outrage over…?

What is it about the Premier that makes some people so very angry? For opposition politicians, it is a part of their job, but why are non-politicians so angry? It’s not just personal disagreement, but something more personal and visceral.

The arguments against him are kind of weak. From what I’ve read, there are basically three:

1. “The government should be paying attention to the economic crisis and not teenaged drivers or candy-flavoured cigarettes.” I would hope that 107 MPPs can handle more than one legislative initiative at a time. Also, do you really want to argue that kids should be able to buy tobacco products until after the economy is back on track?

2. “The government isn’t spending enough on incentives for auto manufacturers to stay in Ontario / isn’t cutting corporate taxes enough for auto manufacturers to stay in Ontario.” This government has sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into manufacturers. Corporate taxes have not been cut, admittedly, but failing companies don’t pay taxes anyway. It’s difficult to admit and there are painful consequences, but sometimes a company just has to close down. We can’t prop up every widget maker in the province, especially if nobody wants to buy those widgets.

3. “The government is spending too much on everything!” Of course, when you ask people where cuts can be made, they suggest half-measures like MPPs’ salaries. Nobody ever says we should spend less on health and education, where most of the money goes today. Besides, unemployed people need social services more than anybody else, and there seem to be an awful lot of those lately.

You can quibble with the minutia of any particular plan to save the economy / end poverty / keep kids in school / a million other things, but it’s hard to take seriously anyone who thinks this government is the worst thing since that snake and his apples.

Now if you want to bitch about the government in Ottawa, I’m right there with you.

Equalization by Population

Oh boy! Ontario is going to receive equalization payments next year – free money from other provinces. How much federal pogey can we look forward to, and how does that compare to the other provinces?

  • Ontario, population 12,891,787
    Equalization payment: $347 million
    Per capital equalization: $26.92
  • Quebec, population 7,744,530
    Equalization payment: $8.35 billion
    Per capita equalization: $1078.18
  • Manitoba, population 1,196,291
    Equalization payment: $2.1 billion
    Per capita equalization: $1755.43
  • Prince Edward Island, population 139,407
    Equalization payment: $340 million
    Per capita equalization: $2438.90

(Population data here; Equalization data here)

So PEI, a province with a population roughly the same as Oshawa, is receiving the same sum payment as Ontario. I understand it’s pretty much impossible for the province home to nearly 40% of Canadians to draw much from this program, but those numbers are absurd.

Twenty five bucks per person isn’t going to make a difference to this province’s finances.

(photo credit)