The Open Policy Aptitude Test

The following policy aptitude test is administered on occasion to policy classes I attend at various levels. Many classes have scored 0 out of 20 and then missed all the tiebreakers. I don’t get asked to address many classes.

 

  1. Spell Westminster (question issued orally)

 

Common reply puts in an extra ‘i’

 

  1. What is the symbol on a government member’s business card?

 

A coat of arms (if they can get that, I award a point) – ‘some type of crown’ gets no points

 

  1. What is the symbol on a public servant’s business card?

 

– Ontario – Trillium (or)

– Canada – stylized flag of Canada in red

 

  1. Do cities have a distinction between political folk and public servants in terms of the symbols on their business cards?

 

– No (e.g. Toronto – stylized city hall symbol for all)

 

  1. Is Cabinet secrecy/confidentiality the law or just a convention?

 

– Convention – expected to resign if breeched

 

  1. Is Cabinet solidarity legislated or just a practice?

 

– Convention – expected to resign if breeched

 

  1. Open book question (Yes! Open book) – list (in hand writing) the prime ministers of Canada in order

 

(Students routinely miss Kim Campbell and John Turner and get Abbott Bowell, Tupper and Thomson out of order as I just did. All they have to do is copy from the page but they routinely fail to do so (or don’t realize some lists ARE out of sequence).

 

  1. To whom does a Deputy Minister report?

 

Secretary of Cabinet/Clerk/ PM’s Deputy Minister – I will accept any of the three (One student who adamantly  thought a Deputy reported to the Minister  stayed after class to warn me that I could get into trouble for misleading  students)

 

  1.  Does the Premier or PM have a Deputy Minister? Can a deputy minister and a deputy prime minister hold both jobs at the same time? 

 

Yes and no

 

  1. Name any two Clerks at any level over the last few years in Ontario or federally

 

I accept Mel Cappe, Shelley Jamieson, Tony Dean, Peter Wallace, Wayne Wouters, Steve Orsini, Kevin Lynch, Janice Charrette, Alec Himmelfarb and any others correctly named (one student who read Alec’s recent bio with the CCPA thought he had done well to have risen from a clerk’s position later in life.)

 

  1. Nortel falls by 50% from $100 to $50. – By what percent must it climb to get back to 100$

 

100%

 

  1. I go to the US and just before coming back, I need gas. The US gas price is $2.00 a gallon and the Canadian price is 92 cents a liter. On which side of the border do I fill up if I wish to save $$ – again – open book with 15 minute time limit with internet access. 

 

– Answer must discuss exchange rate, # of liters to the American gallon and also be correct

– Liter = .264172 US gallon so 3.7854 liters to American gallon … 92 cent a liter = $3.48 Canadian divided by US dollar of 1.41 exchange = $2.46 US an American gallon in Canada priced in US —– so you’d buy gas on the US side.

 

  1. Name the Prime Ministers of Canada who are still living:

(No one gets this one)

 

Trudeau, Harper, Martin, Chretien, Mulroney, Turner, Campbell, and Joe Clark

 

  1. In the US, what is the GOP?

 

-Grand Ol’ or Old Party – I will also accept “Republican” – no one ever gets either…..

 

 

  1. What were Premiers called before they were called Premiers?

– Prime Ministers

 

  1. Within 10 cents, and since Confederation, what is the highest and lowest the Canadian Dollar has been vis. the US dollar? 

 

Low 61 cents – High $1.08. I will accept for one point any range between 71 cents and $1.04 – every so often someone gets this so I need to toughen up! In 1864, a Canadian dollar was worth more than $2.50 American but that was when the Confederate army was marching on Washington with many thinking they would topple the union.

 

  1. In the US, is an undersecretary usually a member of a political party?

 

Yes

 

  1. Obama was directly elected in the US, Are Prime Ministers, premiers and mayors directly elected?

 

PM – No – Premier – No – Mayor – Yes (all 3 correct for one point)

 

  1.  If an MP crosses the floor, what does this mean?

– joins and sits with another party – I will accept sit as an independent just because I am tolerant

 

  1. What does a whip do?

– I’ll accept anything remotely related to getting party members to votes in the House.

 

Tiebreakers!

 

Was a Constitutional amendment required to allow the fixed link to the mainland (bridge from PEI to New Brunswick) to be built? 

 

Yes! (Some guess right, thinking the answer would have to be yes to such an outlandish question)

S.43 in 1993

 

What is an OIC and is a deputy minister an OIC appointment?

Order in Council and yes

 

Does the United States have a parliament? 

 

No

 

Name the punchline to the 1993 joke: What does the Conservative party say when it goes into a restaurant and is greeted by a hostess?

 

Answer: Party of Two please!

 

Who were the two MP’s? 

 

Jean Charest and Elsie Wayne

 

Has a clerk ever had a twitter account from which he or she tweeted while in the job of the clerk? 

 

Yes – Wayne Wouters.

 

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City of Toronto Budget Deputation: John Stapleton; Scarborough, January 13, 2016: 6:00 p.m.

I am a newly minted senior citizen. I have lived in Scarborough for the past 37 years.

I am a proud resident of Scarborough but I see a problem. I see the problem of poverty in Toronto.

I think that we can and should do more to eradicate poverty in our city

Toronto is the largest and richest city in Canada

  • Our economy comprises almost 11 per cent of Canada’s GDP,

 And in recent years Toronto has been ranked:

  • The world’s most tax-competitive major city (KPMG Competitive Alternatives 2014: Focus on Tax)
  • The 2014 Intelligent Community of the Year (Intelligent Community Forum)
  • Fourth on Price Waterhouse Coopers’ Cities of Opportunity (PwC, 2014); and
  • The world’s most resilient city (Grosvenor Group, 2014)[1]

But there is another side to Toronto.

  • Toronto houses Canada’s highest concentration of working poverty.
  • Toronto also remains the child poverty capital of Canada, with 28.6 per cent of children living in low-income households.[2]
  • Toronto’s child poverty rate remains virtually unchanged with more than one in four, or 144,000 children, living in households with incomes below Statistics Canada’s After-Tax Low-Income Measure.

Informed taxpayers demand that money spent by government should go to effective use and achieve clear results supported by concrete evidence. Poverty reduction is not often seen as meeting that standard.

But there are hard benefits to alleviating poverty.

The problem is that the methodologies that show these benefits tend not to be used in traditional budgeting.

  1. We tend not to look at Direct and Indirect Savings

Government balance sheets typically do not explicitly highlight the basic offsets that will result from poverty reduction initiatives.

These offsets can be both direct, where an initiative eliminates another public expense; or indirect, where an initiative creates the conditions where another public expense is lessened.

TTC tickets for under 12’s are a good example of a direct saving to other programs while social procurement can succeed in getting people off of public assistance. This also produces savings.

2.We seldom count the costs of Inaction (Cost of Poverty)  

There have been a number of recent analyses that have estimated the cost of poverty (or   the economic cost of inaction) in the fight against poverty.

These analyses, one of which was completed by the Ontario Association of Food Banks in 2008[3], quantify the consumption of public services by different ‘income quintile groups’ in order to notionally estimate how costs would be reduced if  individuals  moves up from the fifth (lowest) quintile to the fourth quintile.

A group of us will soon report on the cost of poverty in Toronto and the amount we will show will be in the billions of dollars.

3.We almost never do Cost Benefit Analysis

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) has been used by some to realistically estimate the economic long-term benefits of social interventions.

We don’t have the time right now (for this Budget process) but using a cost benefit approach to poverty reduction could apply to the following poverty reduction initiatives:

  • increasing minimum wages
  • the creation of a living wage in Toronto
  • community benefit agreements
  • social procurement

 

Each of these different types of analyses offers a different way of looking at poverty reduction. By ignoring the offsets, savings and benefits that could be estimated using these methods, decision-makers otherwise miss out on the chance to understand the economic returns related to investment in poverty reduction efforts.

The creation of a broader balance sheet can refute the incorrect conclusion that poverty reduction only relates to those low-income residents who are directly impacted. Reducing poverty has positive impacts for all Torontonians.

In closing, when we moved to Scarborough in 1978, our property taxes were about $100 a month or $1,200 a year.

With inflation (CPI) increases of 235% since then, those taxes would now be about $4,000 a year.

But here we are in 2016 and our property taxes are about $2,900 a year – I got my assessment in the mail today. I estimate that my spouse and I have paid $15,000 less than what we should have paid since the turn of the millennium.

Our property taxes are now 28% below where they should be but we just can’t seem to get the message that things are not free.

We have to pay for things and we continue to choke ourselves while saying it is impossible to pay for them.

I expect my property taxes to go up with inflation along with everything else.

If they don’t, I just keep paying less, pocketing more but throughout it all,  expecting more and more.

I believe we should get more and it makes sense that we pay for it.

Let’s stop being delusional. Let’s pay for stuff!

And let’s eradicate poverty.

John Stapleton

Revised January 14, 2016

 

 

 

[1] City of Toronto

[2] Toronto Star

[3] The Cost of Poverty, http://www.oafb.ca/assets/pdfs/CostofPoverty.pdf, 2008.

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Life and Fun in 2016

There are a lot of fun things to do in 2016: Here are my top four, highly idiosyncratic entries,  all from watching evening television on Netflix or CBC

  1. Praise Keith Richards– Rock Historian: Tune into Netflix and go to the music documentaries. It takes a while until you realize that Keith Richards is in almost all of them. He has raised the halting carefulness of the intoxicant trying to keep it together to high art. But don’t let the highly practiced ‘stoned’ style (and a 70+ year old wearing a headband) distract you or make you think that this isn’t serious. Keith Richards is THE historian of rock and roll. He traces it – he spins it. He plays it. He takes you from Muscle Shoals to clubs in Chicago. He details the first time guitar riffs of the Everly’s in minute detail – including detailed descriptions of their chord progressions. He worships and finally gets annoyed with Chuck Berry as only an historian could. If the present world ends and you are a rock and roll archaeologist 300 years from now, you only need to happen upon Keith Richards’ opus. This is the real deal. Roll over Toynbee and tell Niall Ferguson the news.
  2. Think about ‘No medical’ life insurance – The ads are pervasive but almost no one remembers them. They hire actors that look like parishioners at a church losing membership. They have bad teeth. They seem uncertain but one thing they know for sure is that your medical history is ‘embarrassing’. But older people – and I am one of them – blather on forever to anyone who will listen to stories about their myriad maladies. They’re not embarrassing – they’re a badge of honour – a rite of passing – the main if not the only example of meaningful conversation. If I get asked how I am doing, it’s ShowTime. You can’t shut me up. My skin; my neck; the arthritis in my barre chord guitar finger; my nerves; my back. But when it comes to getting life insurance, why would I want them to see my medical? Maybe because I don’t want to put myself in the risk pool of those who are about to die? Nah – I would rather not disclose and pay twice the premiums. Who wouldn’t?
  3. Laugh it up watching the CHIP ‘Reverse’ mortgage ad– OK this one I really love. I can go on vacation – help with family, renovate or just live better off my home equity in the home I bought for $9,000 in 1949 and don’t want to sell for 975 grand in 2015. And guess what? I don’t have to pay a cent until I choose to move out. Well I got a secret!I have a picture frame on my wall waiting for the first senior couple who CHOOSE to move out of their honking huge million dollar family home where they have lived since before the Allies went into Korea. Reality check, people! NO one chooses to move out! One or both are carted off  to the seniors’ residence because they forgot to haul out their trusty peacemaker to keep the swat team at bay. Maybe you should live off your equity and die broke. Maybe you should look at the level of residential care that you will get once you have relieved yourself of all your assets and can no longer afford the swank digs that you would have been able to afford had you just decided to live like you did from 1949 to 2015!
  4. Take a long look at the nightly ‘shooting news’– I love it and they call it news. May be they should rename it ‘news with no content’. They sound all earnest and interrupt so-called regular programming to say that “there has been a shooting”. They don’t know where it happened except somewhere in the east end of Toronto. No perpetrator can be named because the story is ‘breaking’. The person shot is not known but the person may or may not be known to be a person who is a person of interest to the police. (Well I am just so beside myself to be so well informed.) I am thrilled to learn that police do not know the motive behind the shooting but they will be on the job to find out what that motive might have been. It is also good to find out that it is not known at this time that the person who we don’t know may or may not be suffering from life threatening injuries and that the person cannot be named as police are notifying next of kin. And the perpetrator cannot be named as he or she may or may not be a juvenile who cannot be named. Now let’s reverse this to good news. A person or person unknown performed a good deed today that cannot be named as the news is breaking. We don’t know who did it and we don’t know who was helped but it did occur, according to authorities, in an undisclosed part of the City. It is not known at this time whether the perpetrators were or were not known to authorities.  No motive has been discovered but authorities are questioning local residents to discover why the act was carried out. Next of kin are being notified. It is not known whether anyone has life threatening injuries or whether weapons were involved. At this time no one knows whether the perpetrators were known to the authorities and were or were not persons of interest. Police are asking residents to be on the lookout for a lime green Chevy wagon that may or may not have scrapes on its front bumper.

 

With apologies to Ron James: I thought of all these examples after watching his New Year’s show on CBC

John Stapleton Jan 5, 2016

 

 

 

 

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On self exemption, framing and location: a meditation on race and other elements of personal biography that cannot be changed

What can we not change?

I want to use the word ‘racism’ in its broadest sense – much broader than it is currently used. The reason is that race is only one aspect of our humanity that no one can change.

We can’t change our place of origin. All of us were born in one of about 200 nations on earth. We can however, change our nationality through immigration. We can renounce our place of origin.

We can’t change our ethnicity. Ethnicity is a part of our personal biography that none of us can change. We can change our proclivities, however. Each of us can orient ourselves towards other ethnicities through dress, the food we eat, and social behaviour.

We can’t change our race. Race is also an element of our personal biography. But we can change our proclivities as noted above but we cannot reassign our race.

We can’t change our sexual orientation. Sexual orientation, despite historical attempts to reassign it, is yet another element of our biography. We can hide it however just as many LGBTQ persons have had to do in the past and in the present day.

We also can’t change many aspects of our physical and mental health. Some of us are born or develop various types of disabilities. Although we can ameliorate conditions, disabilities and morbidities, the rate at which we age, the onset of some diseases etc. are all part of our personal biography.

We cannot change our age except by growing older.

And until recently, we could not re-assign our gender. Now we can through complex surgeries and therapies. For the purposes of this meditation, I will leave gender reassignment out of the equation.

Why confusion starts the problem

The main problem is that all the things that we cannot change: place of origin, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation and basic mental and physical characteristics routinely get mixed up with things that can change. These include fitness, health, determination and drive, diet, personal sacrifice, loyalty, literacy, faith, morality, honesty, goodness and other personal characteristics that are determined by the things that we can change.

There are other things that we can only solve together as a society. For example, justice, poverty, human rights, basic services, transportation, and infrastructure are only achievable as a collectivity – as a society. Sure, any one of us may obey the law, buy a car, service our own needs,   lift ourselves out of poverty, and treat others with dignity. But to achieve any of these goals on a societal level – where we all achieve them – we must do it together.

Just as the individual things we cannot change get confused with the things we can change, we often equate and confuse individually achievable goals with goals for society as a whole. Many people may lift themselves out of poverty but that does not mean poverty is eradicated. Just because hundreds of thousands of people buy cars and meet the transportation needs of their families, this does not mean that our transportation problems are solved.  Just because most of us treat one another with dignity does not mean that our society respects human rights. And just because thousands of families service their own needs with adequate childcare does not mean that every child receives adequate care.

Some utopians think that if every individual behaved well, then we would have better societies. This is undoubtedly true. If every hundredth family housed a homeless person in Canada, then homelessness would be solved quickly. If jobs were made freely available with adequate training and support – and all pay levels were brought up to a living wage and a basic income implemented for all, then we would largely eliminate poverty.

But the idea of everybody behaving better can only solve some individual problems. It does not solve any problems at the social level and in many cases makes things worse. Meeting your own transportation needs by buying a car may solve an individual problem but if everyone did it, gridlock would be far worse. In other words, the individual solution can often lead to a bad societal outcome as opposed to a better one. Environmentalism struggles with this dilemma.

So the basic problem is that both on an individual and societal level, we have the capacity as humans to confuse things that we cannot change with those we can change while confusing individual achievement with the  achievement of  collective societal goals.

Defining a wider concept of racism

I invite you to see racism in two wider senses.

The first is that individual racism is any negative thought or action towards someone based on the immutable aspects of their biography that will remain unchanged over their lifetime.

The second is that societal racism is any negative thought or action towards an individual or community based on goals that can only be achieved at a societal level.

An example of the first type of racism would be to believe that an individual will not do well in school because of their race or ethnicity. An example of the second type would be to think that we will have enduring poverty in our society because of the perceived characteristics of people who come from a certain place of origin.

What happens when racism persists?

As a society, we tend to act on the basis of things we believe. Good change can come about by acting on the things that we can change for the better. But once we begin to assign problems according to aspects of personal biography that can’t be changed, we start down the road to racism and intolerance.

Similarly, when we believe that societal solutions only come about as the result of many acts of individual change – and societal change does not occur – we start back down the road to racism and intolerance. We see things that don’t change and begin to blame it on the easiest of all targets – the aspects of individual personal biography that cannot change.

 Self-exemption, framing and location

One of the most pervasive aspects of racism is self-exemption. It’s always the other country that’s no good, always the other ethnicity that is suspect and the other race that is inferior. It’s never ourselves.

Part of that comes from our relentless pursuit of self-esteem. We all want to think well of ourselves and it can be easier for some to believe in bloodlines than the content of character.

But another part comes from collective concepts of evidence and problem location. This is where we mistake what comes first: racism or behaviour.

One good example is schools that are created with equal access to education but soon become schools for privileged children of well-to-do white people. What do we think about that?

Another is the country that stays in third world conditions while another becomes an economic powerhouse. What are our thoughts?

Yet another example is found in who gets carded in a city like Toronto. What is the frame and problem location?

What came first: the behaviour that we associate with certain races or the frame that defined behaviour as attributable to people who cannot change an aspect of their biography?

The answer is in the order and location.

The frame always precedes the evidence. The frame defines the evidence and the way it will be seen. The frame also persists in locating the problem.

What I would say to the racist is that the way you have come to see the world – the frame – the lens through which you view it allows the organization of the evidence along racist lines. It then locates the problem with the particular community such that the solutions must come from the community and the people where it is located.

If you think of lack of good drinking water on a Reserve as a First Nations problem, you have already framed the evidence in a way that locates the problem in the place in which the problem persists. The same is true for so called ‘at risk’ youth. We locate the problem with them and prescribe ‘riskectomies’ for the youth as opposed to wider societal solutions.

This is also true for carding because we frame the problem originally as black crime because that’s how we looked at it. Then we locate the solutions with crime alleviation in certain communities that have particular geographies. And then we say it is up to them – that community as a particular collectivity – to solve the problem. This is absurd. If the problem is ‘driving while black’, how is the black community to solve this?

 

Conclusion

I often wonder how the racist conceives of God. Did one God create all the differences in personal biography that are unchangeable and immutable? Or are different people – other than ‘us’ – children of lesser Gods.

If it’s the same God, then we have a problem because we would have to answer the question of why the Almighty would create a world in which some people were unchangeably better than others.

If others are children of lesser Gods, then we have a much easier way to explain unchangeable aspects of our biography since our own world would mirror the Heavens and the gods who inhabit them.

But in a few words, it’s all about self-exemption, the frame that precedes and defines the evidence and the location of a problem in the place – the geography and the community –in which it takes place.

So let me ask and answer the self-exemption, framing and location problem in a different way in just one example:

Question: Does the Bridle Path and Rosedale have an affordable housing problem?

Answer: Yes – they really do.

 

John Stapleton

January 5, 2016

 

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Social Assistance in Ontario: Periods of Tumult and Calm

For the first time in over a year and without much fanfare, the Ontario Government has begun to publish monthly social assistance caseload numbers. One guesses that the reason for the hiatus was the much-reported troubles with their new social assistance computer system called SAMS.

The newest figures are for November 2015 and the new charts on the MCSS website include caseload figures going back two years including  the 13 months from November 2014 to November 2015 that were missing.

They are here for Ontario Works: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/OW_EN_2015-11.pdf

and here for ODSP: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/documents/en/mcss/social/reports/ODSP_EN_2015-11.pdf

This has allowed me to update an excel file which many readers have seen in the past that includes reliable data for the last 35 years (since 1981) for caseloads (payments) , beneficiaries (men women and children receiving assistance), unemployment, and population.

Some may ask “Why 1981?”

The simple answer is that 1981 marks the first year in which a computer program called ONTAP that covered the old Family Benefits (FBA) and GAINS (Disability) programs could be coupled with the municipal MAIN computer system along with a variety of standalone systems in Peel, Hamilton – with honourable mention to local proprietary systems such as Schooley-Mitchell and O’Donnell-Morrison – to provide reliable numbers. In other words, MCSS staff finally found a way to get all the systems to report cases and beneficiaries in the same way under MCSS Deputy Ministers Bob Carman and Bob McDonald.

Of course, it is in theory possible to collect case and beneficiary counts for periods before 1981 but these would be entirely reliant on manual calculations collected from municipal reporting data (something called Form 5) and the provincial payment systems. I wouldn’t touch pre 1981 beneficiary counts with an 11 foot pole although the caseload data is likely reasonably reliable.

Now that we have 35 years of reliable data, what does it tell us?

 

  1. Two Clear epochs: Tumult and Calm 

 

The time period from 1981 to 2000 was a period of social assistance tumult. The percentage of population on assistance varied from 4.5 % in 1981 to 12.4 % in 1993, only to fall to 7.1 % in 1999.

At the turn of the millennium in 2000, the percentage of population on social assistance in Ontario was 6.0% and in the intervening 15 years to the end of 2015, the lowest point was 5.3% of population in 2004 and the high point was 6.7% in 2012. We now stand at 6.5 of population in November 2015.

In other words, the amplitude in the 1981 -1999 period was 7.9 percentage points and in the post millennium era: 1.4 percentage points. Now that’s tumult and calm!

The period of tumult had two major recessions (early 1980’s and early 1990’s) but caseloads only rose to their post-Depression peaks in the 1990’s recession.

The period of calm had one major recession (the crash of 2008-09) but it must be said that this recession had negligible effects on overall caseloads in Ontario.

Two other points of interest: Ontario in the new Millennium has never experienced a single month when overall beneficiary counts as a percent of population went above 1999 levels.  The other is that there is a statistical oddity with years ending in the number ‘9’. In each of the years 1989, 1999, and 2009, the percentage of social assistance recipients compared to Ontario’s population averaged exactly 6.0%.

 

  1. Misconceiving Tumult and Calm 

 

It is easy to misconceive the period of tumult and calm in Ontario’s long term social assistance numbers. The conditions that led to the huge caseload run-ups in the 1990’s recession were almost entirely absent in the Great Recession and crash of 2008-09. The most important is unemployment as it relates to beneficiary counts. Starting in 1987-88, a significant pattern emerged between the count of social assistance beneficiaries and Ontario unemployment rates. This pattern is continuous and is alive and well in 2015. The ‘R-squared’ between the two is very tight and increasingly so as we enter 2016. Three years in the early 1990’s of 10%+ unemployment was much different that the great recession of 2008-09 where unemployment exceeded 9% for less than a year and never reached 10% at any point.

I won’t go into all the reasons for the 1990’s run-up in social assistance here as I have done this elsewhere in a slideshow called “A Difficult Puzzle” (2012) where I explain all the reasons for what happened in the 1990’s in comparison to the 1930’s.

A reasonably good understanding of the 1990’s run-up also made it very easy to predict that caseloads would not run up with the Great Recession of 2008-09. As markets were crashing and unemployment rapidly ascending, I received numerous calls from the press looking for juicy predictions about soaring welfare caseloads. I refused them all but tried to explain why it would not happen. No one was interested and the fourth estate pursued their predictions elsewhere. The CCPA, to their credit, was brave enough to publish in February 2009 – before the stock market had bottomed out – my piece called “The Silence of the Lines” where I predicted that caseloads would not rise – and why.

In the ensuing post-crash years, Ontario social assistance beneficiary counts rose – at their post-recession peak in 2012 – by one percentage point. No reporter has come back to ask why.

If they had, I would have pointed them to the four biggest additional reasons for the post-millennial calm in caseloads that have little directly to do with unemployment:

In the early 1990’s, the single social assistance rate had reached 70% of the minimum wage while it stood at 35% at the beginning of the great recession. The former ratio is almost an invitation to higher caseloads while the latter is a massive deterrent.

In the mid 1990’s, the number of lone parents receiving social assistance was 225,000 when Ontario’s population was less than 11 million. In November 2015 with MCSS’s newly published figures, the count is 73,002, down by 4,000 over the past two years alone. Each lone parent has 1.78 children meaning that for each lone parent who leaves social assistance, almost 3 people (2.78) leave assistance. This means that the continuous slow rise in ODSP single recipients and the doubling of single OW recipients from 2005 to 2012 (now leveled off) was almost completely offset by the massive exits among lone parents.

In 1995, there were 436,000 children in Ontario Works (equivalent) families. In November 2015, there were about 160,000 children. It was the post millennial period that was entirely responsible for the advent of children’s benefits outside of social assistance. Nominal clawbacks were ended in August 2008 just one month before the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. And the OCB stacked on top of the UCCB and other federal credits to allow a mother with two children to receive 60% of her income from benefits outside of social assistance.

We are also seeing an acceleration in the welfarization of disability benefits causing huge setbacks in attempts to create a basic income for low income people with disabilities that continue to be offset by the exodus of single parents and children from assistance in Ontario Works.

 

Conclusion 

 The period of relative calm in social assistance in Ontario as measured by comparisons to unemployment and percentage of population on assistance in the post millennial period is very misleading. The relative calm is disguising the fact that things are roiling under the hood and that the need for reform is even more acute (while making the long term regression to the mean between percentage of population on assistance and unemployment look somewhat baffling).

MCSS has already announced in effect that they will find different reform solutions for Ontario Works and ODSP which is entirely appropriate given the massive shifts in both programs caused by very dissimilar and disparate forces.

With the stars aligned (so to speak) at all three levels of government across most of Ontario, poverty reduction strategies can now be harmonized to implement real reform. We can bring in income security for all children outside of social assistance and implement a basic income for all low income adults with a special supplement for people with disabilities as recommended in Brighter Prospects. We can build new work incentives into income security for adults while making benefits adequate (a complete impossibility under the present benefit structure).

As we move further away from the pre-millennial epoch of tumult, we can use the present period of relative calm to breathe life into ‘real reform’.

 

John Stapleton

January 3, 2016

 

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Time to look at income security for low income older adults with disabilities

One of the long term goals I have for Open Policy is to cover all aspects of income security for all age groups for low income people with and without disabilities. This year, Open Policy managed to add a critical piece with the publication of Every Ninth Child in Ontario: A Cost-Benefit Analysis for Investing in the Care of Special Needs Children and Youth in Ontario with my colleagues Alexa Briggs, Celia Lee, Brendon Pooran and Rene Doucet.

Children and youth with disabilities and their income security needs are extremely important and I hope there will be more contributions from my colleagues and I on this front in the future.

The following is a chart that I have had in my head for years but I never sat down and created it ‘on paper’ until now. It shows that for each part of the life course, Open Policy (my colleagues and I) have produced a paper or report on each age group subdivided into special reports on those with disabilities and those without disabilities. The missing piece is older adults (65+) who have disabilities.

Open Policy Income Security Papers and Reports (examples)
Age Group People without Disabilities  People with Disabilities
Children Transitions Revisited (Caledon-2004) Every ninth child in Ontario(with permission of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth -2015)
Youth Why is it so tough to get ahead? (Metcalf-2007) Every ninth child in Ontario
Children in Care Not so easy to Navigate (Laidlaw-2010)
Youth in Care 25 is the new 21 (Provincial Advocate -2012) Every ninth child in Ontario
Working Age Adults Working Poor Reports (Metcalf -2011 and 2015)The Income Security System under our nose (Metcalf-2008)Trading Places (Mowat Centre-2011) Navigating the Maze (CWGHR- 2008)Zero Dollar Linda (Metcalf 2010)The Welfareization of Disability (Metcalf-2013)
Older Adults Retiring on a low income (Donner at al. -2012) To come!

 

Income security for older adults with disabilities is an interesting area of concern as our income programs for aged persons do not distinguish between persons with disabilities and those without. For every other age group, there are special income programs for people with disabilities. For children, we have Assistance for Children with Severe Disabilities (ACSD).  And for working age adults, we have at least eight income related programs in Ontario (ODSP, WSIB, CPP-D, WITB-D, RDSP, EI sickness, Veterans programs, and workplace programs).

Curiously, when it comes to seniors, we make the collective assumption that retirement income programs such as OAS, GIS, GAINS-A, CPP, along with savings and work are sufficient to fully meet the needs of low income aged people with disabilities.

But the reality is that our income security system in Canada is not meeting the needs of older adults with disabilities.

To be sure, there are other service and income programs that serve older adults with disabilities. In Ontario, we have the Trillium drug program for seniors and the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) that helps defray the cost of hearing aids, wheelchairs and other disability related goods. There are hundreds of local outreach programs for seniors and a wide network of residential care homes, nursing homes, chronic care and active treatment hospitals many of which serve seniors and near seniors exclusively.

But isn’t it odd that we would have at least 8 income security systems for non-aged adults but none for those who have turned 65? It raises many important questions but the two that are top of mind for me relate to special needs and pensions.

When it comes to special needs, I have spent the last 12 years and over 140 (almost) monthly meeting adjudicating special funds to needy Ontario veterans and their dependants through the Soldiers Aid Commission. Along with my fellow commissioners, we see an endless parade of requests to fund dentures, hearing aids, glasses, leaky roofs, wheelchairs and various types of disability related supplies. Very few of these seniors would be able to afford these things if they could not get them funded.

But no one pays for them except these special funds and ADP. The alternative is often high cost health and institutional care so no one should ask ‘where the money will come from?’ since the cost of not attending to these needs is far higher.

Turning to pensions, I was intrigued by the discussions surrounding the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP). For those opposed to it, the arguments made often centre on the fact that low income seniors often receive more money in retirement than they do as working age adults. Therefore they do not need to save as their income is already replaced and the last thing low income non-aged adults need is another call (in the form of pension contributions) upon their meagre resources in their working years.

All well and good that low income people don’t need to save or contribute ‘from a pension perspective’. But if you look through the lens of ‘need or expense’, seniors with disabilities have much higher needs in their senior years than in their working years. And just when their needs (and costs) are intensifying, our income security system decides that seniors with special needs (and that’s a lot of them) do not need any additional income security.

So perhaps the idea of an ORPP from the perspective of need is a pretty good idea even if it does not pass muster through a ‘pension lens’.

I am just getting warmed up now. I have already blogged[1] about marginal effective tax rates for low income seniors who work[2] (and a lot more are working – more about that in future posts) and I have discussed the unfair treatment of honoraria[3] for low income seniors under the GIS.

All of the unfair and outdated policies that affect low income seniors are only magnified for those who have disabilities.

On a personal note, I turned 65 in August so I am now a member of the group I will be writing about. And although all my aches and pains do not amount to a set of disabilities, the day when they do is no longer inconceivable to me. I can see it in Technicolor.

So stay tuned and let’s colour in the final box that has been left unattended: income security benefits for seniors with disabilities and see if we can make some progress.

John Stapleton

December 27, 2015

[1] http://openpolicyontario.com/no-piece-of-cake-linda-chamberlain-applies-for-the-guaranteed-income-supplement-gis/

[2] http://openpolicyontario.com/the-plight-of-low-income-hardworking-seniors/

[3] http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/03/29/should-poor-seniors-have-to-pay-to-volunteer-porter.html

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Hunter Gatherers in Toronto: “What a long strange trip it’s been”

 “As soon as the rent is paid, first thing I do is stock up on food, which generally means I’ve got three days’ worth of food. For the rest of the month I hit soup kitchens, food banks. And I’m allowed to hit the food bank four times a month.  The clothes exchanges provide the clothing, but the problem is, because I haven’t been eating healthy for the last ten years, I’m pretty underweight. So finding clothes that fit, pants especially, I’m currently taking like a 26/30 which is almost impossible to find.”

59 year old single male social assistance recipient in Toronto

 

A hunter-gatherer is defined as follows by dictionary.com:

“A member of a group of people who subsist by hunting, fishing, or foraging in the wild.”[1]

Single welfare recipients in the city of Toronto have become modern hunter-gatherers   that  subsist for up to three weeks per month foraging in the ‘wilds’ of Toronto’s soup kitchens, food banks and clothes exchanges.

Like hunters and gatherers before the advent of agriculture, it is an outdoors life that depends now on a lot of walking and biking. Like the 59 year old male quoted above, single welfare recipients often have ruddy complexions from a life outdoors. And they are often undernourished.

The single social assistance rate in Ontario goes up by $25 a month on November 1, 2015 to $681, a 3.8% increase. But if the single rate had kept up with inflation since 1995, it would now be $962 a month. And had it been kept up with inflation after the 21.6% rate cut in 1995, it would now be $754 a month.

The designated amount for shelter as of November 1, 2015 is $376 a month and if we assume for a moment that a $376 a month rental is possible in Toronto, the amount left over will soon be $305 a month for everything else.

The 59 year old welfare recipient in my example pays $500 a month in rent and will soon pay a payday lender $21 to cash his cheque. His ruddy appearance regularly results in him being stopped by security when he enters a bank.

This will leave him $160 in cash to pay for everything else.

I recently wrote about the 20 year anniversary of the welfare diet, a diet that now costs almost $190 a month[2]. The diet is highly flawed. It is not nutritious and cannot sustain a minimally healthy lifestyle. He also can’t afford it.

A TTC pass to look for work and to travel about town costs $141 a month[3] . Our 59 year old cannot even dream of owning one.

From time to time, he fills out a participation agreement that attests he will attempt to get work. The lowest paid service entry positions are not available to him as any public facing job has basic requirements for appearance and behaviour which are hard to meet if you are constantly hungry. Besides, 30% of Canada’s cashiers have a university or college degree; so the competition is tough.

On October 26, 2015, Toronto Public Health presents its costs of a nutritious food basket to the Board of Health in Etobicoke[4]. The relevant presentations are footnoted here.[5]

In one of their scenarios, they point out how a single Ontario works recipient would need $280 a month to consume a minimally nutritious diet. For our 59 year old, the figure is somewhat lower at $275 a month.

Before the rate cuts of 1995, the single welfare rate was $663 a month. On November 1, it will go from $656 to $681 a month surpassing the $663 amount for the first time on the 20th anniversary of the cuts. Core inflation since 1995 has increased by 45% and the welfare diet has gone up by 107%[6].

These are just numbers. It means something different on the ground. Our single 59 year old cannot now afford transit and cannot afford a bad diet, let alone a minimally affordable nutritious diet.  As he puts it:

“I’ve never been able to panhandle. It just …I just can’t do it. A day in the life for me means a lot of travelling around. I’m doing it because I’ve learned to cut back on my needs. I’m used to going hungry.  My health in the last five years?  I’ve   aged ten years in the last five years, basically. So it’s like I’m stuck with riding my bike, that’s it.”

“I mean ideally I should weigh 155 pounds, and I weigh anywhere between 125 to 130 at any given time. So any extra money would definitely go on food. I mean I still spend money at No Frills or Price Choppers now, but I got to be very careful about what I spend there. So like pasta, I go to Dollar Stores; things like that.   Spices ?-it’s the Dollar Store.”

 Postscript

For Toronto’s new cohort of hunter gatherer’s, a raucously funny exchange in the Ontario legislature must have a curious ring to it now. Exactly 20 years ago today, MPP Dwight Duncan (Windsor-Walkerville) stood in the Ontario legislature and had the following observations[7]:

“I’d like to speak about bologna today.

Some people in Mike Harris’s Ontario are finding aspects of the Common Sense Revolution a little hard to stomach. So to assist the weak at heart in digesting the Tories’ recipe for disaster, the Minister of Community and Social Services has served up a $90-a-month meal plan, which at less than $1 per meal consists primarily of a lot of wishful thinking.

Despite reports that there is little value in the Tsubouchi diet, either nutritionally or otherwise, the Premier himself has shown support for the plan by stating that he knows what it’s like to live on a diet of baked beans and bologna. That’s why he worked so hard to get ahead.

Well, flavourful tales of the Premier once living on a lemonade budget have turned sour by accounts of a younger Mike Harris’s champagne lifestyle. It now appears that bologna was never a popular dish in the Harris household, which, according to some sources, resembled the Royal York at dinnertime. As a result, today the Premier’s eating his words along with his fictional diet.

The Premier’s right about one thing, however: He’s full of baloney. We just wish he and his Minister of Community and Social Services would stop serving it up to the province of Ontario. We find the whole thing unpalatable.”

And unpalatable as it may have been, it would take a $73 a month increase to the single welfare rate to get us back to where it was following the 21.6% cut that took place eight days after Mr. Duncan made his remarks.

What a long strange trip it’s been!

 

Js/oct.24, 2015

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hunter-gatherer

[2] http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/10/10/cost-of-ontarios-1995-welfare-diet-soars-amid-inadequate-rates.html

[3] http://www.ttc.ca/Fares_and_passes/Passes/Metropass/Metropass_details.jsp

[4] http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2015.HL7.4

[5] http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-84588.pdf

http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-84589.pdf

http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2015/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-84590.pdf

[6] http://openpolicyontario.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Welfare-Diet-20-years-later.pdf

[7] http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/house-proceedings/house_detail.do?Date=1995-10-24&Parl=36&Sess=1&locale=en#P44_9037

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/g/grateful+dead/truckin_20062376.html Songwriters: GARCIA, JEROME J. / WEIR, ROBERT HALL / LESH, PHILIP / HUNTER, ROBERT C.

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Scarborough Wants In!

Toronto Tourism growing in importance

In the afterglow of the Pan/Parapan Am Games, Toronto residents have fixated on tourism revenue and city building as important dividends arising from our successful hosting job. And now that the Games’ success has bolstered support for other hosting opportunities, new infrastructure projects and unprecedented levels of tourism are now within sight.

Torontonians recognize the benefits of drawing visitors to the various attractions, businesses and neighbourhoods that define our city and showcase its unique character.   Toronto is home to an enviable array of urban and natural enclaves, diverse cultural experiences, food, entertainment and world-class retail.

Tourism Toronto guide is the official guide but shortchanges Scarborough

That’s why visitors and locals turn to the Official Toronto Tourist Guide produced by Tourism Toronto, the official destination marketing organization for the city. For many, this Guide serves as a go-to compendium of nearly 700 attractions located across our proud metropolis.

However, even the most cursory read of the Official Guide raises important concerns, especially for Scarborough residents.

See: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/10/07/why-does-torontos-visitor-guide-snub-scarborough.html

SEE OUR MAPS HERE (click below)

Tourism Toronto Attractions by Census Tract 

Tourism Toronto Attractions – Toronto CMA

The food example

In March 2015, American economist Tyler Cowen, author of An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies, offered a personal assessment of Toronto’s diverse attractions, stating:
“Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude.”

Interestingly, he expressed hope that his readers would have the chance to visit – not the familiar downtown core—but the less glamorized district of Scarborough.

Cowen’s praise shed light on the fact that unique attractions are located in all corners of Toronto, not just in the downtown core. But a search of the Official Guide’s nearly 200 culinary venues for some of the restaurants Cowen enjoyed reveals the Mandarin buffet and Tim Horton’s as two of only three spots found in Scarborough.

The sad fact is that only 23 of the attractions listed in the entire Guide are found in Scarborough while one mall (Yorkdale) accounts for 29. If the total number of Scarborough’s entries were proportional to its 22% share of the city’s population, there would be 153.

Despite comprising 30% of Toronto’s geographic area, Scarborough is only represented by 3% of recreational attractions, 3.7% of all accommodations, and less than 1% of retail options.

A flawed approach to governance and funding

Wishing to understand how the ‘Official’ Guide’s content is chosen, we reached out to the federal, provincial and municipal government departments listed as partners and learned that the Guide receives 20% of its funding from the Ontario government.

We also found out that Tourism Toronto takes as its responsibility to showcase Toronto’s best and most unique attractions in the context of a competitive world of cities vying for potential visitors from a variety of places around the world including Germany, Japan and New York State.  Tourism Toronto appears to believe that it has to choose to highlight those venues that will maximize the attractiveness of Toronto to those particular audiences and others.

There is nothing to argue with here. But one reason Scarborough receives such light coverage is that its associations and venues are not members of Tourism Toronto or have not paid the $400 fee that would have to be paid to be represented.

The combination of these two explanations is nothing short of scandalous.

On the one hand, Tourism Toronto strategically chooses the venues to include and highlight but if you join up and pay $400, you can get included in the Official Guide. Is this why two of only three of Scarborough’s restaurants in the guide (chosen from many hundreds) are The Mandarin and Tim Horton’s?

Is it Checkbook or strategic tourism?  It’s can’t be both.

Is Tourism Toronto’s model a strategic model or a checkbook model? It simply can’t be both unless if distinguishes between ‘bought participation’ and those strategically chosen.  The Official Guide emphatically does not make that distinction.

But what’s worse is that a guide that calls itself the Official Tourist guide (with the logos of all three levels of government clearly displayed inside the front cover) will accept payment from a restaurant or an entertainment venue not on the basis of whether the food or entertainment is good but because it paid its dues and fees.

This results in a muddle of strategic choices and checkbook tourism where the latter has nothing at all to do with the quality of the offering.

Governments allow their logos to be used but have no role in choice of attractions

We now know from written responses from two levels of government (City of Toronto and Government of Ontario) that they have absolutely nothing to do with the choices made respecting the attractions included. In Ontario’s case, literally hundreds of thousands of Scarborough’s residents pay Ontario income taxes to support an Official guide that fails to represent Scarborough interests and deprives them of the significant commercial and economic activity that governments proclaim that tourism generates.

By allowing Tourism Toronto to use government logos to promote the guide and its proclamation of officialdom, it might be a surprise to tourists and Torontonians alike that neither the City nor the Provincial government has chosen to have any oversight whatsoever in what is chosen as an attraction or the business model that governs those choices.

What if other Official Guides used the Tourism Toronto model?

For just a moment, let’s think about what it would mean to extend the Tourism Toronto model to other Official Guides.

In the realm of Sports, would we perhaps see an Official hockey guide that omitted coverage of teams that were either playing poorly or generating poor fan attendance? Would we see an official football guide with its official logo that provided a few paragraphs to one team and several pages to another because the franchises had differences in their market share and fan popularity? Or perhaps a major league baseball guide that excluded coverage of the Minnesota Twins because they didn’t pay a required fee to be in the guide?

In the realm of official guides to national monuments, can you imagine an Italian Guide funded in part by taxpayers that excluded the Leaning Tower of Pisa because the town of Pisa didn’t pay a membership fee for its inclusion?

The reason that the above examples are so absurd is that the Tourism Toronto model of officialdom is broken. We are told that the CN Tower and other signature venues are in the Guide because of their unique and iconic attractiveness to potential tourists.

How would the Scarborough Bluffs get in the Official Guide when the City of Toronto is a partner, but does not fund and has no role in tourism choosing attractions?

Did the CN Tower pay its $400? And Scarborough Bluffs and Bluffer’s Park which is excluded from the guide: is it not included because it’s not considered an attraction or because it did not pay its $400? How would Scarborough Bluffs go about paying its entry fee for inclusion? 

Remember that the City has already said in writing that it does not pay anything to Tourism Toronto as part of its partnership arrangement. That being said, how would the Scarborough Bluffs get in?

Would a group of ratepayers or a local Business association have to raise the money to include a (City owned and maintained) park in the Guide?

A flawed aspiration to officialdom

The essential problem surrounding the aspiration to officialdom for a model that combines strategic and checkbook tourism (without distinguishing between the two) is that government sponsored officialdom would appear to presuppose at least some sense, however small, of representativeness and governance.

The unsuspecting tourist who sees a restaurant included in a government sponsored official guide just might have the idea that it is included in the pages of the guide for reasons other than the restaurant paid a fee to be there.

But if the intention of the Guide is to lead visitors and leisure-seekers to Toronto’s unique businesses and sites, it is effectively saying of Toronto’s eastern third:  “Move along, folks; there’s nothing to see here”.

Not chump change! Tourism is about real money

Besides building and promoting Toronto’s distinctive ‘brand’ on the world stage, tourism also generates real money for local businesses and neighbourhoods. According to the City of Toronto’s website, Toronto received 25 million visitors in 2012 who spent $5.1 billion adding $3.8 billion to Toronto’s GDP and $2.5 billion in labour income.

Assuming that the Official Guide is successful in directing tourist spending and that the City’s figures for 2012 are not just the usual boasting, Scarborough is missing out on almost $1 billion a year that it would have received had it benefitted from its proportional share of “official” promotion.

Real consequences to Scarborough being left out

People living in Scarborough are not children of a lesser God despite the omnipresent whispers that translate to the names you hear smirked in common parlance or relentlessly on the pages of Toronto Life:  Scarberia, Scarlem and Scareborough.

To be clear, we know that the largely suburban Scarborough does not have has the same concentration of attractions as the dense downtown core. However, judging by the inclusion of common franchises noted above and a noticeable absence of the Scarborough Bluffs, we can’t help noting an anti-Scarborough bias.

Who decides where the attractions are? Is it the Hotel association?

In fact, we were puzzled to learn that the content in the so-called ‘Official’ Guide has no formal government oversight whatsoever despite conspicuous government partnerships and the Ontario government’s role in funding it.  The remaining 67% of funds comes from the Greater Toronto Hotel Association and other partners. For this, one assumes that they may play a significant role in determining what gets promoted. We wonder how accountability for promoting Toronto’s sites and businesses is ensured under such an arrangement and how their model of ‘officialdom’ basically a self-appointment, is determined.

The fact is that the unfair under-representation of Scarborough is probably only a small part of the picture. As tourism flexes its ever increasing economic muscle through international events and a lower Canadian greenback, it is high time for the Official Toronto Tourist Guide and government-funded tourism promotion more generally, to mirror and support the city and the region as a whole.

What can Scarborough do? One option is to ‘lean in’.

So yes, Scarborough ratepayers and businesses can step up to the plate, pay their dues and swing for the fences. Scarborough can buy the representation it needs and so can everyone else. But that does not change the fact that it is a fundamentally flawed model that would  swell the pages of the Guide with even more  checkbook tourism with no standards respecting quality or attractiveness all with the complicit support of  three levels of government along for the ride  as  ‘blind bankers’ or silent partners.

We need to reassess the narrow and outdated strategy employed by tourism authorities. Maybe our Official Guide should encourage exploration of our great city and pay more attention to the Tyler Cowens of the world who venture beyond officialdom to find Toronto’s real internationally renowned treasures.    Now that just might be the beginnings of a real plan for 2024.

John Stapleton and Jamille Clarke-Darshanand – October 8, 2015

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A reply to Martin Regg Cohn’s column: “Gambling on Horses hasn’t paid off”

It’s hard to know if Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn is trying to use horse racing as a way to ‘spank’ the Provincial Liberal party. Maybe he is showcasing what he believes to be a “dying Liberal brand” through the Ontario government’s attempts to revive horse racing in Ontario.

Regardless, Cohn’s column in the Toronto Star[1] of June 16, 2015 fails at both.

I won’t take the time here to retell the story of the rise and fall of the Slots at the Racetrack Program (SARP) or the Wynne’s government’s work to breathe life back into the industry. We all know the story and we have heard it countless times before.

So let me tell a bit of a different story.

When the McGuinty government pulled the plug on SARP, it became clear that it was a government that felt itself to be under siege respecting its failures to practice timely oversight over e-health (Twinkies), ORANGE (lavish trips to buy helicopters), wind farms (rural opposition) and nuclear plants (a vote loser).

In each of those cases, the government understood that it had not acted fast enough and decided it wasn’t going to make the same ‘mistake’ again.

Instead, it pulled the plug on SARP and placed a world class horse racing industry into complete disarray on the mistaken view that acting in haste would somehow be more decisive and result in less negative political fallout than on other files.

What Cohn gets right is that SARP was a good and generous program that helped horse racing thrive in Ontario and to maintain its world class product and reputation. What he gets wrong is that ending SARP was simply not an “uncharacteristically gutsy decision to rein in a horse racing sector run amok”.

Imagine for a moment how sad it is that all across Canada and elsewhere, libraries are closing[2]. Librarians are laid off, doors are bolted shut, and the books are placed in boxes and sent to storage. Reading and learning are both stymied. Expertise is lost. Memory is lessened and a generation of children is forced to turn away from books, to whatever small degree, to obtain the education they require.

Library closures are a tragedy of the commons, a testament to poor planning, and a failure to understand both the future and the past.

But as sad as library closures may be, the books are not alive, none of them are pregnant, none of them need exercise nor sustenance and no book will ever be euthanized or be sold for food.

The “uncharacteristically gutsy decision” lauded by Cohn in its surprise, its depth and its execution resulted in utterly needless and widespread disruption of an industry, lost jobs, closed doors, bankrupted owners and farms,  and the death or sale of  an untold numbers of equine athletes. And as in the case of the libraries, it looked as if it was destined to become another tragedy.

Cohn appears not to understand the difference between careful cost containment and ‘plug pulling’. In calling it gutsy, you get the sense that he revels in the hubris and testosterone of the grand moment, however ill-advised or ill-conceived. Careful planning just doesn’t have the cut and thrust of a sword piercing armour or the boom of a cannonball shot across the bow.

But Cohn goes on to mistake the mitigation of a preposterously unplanned slash and grab at horse racing as yet another instance of recklessness. In successive paragraphs, he characterizes Premier Wynne as “throwing more money back at the tracks”, “throwing McGuinty under the bus” and leading a “crusade to give horse racing a higher profile”.

In Cohn’s world, we are invited to understand   McGuinty’s recklessness and rash impetuosity as “gutsy” and Wynne’s thoughtful attempts to bring a steadier hand and to undo a headlong and impulsive wrongdoing as a ‘crusade’.

May we understand that this columnist is neither a fan of horse racing nor Premier Wynne?

But he does get it right that horse racing is an ailing industry. But that’s the same as hitting someone over the head and blaming them for falling.

Arguments pro and con aside, would Mr. Cohn perhaps have a slightly different view of history if I could play the equivalent of Dickens’ ghost of Christmas past and have him follow me through the weeks of agonizing decisions to find good homes for racehorses that had become uneconomical to race, literally overnight?

How would he view the long days of planning and interviewing to make sure that these horses did not become someone’s dinner an ocean away?

What would he think of the long months of writing letters of recommendation for the friends who, in an instant, had no choice but to leave the industry?

Perhaps I would refrain from telling him – in my role as ghost – that his own print industry is ailing and ask him if he thought that ‘pulling the plug’ should be chosen as an alternative to carefully planned downsizing of that industry. Would he see mitigation of a reckless move as ‘throwing money at an ailing industry’?

Are there no smartphones? Are there no tablets? Are there no laptops?

In the final analysis, Cohn’s column is about a mistake that hobbled an industry and a new government that is still, three and half years later, trying to correct the excesses of its predecessor. It is not the story of a gutsy move followed by any form of crusade.  He just has it wrong.

js/June 23, 2015

[1] http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2015/06/15/olg-bets-on-horse-racing-to-help-liberals-rebrand-cohn.html

[2] http://capalibrarians.org/2014/01/time-line-the-closure-of-canadian-government-libraries-archives-and-research-collections/

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We are the 61%

In the May 2011 federal election, voter turnout was 61%. In the same election, all other parties except the winner received 61% of the vote.

In other words, of the 61% of us who voted, 61% of us voted against the majority government that took power.

Usually 61% runs the show; but not now.

And it looks like it will happen again. Why? To quote ABBA: “The winner takes it all!”

The Conservative strategy is a 39% strategy. They need 39% of Canadians not to vote in 2015. And they need 39% of the popular vote to get a majority again. These are modest goals.

They also need progressives to split their vote as equally as possible between the other two mainstream parties.

The Conservative government has announced a Budget with two big initiatives they knew their 39% supported but their opposition particularly disliked – and for the same reasons.

Both opposition parties have vilified the $10,000 TFSA and income splitting because they favour a rich minority. They split evenly on other issues. Their leaders are equally strong.

With equal messages and equally skilled players, the opposition parties are racing towards equal showings. But in this poker game, a single ‘3’ can beats a pair of 3’s.

The big problem for all of us as voters is that we are not wired to play games where winners lose. This is why the lead-up to this election is so confusing.

But we need to get used to it.

Both opposition parties appear as if they do not understand the game they are in. They are both trying to woo the 61% with the same message. And it’s so disheartening that perhaps only 61% of us will vote in the fall.

Perhaps something will change after the next election. After all, we are the 61%.

 

js-Apr.22/15

see also: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/09/24/news/how-trudeau-and-mulcair-will-hand-victory-harper

written 5 months after this post

 

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