The End Of McGuinty’s Marathon

If there’s been one equal reaction around the world to the global financial meltdown and its enduring fallout, it’s that the electorate of every country, state, and province – at least those who subscribe to the free market and democracy in general – has blamed the standing government.

Everybody loves their elected officials right up until those same elected officials reach the end of their budgetary ropes and start asking the people to tighten their belts as the government is forced to tighten its purse strings.

Yes, we’re all familiar with the riots in Greece as that government ushered in drastic austerity measures… the Arab Spring uprisings that stemmed from the citizens of those countries being unable to make ends meet within what the corrupt regimes had laid out… and the Occupy Wall Street/99% movement.

Other governments around the globe have dealt with the financial fallout in a more quiet fashion – at least in so much that there aren’t angry hordes of protesters filling the streets and boulevards in the seats of power.

Canada is one of those places – with the exception of the province of Quebec, which had a spring and summer filled with angry post-secondary students.

Yes, there were some tricky or tumultuous elections from coast to coast where the incumbents were either given a black eye or completely tossed from office – but for the most part, order has been maintained.

Ontario – which had been the wealthiest of provinces for the longest time before Alberta got it’s oil sands operations into full swing and took the title – was forced into a corner when the American economy collapsed, and the government at the time had to make some difficult choices.

The most visible – and the most quoted – was joining the U.S. in bailing out General Motors and Chrysler who were bankrupt from decades of bad deals with the auto worker’s union that had bled their coffers dry in a time where neither company was innovating at a level to compete with their counterparts from abroad.

Before I move on, I’d like to point out that those bail out loans have been paid off as both companies managed to pull their asses out of the fire.

As in America, the average citizen didn’t think the government had any business propping up private interests like Fortune 500 companies that had made bad choices – that it was perfectly acceptable to let those industrial giants die and take every job they created with them to the grave.

However, it was actually cheaper to prop up General Motors and Chrysler than to have all their workers (plus all the workers from companies that  manufactured parts for the auto industry) suddenly flood the nation’s unemployment benefit system – which would have crumbled under the load of 500,000 new applications since there was barely enough money to go around for the existing case load.

Plus, unlike money paid out to unemployed workers, all the money loaned to General Motors and Chrysler would come back to the government plus interest.

Anyhow, after the putting out the most immediate fires, the government of Ontario was left with a basic truth: all the smaller companies that either went bankrupt or had to radically downsize their workforces removed a sizeable chunk of tax income from the province’s spreadsheet.

Added on to that problem was the strategically leveraged investment tools that governments use to grow their bottom line – mainly investment bonds issued to raise capital – took the same kind of hit that the primary stock exchanges did… which turned billions into millions practically overnight.

People who drink the Hudak & Horwath flavor Kool-Aid fail to take that into account when they blame the Liberal government – and Premier Dalton McGuinty himself – for all the financial woes that have fallen on Ontario.

I’m not here to say that the McGuinty government hasn’t made any number of mistakes: a few programs have turned into total clusterfucks due to the lack of oversight.

Most notable are the eHealth and ORNGE debacles – and those two messes are all kinds of bad… but it’s one of those situations that make people say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Both programs were created to save the province money, and they should have… but the Liberals decided to save money on top of those savings by not appointing the number of provincial overseers that would have prevented the repeated foul-ups at eHealth and the insider kickbacks at ORNGE.

The eHealth program – which, by the way, was set in motion under the previous Progressive Conservative regime – was designed to/still has the potential for measurable savings to the province’s public healthcare system by creating a singular patient database that would eliminate layers upon layers of redundant paperwork across hundreds of hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices… pointless duplication that costs millions of dollars in working hours needed to fill it out, process it, and file it.

The sort of electronic data system to store the patient information – which would include everything from your family doctor’s written notes to blood work results to x-ray images – doesn’t exist anywhere in North America… which means that it has to be built from scratch.

Information servers, remote client software, unified image/video protocols… and that’s just a fraction of the problems facing just the technology vendors – and doesn’t account for the legal teams necessary to create a framework that protects both the patients and the healthcare providers.

The very nature of public healthcare makes it even more complicated as governmental agencies aren’t really suited to the kind of R&D (research and development) that a company like IBM does routinely – so, regrettably, the staff at OHIP took a stand-off approach with the idea that the ‘professionals’ that were hired would figure things out on their own without much input from the government.

Obviously, that hasn’t worked – and it’s going to be a long, hard road before the eHealth concept comes to fruition because the province is trying to compete with the private sector for the management staff needed to make it happen.

Looking over towards ORNGE, the same hands-off policy lead to a disaster – albeit for different reasons.

Prior to the province incorporating ORNGE, the health ministry leased the aircraft it used for air ambulance services from private contractors which meant that Ontario was losing money on the service in 2 out of 3 categories: while the pilots were trained and managed by the province, the fuel costs and aircraft use/maintenance was sold to Ontario at a moderate mark-up.

ORNGE was formed so that the province would own all the aircraft – purchased directly from the manufacturer – and would be buying the fuel for those planes and helicopters at open market prices.

Over the projected service life of the aircraft, the province would save hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions – in the same way that owning a home saves money over a 20 year cycle in comparison to someone renting an apartment for that same 20 year period.

The problem was that the province picked the wrong people to manage ORNGE, people who felt they weren’t beholden to the people of Ontario – managing ORNGE like a private company instead of a subsidiary.

When you run your own company, you can arrange all the kickbacks and shmoozefests you want – but when the money you’re playing with is supplied by the public, you’re responsible to the public.

Again, the Liberals had a little too much faith in the people they chose – and it came back to bite them in the ass.

Other problems that people want to hang around Dalton McGuinty’s neck – things like the poor relations with the province’s educators for instance – aren’t really the fault of the government when you look at the bigger picture.

Remember how I said the province is taking in a lot less money than when the Liberals ousted the Progressive Conservatives due to this shitty economy?

Well, that kinda means that the Liberals – or any government for that matter – can’t make the pay scales continually rise like in days of yore.

Up until quite recently, the McGuinty Liberals were the darlings of the public employee unions because the Liberals were happy to spend money to maintain the status quo where all the nurses and teachers had their demands met.

Problem is that the province can’t spend money it doesn’t have… and that fact fails to register with the unions.

There is already too much red ink on the provinces budgetary tables, and to pay for what the teachers are asking – and what the nurses will soon also be demanding – would require adding a lot more debt… the same debt that the ignorant public wants to hang around the government’s neck.

The same kind of thinking – though modified by a lot of NIMBYism (people saying ‘not in my backyard’) – is what has caused the power generation snafu that the opposition is beating the Liberals over the head with.

By and large, the people of Ontario had given the Liberals an environmental mandate – demanding that dirty, smog-creating power generations stations be replaced by cleaner alternatives like natural gas plants and wind farms.

Problem is that nobody wants these things near their homes – regardless of the fact that they had already grown up in the shadow of the coal power smoke stacks, and that they would only be trading one for the other.

No… they demand that these new power generation facilities be built far from their homes – which would be an okay idea if it weren’t for the problem of transmitting electricity from far-off locations to the average home with 2.5 kids and an ever-growing collection of electronic devices.

Which means that on top of the costs of replacing coal with renewable/environmentally friendly alternatives, the province would be on the hook for the cost of building new transmission corridors – which, coincidentally, nobody wants in their backyards either.

The natural gas power generation facility that the Liberals cancelled was called off due to NIMBY pressure – cancelled so that the voters in that area would be happy.

Those same voters are now angry because the province now has to pay a cancellation fee – a fee incurred on their behalf.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense to be mad about getting exactly what you asked for, does it?

However, John Q. Public isn’t known for making sense – he depends on his elected officials to make sense of the world for him in the form of a sound bite that requires him to think the least amount possible.

The only time John Q. Public wants grand visions of the future is during election season – the rest of the time, he doesn’t want to be challenged.

Which is why Dalton McGuinty is stepping down as premier.

The truth is just far too complex for the average voter… which leaves them to be influenced by the more basic name-calling and finger-pointing done by the leaders of the opposition.

It’s a hell of a lot easier to blame someone than to help that same person fix the problem.

South of the border, we see that in the Romney/Obama contest.

If Romney wins, it will be because the public at large – who doesn’t follow/understand the machinations of their government – has swallowed all the bullshit that the GOP opposition has thrown out there… when the truth is that Obama didn’t meet a lot of his promised goals because the GOP/Tea Party has refused to work with the White House on just about anything.

We here in Canada like to think we’re smarter than our American neighbors – but honestly, if we’re so easily convinced by the person who yells the loudest, then that isn’t the case at all.

Dalton was never perfect… but he has always tried to do the best thing possible for the people who elected him.

Resigning now is a less-than-ideal option, but it’s what was left in his toolbox: the PCs and NDP won’t work with him as they’ve painted an image of the premier that they won’t reconcile with in the interest of the province.

No… that’s not entirely accurate.

The Progressive Conservatives sided with the Liberals on the salary freeze for the province’s teachers – which means the PC’s are capable of working with the party that the electorate chose to govern… but in larger scheme of things, they don’t want to because they want to have their own hands on the levers of power.

Mr. McGuinty made it clear that he was resigning in an effort to give the Liberal party a new face – one that doesn’t carry 8+ years of name calling with it whenever the next premier appears to the public.

Of course, the next premier and leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario won’t have that long of a grace period before the opposing politicos start flinging mud.

It’s the nature of the game – and no matter what anyone says, politics is a game that’s paid for by the public.

It’s just not a game that people keep track of – unlike something like baseball where the fan at home can cite any number of statistics for their favorite team or player.

No… the public at large has no stomach for politics and therefore has a very short memory.

They’ve clamored for McGuinty’s head on a pike – but have no idea what to replace him with.

They still remember the shit Mike Harris did, so the voters don’t trust the Progressive Conservatives.

The public service unions remember the cutbacks they received at the hands of Bob Rae and the NDP (coincidentally, this happened during the last time there was a recession even remotely like the one we have now), so they don’t really trust the current New Democrats all that much either – but it would seem to be the only option in a 3 party system.

Anyhow, I’m going to bring this blog to a close since you probably came into it with your mind already made up as to whether Dalton McGuinty has been a good premier or not.

However, the facts are indisputable: the Liberals under Dalton McGuinty healed a very fractured province that was left in the wake of the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves era.

They also brought a socially responsible agenda – one that was expressed once again mere hours before Mr. McGuinty announced his plan to resign at the earliest possible convenience… a message that I’m going to leave right here instead of the usual clever graphic that I normally end my blogs with.

*

The Attawapiskat Debacle

As much as native populations get screwed, they have serious issues.

I may be politically incorrect, but natives have become professional cry-baby victims… and instead of taking steps to make their lives better, they eject the federal representative that was sent to understand their present difficulties – essentially biting the hand that feeds them.

They cry out for help, and then they take offense when the help comes.

If I’m shelling out millions of dollars that seems to be simply evaporating once it gets into the native council’s hands, you’re damn straight that I’m going to put my own guy on the ground to supervise before I hand out any more cash.

Many of you are now calling for my head… but let’s be honest with each other for a minute.

The native settlement in Ontario’s north that’s getting all kinds of news coverage – Attawapiskat – looks for all intents and purposes like a post-apocalyptic landscape like any other you’d see in a medium budget Hollywood disaster flick.

And yet… the government has handed over $90,000,000 to the Attawapiskat council in the past 5 years – to take care of 1,929 people living on the reservation.

That’s just shy of $50,000 per person… and I’m fairly certain a great deal of these people live together as couples or as extended family units – so that’s more $100,000 per household for some.

Yes… I know a significant portion also goes towards municipal affairs, but there’s still a lot of money that’s just evaporated into the cold northern air without any explanation from the local tribal council members – without any sort of accountability.

If any non-native municipality squandered away almost a hundred million dollars in five years, there’d be – at the minimum – a public inquiry… if not a criminal investigation.

But no.

Not on a reservation.

They maintain they’re above or beyond the reason and laws of white civilization – please see the problems with contraband cigarettes produced on native reservations as a prime example – but come begging to the white man when they bungle up their lives so immensely that they can’t deal with it on their own… hats or head dresses in hand, and crying “woe is us!”

I fully admitted at the top of this blog that natives have been screwed over – but this is them trying to pull a fast one on Whitey and demanding that there be no strings attached.

I completely agree that we as a white, conquering population owe them a lot more than a few worthless tracts of land and a pitiful allowance to make ourselves feel better – but they must also be accountable for their mistakes and be willing to live with the consequences of their actions.

To come to the government with demands of millions more dollars without accepting a top-down forensic examination to see why people from Attawapiskat are bankrupt is pure lunacy.

At some point, they have to be saved from themselves if they can’t straighten out their own affairs – the tax paying Canadians that foot the bill deserve to have their dollars spend wisely and not have the cash stuck in empty oil barrels to be set ablaze on a cold winter night.

Note that I haven’t accused them of spending the money on truckloads of firewater like some other people have been suggesting on various internet forums… mainly because the drunken, gas huffing Injun Joe is too much of a stereotype.

However… that money has to have gone somewhere, right?

Look at this photo:

Click me

That’s a home in Attawapiskat.

Does it look like $90,000,000 has been anywhere near it in the past five years?

Not fucking likely.

So… I demand that our government stick to it’s guns and not hand over another dime in funding until some explanation has been made of how those past millions of dollars have been spent, and gotten in writing a guarantee that all money going forward is going to go towards the people of Attawapiskat directly and not towards causes that their council prefers.

Otherwise, they’re welcome to move south and struggle for a job at Labor Ready just like the whiteman.

Tim Who ‘Dat?

Ontarians – from border to border, and from Hudson Bay to the Great lakes – are on the verge of going to the polls again.

How and who they vote for will shape the government of Ontario for the next 4-5 years, and that is no inconsequential responsibility: North America is pretty much three inches and a market fart away from falling back into an economic recession that will no doubt put further pressure on the unemployment safety net as thousands of workers are let go.

The province of Ontario is a very complex machine… and when a machine breaks down, you want the right tools in your hands to fix it, right?

Unfortunately, Tim Hudak is just a tool (in the most derogatory sense).

During the 2011 election campaign, Mr. Hudak has tried to paint himself with Mike Harris’ left over cans of Tremclad Rustoleum in the supposedly trendy colour of ChangeBlue™… but he’s failed to realize that colour has been out of style for more than a decade.

While LiberalRed™ is still the preferred colour of the Ontario electorate, they’ve also developed a hankering for Andrea Horwath’s truckload of LaytonOrange™ – at least in small doses.

Tim Hudak may be good at mugging for the cameras,  but he’s been overly terrible at public policy ideas – a failing that’s always terminal in a politicians’s case, and one that can make you a laughing-stock at what’s supposed to be your defining moment.

At the start of the campaign, everything was coming up roses for Timmy and his merry band of Harris leftovers because Ontarians thought that change would be nice after 8 years of Premiere Dad – and that’s bound to happen, no matter who’s been holding on to the province’s keys: people like change now and then.

Instead of always getting the pepperoni pizza, sometimes you go out on a limb and get the Hawaiian with extra pineapple.

After a week or so of glad handing voters around the province, Hudak firmly took his campaign off the rails by repeatedly saying the word “foreigners” – and in a province that only grows with the importing of landed immigrants from other countries around the world (because the Canadian birth rate is abysmal), that was just the wrong thing to focus on.

Suddenly, Tim Hudak was all about white guys – despite him looking out over Toronto sidewalks that skewed a bit more towards yellow and brown.

On top of that, the Progressive Conservative party – that’s led by Mr. Hudak – has always been the champion of big business.

So… Tim Hudak is all about rich white guys.

And yes… I’m using white guys on purpose since the PC party has never really been on board the women’s rights train – paying lip service to it when necessary, but always mumbling quietly about finding ways to outlaw abortions.

The funny thing about the “Foreigner” debacle is that, by and large, the immigrant population are the people most likely to agree with the PC platform since most of them have come from moderately- to radically conservative countries… which makes them more likely to drink the HarriBerry Blue™ Kool-Aid.

The idiocy of Hudak’s derailment is based on one glaring fact: they have no serious issues to grab the undecided voter’s attention.

Television advertisements paid for by the PC party have only harped on about taxes: Dalton McGuinty and his Fiberals are supposedly raising taxes every other week and twice on Christmas.

While it is true that taxes have gone up in Ontario, they’re not disproportionate to the rate of inflation… and there’s been a concrete need for any taxes implemented by the Liberal government over their past two mandates.

Evil Tax Number One a.k.a. The Health Care Premium: Do you have any idea how much money is needed to care for the rapidly aging Baby Boom generation?  To care for the existing senior citizens?  To battle health concerns like SARS and swine flu?  Billions of dollars… billions of dollars that can’t be completely extracted from the amount of money brought into public coffers through various levels of personal and retail taxation – so the government needed a way to continue paying for our universal health care without digging itself further into debt.

Evil Tax Number Two a.k.a. The Eco-Tax: More than a million metric tons of used electronics used to go into landfills across the province before the turn of the century, and many still do… but that’s changing under the auspices of the Ontario Stewardship (a program that was itself set in motion by the previous PC government as a way to boost their environmental credentials) – and the money that’s required to start complex recycling programs province-wide has to come from somewhere… and where better to get that money than at the point of sale for the widescreen LCD television that you will discard in the next 5 years? That way, you’ve already paid for it’s recycling long before it’s necessary… instead of the government having to dip into it’s already strained and tattered pocketbook.

Evil Tax Number Three a.k.a. The HST: I’ve already explained why the HST is a necessary evil in previous blogs, so there’s not much I can add here. At the end of the day, Ontario needed to have the HST so it’s businesses could compete with other business entities around the world in our Global Economy because other jurisdictions in Europe, Asia, the U.S., Mexico, and South America already had in place single-point or so-called “value added” tax systems that made paying corporate taxes easier and more streamlined… and therefore cheaper over the long run.

With that Evil Tax Trifecta, surely Hudak could have made a better case for lowering taxes for the masses, right?

No… he couldn’t – and didn’t.

The HST couldn’t be revoked without activating a ‘poison pill’ scenario that was inserted by Hudak’s Conservative cousins in the federal government: if the province of Ontario were to revoke the HST, it would have to pay back $4 billion dollars in equalization money that’s already been sent to majority of Ontario citizens by those four special cheques you found in your mailbox over the past year – which would immediately be added to the province’s debt load and sinking the S.S. Ontario further into the Sea Of Red Ink… and would necessitate a rise in income taxes.

The best Hudak could promise on the HST front (and to be fair, Horwath has said the same things) was a modification of items that were included on the list of items taxable under HST – mainly removing the federal portion of the taxes on heating oil and electricity bills.

I suppose that would be nice, but hardly practical since it would cause a headache for the taxation department – a department that would eventually find a way to make up the difference from some other way of taxing you.

Onto the Health Care Premium.

Has Mr. Hudak said he would do away with those?

Nope. In fact, he’s said – very quietly and far away from voters waving little blue flags – that he will keep those in place because they do what I said they did a few paragraphs upwards from this one.

At the end of the day, the only one of those three Evil Taxes that Mr. Hudak and the PCs could tamper with in any meaningful way – and the meaning wouldn’t be necessarily good – would be the Eco-Tax.

However, as I hopefully made it clear up above, that would simply be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul – letting you off the hook at the point of purchase and then raising your personal taxes to maintain funding for the recycling facilities for your disposable iPods, Blackberries, flat screen televisions, and laptops… and to also pay for the water purification plants that remove the chemicals you put down the drain every day.

Outside of he Evil Tax Trifecta, Hudak doesn’t have a platform.

Healthcare? It can be argued that Ontario’s health care system is in the best shape it’s ever been in.

Yes… there are still crowded emergency rooms at hospitals across the province, but the wait times are getting better on the whole – especially for surgeries that can change people’s lives… or let them continue their lives as whole persons.

A few years ago, I was in serious bicycle accident and I snapped my leg in three places – something that would have been seriously debilitating in decades and centuries past…. even so bad that amputation would have been considered in more primitive times.

Guess what? The accident happened just after 1 o’clock in the afternoon… and I was in surgery to have a titanium rod permanently inserted down the middle of my tibia with attending screws and other hardware required to regain structural integrity – allowing me to walk on it again within several months – at 6 o’clock in the evening on the very same day.

So, I went from mangled to mostly fixed in five hours… and I didn’t have to pay a single cent – not even for the ambulance ride.

No… our healthcare system may not be perfect, but it’s still pretty damn amazing when you consider how much it has to struggle when it comes to finances.

The Progressive Conservatives, during their last stint as the province’s controls had taken a slash n’ burn approach to healthcare – firing doctors and nurses, and closing nearly twenty hospitals across the province… which caused such systemic damage that Ontario’s healthcare system was amongst the worst in the country, and it’s only now (2011) that it’s gotten back to the top.

Hudak & Pals don’t have any where to go with education, either.

The Liberals under Dalton McGuinty have made some radical improvements to public education in Ontario.

More students are sticking it out all the way through high school, graduating with marks that they can be proud of.

Smaller class sizes have helped students get the attention they need from their teachers, which means they get the help they need if they need it – either in that same classroom, or in more specialized learning environments.

The biggest change, of course, was the implementation of full-day kindergarten for all youngsters – which had two effects: the first being that children started experiencing a constructive learning environment sooner than most other children in North America… and it eased the financial burdens of working families that would have otherwise had to pay for daycare or babysitting services.

There’s very little to complain about when it comes to Ontario’s public schools.

In fact, there’s very little for Ontarians to complain about on the whole as the province simply works.

Compared to the Mike Harris years – an era where nearly every public sector union in Ontario was on strike – that Tim Hudak clearly yearns for deeply, Ontario is firmly planted in the Garden Of Prosperity.

Yes… there are many people across the province who are out of work because of the current global financial climate that isn’t particular to Ontario.

However, there are many people who’ve either regained or retained their employment because of programs that the current Liberal government forced into being with their majority… programs that cost many billions of dollars, but had very clear and tangible results.

Sure – the bailing out of General Motors and Chrysler (now owned by Fiat) was a popularly unpopular move… but it kept those two massive companies who employed thousands of Ontarians (either directly or through companies G.M. and Chrysler depended on to build their cars and trucks) alive.

The manufacturing sector in Ontario – and the world at large – has taken a beating as money becomes tight for consumers.

Companies that face certain peril if they don’t downsize their workforce have no choice to let employees go… and this is not the fault of the Ontario government.

It’s the fault of American banks and financial institutions who squandered and pissed away more than a trillion dollars in crooked investments and other equally worthless endeavors – actions that had a ripple effect across the entire world of stock exchanges and investment banking from New York to Tokyo.

The current hard financial times facing Ontario are not something that was caused in Ontario, and is most definitely not the fault of the McGuinty Liberals.

However, Tim Hudak has done his best to blame Dalton McGuinty for it… and in the end, the blame hasn’t stuck.

Maybe because the average Ontario voter is smarter than that… and I would really hope that’s the case.

However, I think the Ontarian electorate is sticking with the Liberals because Ontario is in a better place than a lot of jurisdictions in North America – and even the world.

Dalton McGuinty goes on television and shows you all the  good things the Liberals have done over the time they’ve been in charge – most of which I’ve discussed here.

…And Tim Hudak challenges McGuinty and Horwath to a BBQ cook-off.

If that wasn’t a sign of non-existent political platform, I really don’t know what is.

No, Timmy.

No you can’t.

I Must Protest!

(NOTE: Edited with actual protester numbers on 8/30/2010)

Folks, I find myself writing this post in dire protest of protesters – but only those who congregate in less than critical numbers, and those who protest events worlds away from their selected protest site.

Am I the only one who finds it rather silly that 25 people 35 people in Peterborough gather up to protest a woman being stoned to death in Iran?

Is there some ayatollah in Iran who’s going to read about this little chanting session from a handful of attention seekers and say “Great Allah’s Beard! Why haven’t we seen the error of our ways before this moment? How could we have been so wrong?”

The notion is so clearly retarded that it makes my mind spin.

Before you say it, I must say that I do understand the underlying concept: protesting here will attempt to put upward social pressure on elected government officials who may actually have some influence on the world stage.

However, these people really need to be honest with themselves.

Nobody cares.

It’s a sad thing, yes… but none-the-less true: the woman who is being stoned to death has absolutely nothing to do with anybody this far removed from Iran (excluding any immigrants of an Iranian origin).

Sure… there are any number of bleeding hearts out there that will donate $10 to a $100 to an organization like Amnesty International to appease their conscience – but then they’ll move on with their day, completely absolved of responsibility and forget the whole thing.

At the end of the day, this sort of protest is as effective as protesting the sun or the moon.

Even if you blow the number of protesters up a thousand times, odds are that politicians still won’t listen.

The recent G8/G20 summit and it’s attached protests would be a great example of that: thousands upon thousands of protesters/rioters/all-around hooligans descended on Toronto to scream, shout, break windows, and set police cars on fire in protest of… what? The global economy?

They did all this for the government agents and representatives on hand, right? The ones that blithely ignored them?

Or how about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire – burning to death calmly in protest?

Hòa thượng Thích Quảng Đức did this in South Vietnam to protest how Buddhist were treated – but this only resulted in lip service from the ruling government at the time.

For there to be any effect on governmental bodies, the protesters have to be a real and legitimate threat – threatening to take away the government’s power to rule through the election process: in a democratic society, every eligible voter gets one vote… and if enough of those votes are possessed by people protesting, that is an immediate danger to the politicos in charge.

To understand this, we have to go back in time… back to the American Civil Rights movement.

Martin Luther King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a truly awesome sight and one of the most effective protests that I can think of – nearly half a million people descending on the nation’s seat of power.

It showed the powers in Washington that the black man was now united in it’s desire for equality… that there were now millions of voters in the U.S.A. that would throw their ballots in the direction of whatever party and presidential candidate that would give them the right to stand up with pride and dignity in CrackerLand.

And while the results were not immediate, they were tangible: a year later, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

For protests to work, you need to have both numbers… a commonality… and authoritative body that can be threatened.

This can be easily demonstrated in many European countries where the governments actually fear the people e.g. France: if the French government passes some legislative charter that doesn’t sit well with the average citizen, a large fraction of the populace will take to the streets for days or even weeks until the government backs down.

Somehow, the North American populace has lost this power – and I have to say that we are poorer for it, but it is how it is.

However, I’ve been talking purely about democratic society and not those elsewhere that aren’t quite that free.

Let’s zero in on Iran where that poor woman is going to be stoned to death.

Yes… in theory, Iran has open and freely voted democratic elections – but the caveat is that the country is a theocracy ruled by ayatollahs, and that makes the presidential and governmental processes purely symbolic.

As much as we would like to heap hatred on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is merely the mouth piece of the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – a puppet (a poorly dressed one) that spouts the religious party lines when the ayatollah can’t be bothered with the small details.

So, honestly, what are 25 people in Peterborough going to do against that?

Especially considering the entire frakkin’ UNITED NATIONS can’t get Iran to do squat?

The majority of U.N. members don’t want Iran to have any sort of nuclear energy whatsoever – in case it results in the development of nuclear weapons – but Iran just fueled up it’s first nuclear reactor with the help of the Russians (who also tend to do whatever they like).

If the world’s most powerful authority (at least ostensibly) can’t get certain nations to change their ways, what chance do a few attention whores carrying signs and chanting rhyming mantras have?

Grace Lake: The Return

After 12-15 years, I returned to what used to be my home – the shores of Grace Lake in the northern reaches of Central Ontario.

The view from the beach was the same as ever with the eye’s attention drawn to the ‘large’ island in the center (which is actually not that big when you look at it from the side or at it’s rear flank).

However, from the shoreline to the main highway a kilometer away, it’s very hard to pick out the features that are so ingrained into my memories.

Gone are the open spaces where you could roam around at will – replaced with trees and bushes so thick that they’re all but impenetrable.

All of the landmarks that I saw every waking day for the first 12 years of my life (okay – more like 10 years since I was two years old when my mother shacked up with my stepfather) were nowhere to be seen, and let me tell you, that is an incredibly disorienting feeling.

You folks out there who have been born and raised in urban centers can’t possibly understand what that feeling is like since it can’t really occur to you because no matter how much the city changes around you, there will always be something to help you find your way: a bridge, a street, a statue, a park, a landmark municipal building… none of these thing ever go away.

Sure, your favorite stadium might be torn down… or that crappy shopping plaza down the street from your parents house might have been razed so that a new movie theater and restaurant can be put in it’s stead, but the fact is that the road it fronts on to will still be there and you’re not going to get lost because you can’t see the busted sign for the dilapidated bowling alley.

However, imagine going away to college, then university, and then getting employed overseas – a journey through life that takes you 15 – 20 years before you make that trek back to where you started from.

Now imagine the entire city simply having vanished with nothing but a few broken bricks strewn about to even say there had been anything there.

How lost would you feel? How stupid would you feel for not knowing which way was what?

That’s how I felt upon returning to Grace Lake after my family’s property had been sold, divided up, and remade to the new owner’s visions – and make no mistake: the property that my grandparents sold to former MPP Chris Hodgson measured in multiple hectares.

Hell, I had to walk a kilometer just to catch the school bus every morning (and yes, I’m aware of sounding like an old timer when I tell you that).

That very road that I walked along through sun, rain, sleet, or waist deep snow now has homes built along it – each with sizable lots.

The cottage resort with 30 slots for recreational travel trailers was completely gone… not that I expected it to be there.

I knew that the wealthy had come and built a series of million dollar cottages on the shores of Grace Lake, but I had no idea that those buyers would let the land go to seed – that they would plant so  many trees that you wouldn’t even know that there was a lake to be seen if you didn’t already know it was present.

I had to access the shoreline via a family friend’s property, and even then, it was only about 15 – 18 feet of undeveloped trees and sand… looking out onto a breath-taking body of water that drew me into it’s grasp: I couldn’t control myself and waded out knee-deep into the crystal clear water that seemed to welcome me like a long lost relative.

But all I had to do was look to my left and see the perversion of what had been all mine: docks and floating piers supporting pleasure craft and luxury speed boats – instead of a pristine sand beach longer than the length of a football field or soccer pitch.

Grace Lake 2010

However, we all know that time stops for no one – no matter how we wish for it sometimes.

Every step we make, every breath we take, and every time we blink our eyes only moves us further and further along time’s highway… and it’s a highway filled with speeding cars and trucks that only go one way – so there’s no point in trying to thumb a ride back towards the beginning (at least not yet).

To borrow a lyric from Gordon Lightfoot – and one that seems to apply here: Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?

As you’ll see in the attached video, Grace Lake has no shortage of waves, and they just keep rolling in without stop… furthering the days and years until there will be nobody left that remembers a cottage resort named Birch Villa – which is a certainty.

All that remains is the faces and the names… of the residents… of the customers… of 30 years or so of seasonal visitors.

Sure – there are photographs tucked away in dusty attics all over this continent that show what the lakefront used to look like.

But how long are those going to last? A generation past those who actually camped at the lake?

How long before those pics get shoved in a trash can by some kid in the future who thinks they’re lame – and kids already think the outdoors is a waste of time as it is.

It’s not like they can hop in a car and visit what’s in the photos in the grand tradition of road trips of self-discovery.

If it’s not going to be there for me – who lived there 24/7/365 – then it’s not going to be there for them.

All that’s left for me is a fading road sign that bares my surname…

.

.

…pointing towards a lake that you can’t see.

Good News, Everybody! $100 For Just Being You!

Well… to be more precise, I have to specify that it’s $100 for just being from Ontario, Canada.

Also need to point out that if you make more than $82,000 a year, you won’t get a dime – so all you fat cats in banking and insurance will have to supply your own splurge funds!

Anyway…

A lot of you who are simple enough to buy into Tim Hudak’s message that the government is bribing you with your own money are more than welcome to rip up these nifty little cheques and go on about your business.

What’s that? You already cashed yours?

I see.

You must have done it under great protest… bitterly cussing out each and every single cent.

Regardless of those people who complain for the sake of complaining, these cheques are a nice shot in the arm when money has been thin due to the economy – and yes, I know some of the money being sent to your snail mail boxes or direct deposited in your bank accounts will be stolen back from you when the HST is fully implemented on July 1st, 2010.

However, I’ve done the math for myself, and have come to the conclusion that of the $300 dollars I will receive from the government through the Sales Tax Transition Benefit (S.T.T.R.), only $45 to $50 of it will go back to Queens Park in the form of HST a year – solely through a $4 and change increase on my telephone/internet bill.

Phone services have always had the PST added to them.

Same goes for my cable bill.

The only area of my regular finances that will be effected is my internet service.

Yes… there will no doubt be incidental HST taxation throughout the year – though I can only imagine it happening to me on the 2 or 3 taxi fares that I grudgingly throw money at a year.

It’s hard taking a new TV or office chair home on the bus!

Before you say it, let me beat you to the punch: I know a lot of you out there don’t have your finances in the same amount of control I do.

There are many of you who may be charged more HST than what you receive by the end of the S.T.T.B. cycle in July, 2011 – because you have a bigger set of financial liabilities and bills that you are responsible for.

But you must always bare in mind that your overall tax load has been reduced via both income tax reductions for more than 90% of the Ontario population, and the products/services you consume will become cheaper as corporations that operate in Ontario stop passing on to you parts of their taxation that have always been hidden in the prices you pay at the cash register.

Yes… you’ve been paying some of the taxes that Ontario companies (both large and small) are charged for doing business in Ontario.

Every case of Coca-Cola you buy in Ontario carries some of the taxes that will be charged to the local Coke bottling operation/Coke delivery operations/Coca-Cola Canada Ltd. head office – but it’s buried in the price tag that you see on the shelf.

Furthermore, the store you buy the Coke from also passes on some of their taxes as well in that price sticker.

In fact, every business that has had anything to do with that case of Coke Zero (aside from the manufacturer) passes on some of their taxes to you – think of the companies that print the cardboard carton the Coke cans come in, or the business that makes the cans that you drink The Real Thing from.

With the introduction of HST, all of those companies instantly save money through streamlining.

Some of them will save money when certain items they buy are cheaper – either through the removal of one tax layer, or because they will save money in the same way that you do through the removal of hidden taxes.

Companies like Walmart and Hewlett-Packard know that you – the person who buys the products they sell – ultimately choose whether they live or die when you vote with your wallet, so they can not continue to charge the same prices on the whole that they did before HST came into effect.

Yes, it may take anywhere between 6 months and a year for those passed on savings become tangible in comparison to what you pay now in June, 2010 – but by the time that happens, you probably won’t notice because the price decreases will be slow and incremental.

On July 1st, that case of Coke won’t all of a sudden be 10 cents cheaper – that’s completely unreasonable as all the people involved in getting that 12-pack to the grocery shelf still had to pay disharmonized taxes on everything that went into it.

Companies – both large and small – often sign yearly contracts to pay certain prices – and there’s a good chance that Coca-Cola might be locked into paying 3 cents for every aluminum can it fills until its contract with the aluminum supplier runs out in December, instead of 2.5 cents a can per a new contract come January 1st, 2011.

Until then, Coca-Cola still has to charge you that .5 of a cent per can to at least break even.

If it comes to be June 10th, 2011 and you’re still paying the same prices that you are on June 10, 2010 on your goods and services, then you know that the companies you’re dealing with are being dishonest – and you can then take the necessary steps to make them accountable.

Buy your services/products from another vendor who has dropped their prices a few dollars or a handful of pennies, nickels, and dimes.

You have the power.

As for the money that does go to Queen’s Park from the taxes that you can’t avoid?

It all comes back to you.

Maybe not in the form of a cheque – though some of you who make less than $15,000 dollars a year in taxable income will receive three cheques a year for $87 dollars.

All of you will see that money come back to you in the form of improved provincial services – better health care, improved education, and more infrastructure spending that this province desperately needs but can’t afford at the current tax level.

Are you aware that more than $0.50 of every dollar you spend in taxes goes to funding health care in Ontario?

That cost is only increasing as the Baby Boomer generation ages – and will continue to do so exponentially.

Where do you expect the government to get that money to pay for your sick grandparents – or hell, even you when you’re ill and laid up in a hospital?

Especially when you’re also demanding that there be better roads in Ontario to drive on.

When you want Ontario children to have superior education when compared to other areas of the country so they have a leg up on kids from Manitoba at job application time.

Many of you desire more police officers on the streets to make you feel safer.

Our environment requires funding to help us breathe cleaner air and to have lakes/rivers/streams that we can swim in without worrying about getting sick.

These are all valid things to want and desire from your government – the people you elected to represent you and your needs.

However, all those things come at a price… and the province needs the money to pay for these increased expenditures.

And that money comes from you.

Nowhere else.

Complaining about it doesn’t change the facts.

Like it or not, you’ll be better off in at least a dozen areas of your life through that Harmonized Sales Tax – probably more.

So accept your S.T.T.R. cheques happily and put the money to good use.

I know I will.