With over 101 individuals seeking municipal office for October's municipal and school board elections this October, the question that now comes to mind is why are there so many candidates seeking office? More importantly, why has this number been growing over time? After all, in 2000 only 76 candidates sought office. While there have been some ebbs and flows in numbers since then - there was another surge in candidates in 2003 - it remains that particularly since 2006, the numbers seeking the Mayor's job as well as an At-Large Council position have grown steadily. Yet the overall population of the City is flat.
Wednesday, 1 August 2018
Friday, 8 June 2018
Ontario has elected a new majority government and Doug Ford is Premier Designate of Ontario. In the end, Ontario voters have voted out the Liberals and opted for a major change in government. Congratulations to Mr. Ford and his team on their election victory and a thank you to all candidates in this election who chose to run and campaign. Political life is a challenge and one cannot say enough about how important it is to have people willing to run for office and serve the public interest. In the end, any democracy is only as effective as the people who are willing to participate whether as candidates or voters.
It is the day after and as of this morning the PCs hold 76 seats with 40.6 percent of the popular vote. Their share of the popular vote was in the end higher than the polls predicted. The NDP hold 40 seats with 33.7 percent of the popular vote and the Liberals are down to 7 seats with 19.3 percent of the popular vote. The Liberal collapse has reduced them to virtual islands of support - three seats in the GTA, three in Ottawa and 1 in northern Ontario. The Green Party has also managed a positive showing electing 1 – their leader – in Guelph with 4.6 percent of the vote. It is a majority government and for those concerned about uncertainty, a minority government would have created more uncertainty than a majority government. Any concerns about uncertainty with respect to policy direction are now entirely in the hands of the new elected government.
With respect to northern Ontario, the region has diverse representation that includes members of the governing party as well as opposition voices to air issues and concerns. The elected PC members are also spread across the north and include Greg Rickford (Kenora-Rainy River), Vic Fedeli (Nipissing), Norm Miller (Parry Sound-Muskoka) and Ross Romano (Sault Ste. Marie). As mentioned in an earlier post, these are good and effective members of the incoming team with proven talent and the north will be well served by them. Indeed, there is also cabinet material among them. Vic Fedeli is in my opinion a leading candidate for the finance portfolio while Norm Miller and Gred Rickford would make good ministers in portfolios such as northern development, natural resources and transportation.
In terms of the road ahead, the next few weeks will provide some indication of what the actual direction of the new government will be. While many have criticized the lack of specifics of the PC campaign, it should also be noted that as a campaign strategy, presenting fewer targets for criticism can also be effective. However, the campaign is over, and after the new government and cabinet is sworn in one can expect quick movement on a few high-profile platform items such as immediate lowering of the gasoline tax in order to demonstrate action on promises made. However, longer term action will require more methodical work not least of which will be a budget and direction on the province's finances.
With respect to the province's finances, as a start, I would suggest an expenditure growth target of 2+1 (2% inflation and 1% population growth) which would allow provincial expenditures to grow slower than historical revenue growth rates thus bringing the budget into balance sooner rather than later. I would also urge the establishment of a new independent capital expenditure review process to help better assess the approval of the capital projects which have been adding to the provincial debt. I of course as always have a few other ideas and they are available here in more detailed format. I am also looking forward to how things are going to shape up also when it comes to initiatives for northern economic development.
So, there you have it. The election is over and there will now be a few days in which to reflect on what has happened and why, but ultimately there is a province to run and a northern Ontario economy to build. We have been sent a new government and despite the slings and arrows and acrimony of any election campaign, hope is always greatest at the outset of any new government’s mandate. While there are concerns about the new government being a “wild ride”, one should always remember that as important as a party leader is, under our system of government the premier is in the end simply first among equals.
Saturday, 2 June 2018
With a few days left before the June 7th provincial election, northern Ontario voters face important choices and consequences. The governing Liberals appear headed for defeat if one is to believe the evolving poll trackers. Indeed, Premier Wynne has acknowledged the election is lost. This means that come June 8th there will be a new government with consequences for the region in terms of public policy. Public policy is of importance to the region given government’s role in health, education and transportation, the dependence of the region on government employment for economic sustenance and the stalled regional economy, which has seen little net employment growth compared to the rest of the province.
The Liberals have been in power since 2003 and their tenure encompasses the forest sector crisis and the stalled Ring of Fire. On the one hand, the forest sector crisis was a function of a rising Canadian dollar, aging private pulp mills and increased competition from abroad. On the other hand, the increase in electricity rates did not help. As for the Ring of Fire, in the end it is not going anywhere until chromite prices rise no matter how much is spent on infrastructure. The Liberal government’s short-term response to northern development was increased government spending in the region via assorted projects and initiatives including highway work. The long-term response was the 25-year northern Ontario growth plan – which it must be noted actually predates the Wynne government. Interestingly enough, to date the growth plan has not been accompanied by significant results and more to the point, there has been no mention of it during the current campaign. Make of that what you wish. However, given Premier Wynne has acknowledged the election is lost, thought must also be given to ensuring the region has some representation in any new government that is formed.
The NDP has surged in the polls since the election was called and their policies in health, pharma care, education, rent control and hydro seem mainly to be extensions of what the Liberals have been campaigning on. For a region dependent on government job creation, an NDP government would be business as usual but with a more ideological bent away from market-based solutions to the region’s issues. If one wants to differentiate the two parties when it comes to northern policies, one would have to say a key difference is that the pleasant Andrea Horwath is presently more popular than Kathleen Wynne. However, when the rest of the team accompanying Horwath is examined more closely one wonders about the depth of talent available to serve in portfolios like northern development, natural resources and health not to mention finance. Most of her team seems drawn from public sector, labor union, non-profit and social activism sectors. Even the usually ubiquitous lawyers that dot politics are relatively scarce. Aside from a short–term continuation of government spending, the long-term economic benefits of an NDP government for northern Ontario are uncertain despite the claim of change for the better.
Just as uncertain are what the benefits of a Doug Ford government would be for northern Ontario given the lack of a detailed and clearly articulated northern platform. Natural resource revenue sharing has been promised as well as a jump start to the Ring of Fire but as noted earlier, the price of chromite is not going anywhere soon. If the desire is simply for policy change, that would certainly be provided by a Conservative government more so than by the NDP but that change given traditional conservative values, is likely to not support the current orientation of the region towards public sector dependency. On the other hand, given that we have been subjected to activist government economic development policies for several decades, it may be time for a different approach. Moreover, whatever one might think of Doug Ford, it remains that his team would include some proven talent when it comes to northern Ontario – Greg Rickford, Norm Miller and Vic Fedeli come to mind. Further reflection should also be given to the prospect that based on the distribution of votes, poll trackers are suggesting a high probability of a Doug Ford administration.
So what is a northern Ontario voter to do? Good question. Think about the region and its economy and the direction you think it should go. Think about what the benefits and cost of each party and their policies might be to you and your families and friends. Then make your decision and go vote. None of the above is really not an option. One must make a choice from the options available. On June 8th, the sun will still rise. The northern Ontario economy will still face challenges and they will need to be tackled no matter who forms the government. That is the only certainty.
Friday, 18 May 2018
Ontario’s election may very well be decided over the next few days as Ontarians pause to take in the long weekend and use it to step back and ruminate over the political future of the province. One of the most recent polls reveals that the PCs are poised to form a majority government with 40 percent support. However, what is also interesting is that over the last little while this poll shows that Liberal support has plummeted to 22 percent while NDP support has soared to 35 percent. All this suggests that there is still a certain amount of volatility amongst the voters as we head into the home stretch of campaigning into the June 7th election.
So, what do Ontarians want? On the one hand, the recent policy initiatives of the Ontario Liberals are popular across a large swath of Ontarians especially in the larger urban centers. Investments in transit and infrastructure, the raising of the minimum wage, rent control, more health spending and a general activist government approach to social and economic policy seem to be what many Ontarians want. Indeed, these policies are much like those the NDP is advocating and if one combines the Liberal and NDP totals it is obvious that 55 percent of Ontarians seem to want some type of centre-left approach to government and the economy.
It seems that many Ontarians want Liberal-NDP type policies but seem tired of having them implemented by the Liberals and particularly by Premier Wynne. Kathleen Wynne is undoubtedly the most capable of the three leaders in terms of her handling of issues and her analysis and discussion of policy issues. Yet, she is also quite driven and intensely focused with a sort of self-absorbed messianic zeal that can be interpreted as exclusionary to alternate opinions. The Liberals have been governing since 2003 and Ontarians who like centre-left policies and would like to see a change in government are likely to shift to the NDP – hence the Andrea Horwath-NDP surge.
As for the PCs, their policy platform has been less clear and it is difficult to see if they really are driven by conservative values and policies or are now simply a change party driven by the personality of their leader. Doug Ford has a much larger appeal than urban elites in the Toronto-Ottawa corridor would have expected and his support is also diverse. However, to date the policies and changes the PCs might bring to government have not been as clearly articulated as those of the other two leaders. Much of the campaign is really a populist drive for change with a rhetoric directed at the “little guy” to contrast with perceptions of the Liberals as elitist.
Put another way, you know what you are going to get if the Liberals form the government – more of the same. If the NDP form the government, it will be essentially the same policies but more so and with a new leader. In terms of fiscal management, there will be a very elastic budget constraint for years to come from either the Liberals or the NDP. Yet it should also be noted that, to date none of the three leaders seem particularly concerned about the state of the province’s finances and one does not see the province’s debt abiding anytime under either Wynne, Horwath or Ford.
If the PCs form the government, it is not so clear what you are getting in terms of policy approaches to social and economic policy as well as fiscal management. One might assume that as PCs, there will be an emphasis on deregulation or more efficient government but this is not clearly apparent to me. There have been a number of promised tax cut announcements but this is not the same as a coherent tax reform strategy. Yet, making it clearer might also coalesce support more strongly around one of the two centre-left options. At this point, the PCs appeal cuts across a wide socio-economic range and perhaps their strategy is to promise change but not get too specific and split the left.
So, what is an Ontarian to do this long weekend as they think about the province’s future? It should be to think long and hard about the direction of the province in terms what is the coherent big picture vision of the economy and the province’s finances these three main party leaders are offering. To date, the campaign has focused on disjointed announcements of spending and programs designed to target key ridings or voter demographics. The money to pay for all of this is not a concern. Ontarians of course deserve much more than this but are unlikely to get it. All three leaders seem to believe that elections campaigns are not the time to articulate coherent economic and fiscal visions.
Sunday, 29 April 2018
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
The municipal election process in Thunder Bay culminating this October is starting to pick up steam and there are now two candidates in the running for mayor: Iain Angus and Larry Hebert. Both are long time stalwarts of Thunder Bay City Council and have contributed years of valued service to the community in assorted capacities. Both also topped the polls last election for the position of Councillor at Large with Angus at 15,861 votes and Hebert at 14,664. Given that the two top contenders for the Mayor’s Chair last election came in at 14,463 (Keith Hobbs) and 12,051 (Ken Boshcoff) votes, they are certainly credible contenders for the position of Mayor.
Of course, when one looks at the current composition of City Council, there is indeed an embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential candidates for Mayor. It is always time for a female Mayor in Thunder Bay and given Rebecca Johnson’s sterling career of community service, one would expect that she would also consider a run for Mayor. It would be credible given she garnered 14,620 votes last election in the At Large race. Frank Pullia has carved out a strong role both as an advocate for community causes as well as a strong showing in the finance portfolio at City Hall. At 14,112 votes last election, he is a key contender.
And of course, who can forget the ubiquitous Aldo Ruberto whose passion for quality of life issues in Thunder Bay plus 14,311 votes in the last At Large Race also puts him within reach of the Mayor’s Chair. There are also some strong candidates in the ward Councillor category – the names that particularly come to mind are Joe Viridiramo and Andrew Foulds. They are both high profile candidates committed to their city and with exposure across the community.
Of course, they cannot all be mayor but being the Mayor in Thunder Bay is important given the need for a sustainable economic future that embraces all the people of Thunder Bay and the leadership role that Thunder Bay plays in the region. It is important to have as strong a slate of visionary candidates as possible to generate the ideas we need to move forward. This election is an opportunity for defining debates and visions in the areas of economic development, First Nations relations and social and urban affairs and what better way than a strong Mayor’s race with many quality candidates.
It should be noted that the race for Mayor need not be relegated to current City Council incumbents. There are many individuals in Thunder Bay who also have strong community leadership credentials and it would be a shame if Ken Boshcoff or Shane Judge did not put their names forward again. Indeed, Shane Judge apparently will be running. It is also a shame that Lisa Laco has stated she is not running. And then there is the business community. Having someone prominent from our local business community step up would also bring a vital perspective to the municipal election especially with respect to issues of business development and taxation.
This is a crucial time for picking Thunder Bay’s next Mayor and council given the many challenges that have faced our community over the last four years and that will continue in the future. We are also picking a Mayor who will be the public face of our community at an important milestone – the 50th anniversary of Thunder Bay’s creation that will occur in 2020. Having a strong mayor’s race full of vigorous visions would be the ultimate community contribution our community leaders could make. Having a strong slate of candidates for Mayor would be a vote of confidence in the importance of municipal politics in Thunder Bay and the importance of civic leadership in shaping our future. It is time for our accomplished community leaders to step up to the leadership challenge and run for mayor.
Sunday, 18 March 2018
We are about six months away from Thunder Bay’s next municipal election and the race for the mayor’s chair and council spots represents an opportunity to examine directions and priorities. The last election was obsessed with the event centre and the issue was a distraction from important issues such as the sale of municipal public assets, economic development, the city’s economy, the sustainability of municipal finances as well as the ongoing saga of infrastructure renewal and in particular the James Street Bridge which has now been closed to vehicular traffic since 2013.
Sadly, with the exception of the events centre, which has ridden off into the sunset for the time being, all of these other issues are still ongoing. And of course, added to all of these issues are those with respect to relations with First Nations as well as court cases involving the city’s politicians and administration. Needless to say, Thunder Bay has garnered an inordinate amount of negative attention on the national stage in areas under the purview of municipal government and such attention is certainly not a magnet for business investment.
When it comes to economic development and the city’s economy, it remains that both population and employment levels in the city have been flat for the last four years. The low unemployment rate in the city results from a labour force that has shrunk faster than employment and of itself is not a positive harbinger for the future. Waiting for the Ring of Fire to kick start the economy appears to be a process akin to Waiting for Godot and all the talk of smelter locations in the world will be of no avail given low current chromite prices. As for the current trappings of prosperity in the city, they are largely the result of a large public sector and associated public spending which after the June provincial election could very well come to a crashing halt.
Of course, even without long term private sector wealth creation, the illusion of prosperity created by public sector spending has helped fuel municipal government spending and tax increases which over the last few years have averaged above the city’s inflation and GDP growth rates. Moreover, there has been a continued shift of the tax burden onto the residential ratepayer and they now account for about 70 percent of tax revenues. Added to this are the continued steep increases in user fees and charges which given the talk about “rainfall taxes” show no sign of abating anytime soon.
Indeed, the thirst for residential tax revenues also results in city council giving the go ahead to new urban residential developments outside core areas that while adding to the tax base in the short term also add to urban sprawl and require municipal servicing whose maintenance will add to city expense in years to come. The sustainability of this type of short term development formula should be a topic for debate and discussion but again it is an issue the politicians are happy to ignore when it comes to an election year.
So, what is to be done? Well, for starters Thunder Bay residents need to pay closer attention to the fiscal, economic and social issues affecting the city and ask candidates more pointed questions about what solutions might help address the situation. Perhaps one should ask why anyone might want to buy a new house in Thunder Bay if the property tax bill for a new bungalow is going to be in the range of $5000 to $7000 onto which will be added another $1000 a year in water and sewer charges.
Given the length of tenure that many current members of council have had, a legitimate question is whether or not Thunder Bay might not be better off with a substantial transfusion of new blood on City Council with new ideas and new energy to look at new ways of doing things. After all, current members of City Council have generally been the most comfortable with solutions that involve raising taxes and spending more money. While the claim is often made that millions in efficiencies and savings have been implemented, the fact is the tax levy continues to grow which means total spending is going up and not down.
Making Thunder Bay’s next municipal election count requires making an effort to create real change in the way municipal issues are dealt with and that requires some new blood. It truly is time for change.
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
The consensus seems to be that Ontario’s current Liberal government and Premier Kathleen Wynne are headed for defeat come the June 2018 election. Recent polls have seen the government trailing third behind the Conservatives and the New Democrats. An IPSOs poll in mid-September also suggested that most Ontario voters –- 76 percent -- want a change in government.
Two cabinet ministers (Treasury Board President Liz Sandals and Deputy Premier Deb Matthews) recently announced that they will not be seeking re-election which some may interpret as a signal that there is not a lot of confidence in the government’s future past June. This is on top of Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid who announced last month he won’t run for re-election and Environment Minister Glen Murray in the summer.
As well, the Premier’s personal approval rating is low. There is the baggage of nearly 15 years of Liberal government rule including the demise of the manufacturing sector, high electricity prices, the high debt and deficit, and the gas plants scandal to which can be added the current trial underway in Sudbury. And the electricity sector seems to be a problem that never seems to diminish in scope given the recent Auditor General’s report that the Wynne government’s plan to reduce electricity prices will eventually be higher cost in the long run.
Yet, one should not count Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals out yet. Recent polls have suggested there has been a bit of a rebound in Liberal support with a September 30th Forum poll suggesting the Liberals and PCs are tied for support in the vote rich Toronto area. Given the recent rebound in Ontario’s economy, the electorate may be less keen to turf the governing party in favor of gambling the PCs might do a better job with the economy. As well, there have been a range of initiatives –the minimum wage hike, changes to real estate rules, the basic income pilot that are likely to sway NDP supporters. And most Ontarians will not understand that a lower electricity bill today will eventually mean much higher bills tomorrow under the current Liberal plan. As for the departing cabinet ministers, another interpretation is that after 15 years one can expect to see the departure of veterans and renewal of candidates.
It all comes down to the campaign. The Liberals in Canada, whether at the provincial level or the federal level tend to campaign from the left and then govern from the right. They are usually quite successful in running campaigns with policies that take enough votes from the NDP to gain office. They are somewhat less successful in governing like PCs when it comes to economic matters given that seems to be a congenital Liberal predisposition to grand social, economic and industrial interventionist strategies. However, demonstrating this to the public requires a strong, inspiring and methodical policy campaign by the PCs and to date PC leader Patrick Brown despite any lead in the polls has yet to capture the imagination of Ontario voters.
In the end, one can imagine that Liberal support bottomed early enough this summer to allow the Liberals to position themselves as “the underdog” and come back from behind. Indeed, one wonders if this was not the strategy all along to allow the opposition parties to capture the lead in the polls and peak early. Of course, such a strategy can still backfire despite the recent policy stage being set by the Liberals if events deal them economic or political shocks. And there is always the strong possibility that the opposition leaders might finally get their act together and campaign more effectively.
It is going to be an entertaining next few months in the lead up to the election.