- Written by Gordon Prentice
Yesterday (Friday 31 May 2019) the Common Ground people staged another of their rolling demonstrations outside Christine Elliott’s office in Newmarket.
I spot a new face behind dark sunglasses in animated conversation. Under his arm is a clip-board with a leaflet calling for an end to cuts to legal aid.
I decide I gotta speak to this guy who looks as if he has a story to tell. As I approach he thrusts a little piece of paper in to my hand which tells me about Ontario’s multi-billion dollar debt. The last line reads:
“What is it about this that you do not understand??”
Terrific! I’ve bumped into an agent provocateur.
I suggest it is probably a bit more complicated than 17 words on a Post-it size piece of paper.
He shakes his head. No.
Remember Mike Harris?
Last year during the Provincial election campaign I recall Chris Ballard reminding us that Mike Harris spent 15.5 cents of every dollar on debt interest and the (then) Liberal Government was spending 8 cents. At the time I thought it was a good debating point. Other things being equal, it is better to have less debt than more debt but sometimes Governments have to borrow to invest. They don’t want to raise taxes or (in the case of the Federal Government) print money - the only alternatives to borrowing. Sometimes Governments choose to increase public debt by taking over (or nationalising) private debt.
That’s what happened in the UK. I lived through it and remember it well. In September 2007 at the start of the global financial crisis, we saw the first run on a British bank in 150 years. The Government stepped in to save UK banks from meltdown, guaranteeing all deposits. Bank shareholders never lost a single penny and their private debts were taken over by the State. £137 billion of public money (around CAN $233 billion) was spent between 2007 and 2009 to stabilise the financial system and prevent economic collapse.
In some shape or form this was happening around the globe, even in the United States where the contagion started.
"Whatchathink of that?"
No easy answer
The man-in-the-white shirt concedes that’s a difficult one. Hmmm.
Even in Canada, which weathered the global financial crisis relatively well, debt went up.
Stephen Harper was Prime Minister from February 2006 to November 2015 during which time Canada’s debt rose from $467,268 million to $ 612,330 million.
Anyway… I ask the man-in-the-white-shirt if I can read the leaflet on his clipboard. He decides he doesn’t get along with me and testily says no. I am immediately given another copy by someone standing close by. I ask him why he has the leaflet and clipboard and he says he is going into Christine Elliott’s office to talk about it.
As it happens, Elliott, a lawyer herself, has spoken out about access to the justice system. Back in 2009 she was worried that plans to harmonize the PST and the GST charged on legal services would result in higher legal costs for “hard-working Ontarians”.
Harder to get access to justice
She fires this broadside at Attorney General Chris Bentley:
“Why is your government making it even harder for Ontarians to have access to our justice system?”
“Why is your government putting even greater stress on an already strained legal system and putting more vulnerable Ontarians at risk?”
She is furious:
“Access to legal services is becoming ever more remote in this province.”
Ford’s 30% cut to the legal aid budget this year will, of course, make access much easier.
Update on 12 June 2019 from the Toronto Star.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Newmarket Council’s most talented flip-flopper, Tom “Pancake” Vegh, has been flipping again.
On Tuesday 21 May 2019 he declares he is in favour of selling Town land to the developer, Briarwood:
“I am in favour of Scenario 2 now because I think it is needed and it is a real opportunity and it is consistent with our Secondary Plan.”
Six days later on Monday 27 May 2019 Vegh says:
“I am going to be voting in favour of not selling the Hollingsworth site but holding on to it for future community use.”
Vegh is all over the place. He points approvingly to a story in the local press telling us he made a pitch for a library on Hollingsworth. He says:
“The debate over the need for a new library is long over. The only question now is where and when.”
Whoa! In October 2018 he told voters that if they elected him the new library would be at Hollingsworth Arena, presumably in the coming 2018-2022 term. At least that is the inference we were all invited to draw seven months ago.
On Monday he tells his colleagues:
“I have spoken frequently about a new library on this site.”
He didn’t say anything about a new library or seniors’ centre during the Council’s priority setting exercise despite being invited by the Mayor to say whatever he wanted to say. In fact, since the election in October he has been completely silent on how he would deliver on his promise.
What else did we learn from the Deputy Mayor’s 4 minute 15 second speech to his colleagues?
Vegh concedes there may never be a library at Hollingsworth
He now says there is no guarantee there will ever be a library at Hollingsworth.
“…the library must go through its own process that will evaluate and rank all the possible site locations in Town for a new building if that is the route that they choose to go. So there is no guarantee that going through that process the library will land on the Hollingsworth site and there is no guarantee we are looking at a library.”
He says a library is just one of the options. So why didn’t he qualify his promise to the voters saying he would push for a library at Hollingsworth if that’s what the Library Board wanted? That the decision wasn’t really up to him.
Seniors' Centre is forgotten
Vegh didn’t mention a new seniors’ centre at all. It was his very own senior moment.
He conveniently forgets the promises he made a few months ago that got him to where he is now.
Tom "Pancake" Vegh's remarks on Hollingsworth on Monday 27 May 2019:
Tom Vegh: “There was some discussion on this regarding the Hollingsworth Arena site and for those members of the public who may not be too clear about where it is or what the issue we are dealing with … was that Newmarket Council decided to decommission Hollingsworth Arena and leaving us with two options basically. One was to sell the site to be redeveloped as seniors’ housing and some sort of community space or hold on to the property for future community use.”
“The site itself is located at Davis and Patterson and most of the site is the old single use arena and parking lot. South west of it is the heath centre. South east corner is the Roxborough Retirement. There is a medical centre on the north west corner and the north east corner is vacant which was formerly a gas station and immediately east of the site, adjoining the site, is the parking lot for Huron Heights High School. At the north east corner, the former gas station, we’ll be building two condo buildings there.”
“The developer who is building those two large buildings offered to purchase the Hollingsworth site to redevelop it as seniors’ housing and community space and through our Secondary Plan the site is zoned for this type of mid-rise residential development. This is very attractive because Newmarket’s seniors population has grown by about 30% in the last decade and by 2026 there will be more seniors in York Region than youth.”
“The housing proposed by the developer for the seniors will be condos with probably some sort of assisted living component which is really important for some but, frankly, it would not be affordable to most so it would not be any type of affordable seniors’ housing. The other option was to hold on the property for some sort of future community use and with Newmarket being only being about 14 square miles land, particularly land that is already owned by the Town, is precious, precious to us. We know our population will grow and that we will have intensification and this makes the ownership of a good sized unfettered piece of property even more important for the residents of Newmarket.”
“The plan there is to eventually demolish the arena – because we have decided to decommission it – leaving us with a significant piece of land to redevelop for future community use. Regarding seniors’ housing, I do sit on the Board of Housing York Inc and I am actively working towards more affordable subsidised seniors’ housing and as I mentioned before the seniors’ housing proposal for this site would not be affordable to most seniors. And for those seniors who do have a little bit more money and can afford it we have other condos in development which are housing options for them.”
“Looking at this site – if we are holding on to it - there are many possibilities for this site and I have spoken frequently about a new library on this site. But before anything is done with this site we would be going through a full and transparent community consultation process. People who know our library know that it is about 40 years old and has not been able to change with the times as it needs to due primarily to its facility restrictions. The library is in an older building, multiple storeys and it just packed with books and not enough space. The building is not well suited for the functions of a modern library.”
“However – and this is a big however – the library must go through its own process that will evaluate and rank all the possible site locations in Town for a new building if that is the route that they choose to go. So there is no guarantee that going through that process the library will land on the Hollingsworth site and there is no guarantee that we are looking at a library.”
“There are lots of opportunities for that site to build facilities, build things that we will need for our growing population concerning the intensified area but the library is certainly one of the options for them. So I am looking forward to how we can redevelop this site for needed and exciting community uses and I am going to be voting in favour of not selling the Hollingsworth site but holding on to it for future community use. Thank you.”
Ward councillor Jane Twinney follows Vegh. She says there was no decision on a seniors’ building.
“Even though it was tabled as an idea we didn’t have any formal plans brought to us so we don’t know where it was gonna land, that particular building.”
Victor Woodhouse says it is important to have green space close to high density and that council has made an excellent decision to go for parkland.
“Certainly green space is a very scarce commodity and as we continue to grow it will continue to be a scarce commodity. I certainly support the concept that there be those breathing areas, close to the high density… when those two towers get built.”
Grace Simon says she now fully supports Council’s decision having originally voted with Vegh. Kelly Broome pays tribute to the work of ward councillor Jane Twinney and says she is looking forward to involving the community more and having them being a part of the process.
Summing up, the Mayor, John Taylor, mentions the developer’s contribution to parkland – in kind or in cash. He talks about competing interests and needs within the community for housing options, green space and recreation. He talks about intensification more generally. He thinks the decision on going for green space will hold up well over time. He concludes:
“The library board certainly will be involved and engaged in thought about the future of libraries in this term but ultimately the decision to build a library or a satellite or nothing is the decision of Council. And that would be our decision when that time comes.”
(Check against delivery)
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Jon Aston and a growing number of like-minded people have also been taking the argument to Health Minister Christine Elliott who is the local MPP. But, like McCavity’s cat, she disappears whenever they turn up at her constituency office at 16635 Yonge Street (in the Nature’s Emporium Plaza) hoping to speak to her. The Common Ground people are there every Friday from 12 noon to 1pm.
I don’t know if Ford’s latest climbdown is going to change things (or Common Ground’s strategy) but there’s still plenty to protest about. In this morning’s Toronto Star Edward Keenan says it is good news that Ford is backing down a bit – but he says the war ain’t over. Just a brief respite.
Christine Elliott denies point blank that cuts are happening. She says the process is rather about rationalising health services to make them more efficient and effective.
When she appeared out of nowhere and won Newmarket-Aurora in last year’s provincial election she told voters the Progressive Conservatives would stop
“cuts to local nurses, doctors and hospitals”
"Without a single job cut"
Elliott’s Winter Update Newsletter tells us the Provincial Government will be saving $3.2 billion in program expenses by finding efficiencies
“without a single job cut, tax hike or reduction in front-line services”
I suppose it all depends on how you define a “front-line service”. I’d say paramedics are front-line. And what about those who work on public health programs such as vaccination, school nutrition and infectious disease control? For Elliott cutting stem cell research funding is OK because it is not front-line. But what about the proposed changes to OHIP which could prevent dialysis patients from travelling outside the country. Is that front-line?
The Government is also planning for a big increase in class sizes as the teaching workforce is scaled back. Going from an average class size of 22 up to 28 - is that front-line?
People in Newmarket-Aurora voted overwhelmingly for Ford Nation in the Provincial election – as did most ridings.
Ford’s prospectus was sketchy to non-existent but the lack of detail didn’t seem to matter back then. Ford was for the little guy and not for the elites. He was going to cut taxes and cut out waste and put more money in people’s pockets (unless they were on the minimum wage). But as the cuts begin to bite there will be buyer’s remorse. Ford has no coherent plan. People didn’t sign up for this.
But the developers did.
Ford says there is no alternative to cuts. He says he inherited a bankrupt province. But that doesn’t stop him giving plum jobs on fat salaries to his army of cronies. Or setting up his own news operations unit funded by taxpayers.
Is this a front-line service?
Christine Elliott clearly thinks so.
Update 30 May 2019: Is Ontario really open for health care business? (from the Toronto Star)
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Almost a year ago in June 2018 I asked why Conrad Black was still in Canada.
As yet I have no satisfactory answer.
He renounced his Canadian citizenship to become a British citizen so he could take a seat in the House of Lords. He was convicted of serious crimes and his recent pardon by Donald Trump does not expunge his criminality.
Or it wouldn’t here in Canada or in the UK where pardons are exercised under royal prerogative powers. A pardon is not the same as an acquittal. Only the Courts have the power to quash convictions.
But that doesn’t stop Conrad Black shouting from the rooftops that he has been exonerated by Donald Trump's presidential pardon. Perhaps things are different in the United States.
Mockery of Justice
Eric H. Sussman, who prosecuted Conrad Black, told readers of the Financial Post that the presidential pardon is a mockery of justice:
“The pardon lays bare the fact that justice in Donald Trump’s America is unapologetically linked to who you know and how much money you have.”
Sussman says he was saddened but not surprised that Trump decided to pardon Black for his theft of millions of dollars from public shareholders and obstruction of justice.
“Nothing betrays the mockery that President Trump has made of our justice system more than the fact the Black’s co-defendants, Richard Boultbee and Peter Atkinson, Canadians who were convicted by the same jury, at the same trial, of the same fraud crimes as Black, did not receive any pardon consideration from President Trump. They remain convicted federal criminals with no pop singers or right-wing pundits to vouch for them.”
Black was released from prison in May 2012 and given a temporary residence permit by the then Minister of Immigration and Citizenship and now Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, to enter and remain in Canada for one year.
In 2014 Jason Kenney told the Commons:
“a foreign national who applies for permanent residence is ineligible if he has committed a serious crime.”
He went on to talk about the process for reviewing these decisions. But, astonishingly, because of “privacy considerations” we are kept in the dark about the immigration status of a foreign national convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice.
In my earlier blog I mentioned this must-see clip from the BBC’s “Have I Got News for You” filmed just after Black was released from prison in 2012. And here is another one where Conrad Black threatens to punch BBC Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman in the face.
Both video clips have aged well and have lost none of their zing.
Update on 29 May 2019: Mueller says Trump was not exonerated by his investigation.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Tom Vegh is a flip flopper.
He has all the qualifications required to get a top job in a Pancake House.
At the drop of a hat, he brazenly changes his position on important matters of policy, confidently expecting no-one to notice.
On 22 October 2018 Vegh won election as Newmarket’s Deputy Mayor and York Regional Councillor promising (a) to build a new library and seniors’ centre on the Hollingsworth Arena site and (b) to oppose the sale of the Hollingsworth Arena site to developers.
Yet last Tuesday (21 May 2019) he voted to support the so-called “Scenario 2” for the redevelopment of the Hollingsworth Arena site which would involve selling this Town-owned land to the developer, Briarwood, and leasing back at a market rent any land it might need for the community facility.
What about the new library?
In Vegh’s brisk one-and-a-half minute speech to councillors he complains:
“We haven’t really had any discussion regarding the size or purpose of that space. It is undefined. That’s a discussion for another time.”
But whose fault is that?
Since the election, Vegh has been totally silent on his plans for a new library and seniors’ centre. He made no mention of them at the meeting on 21 May. The most he is prepared to concede is that he has been working “diligently” on the proposal. There is no evidence that he has done any kind of thinking at all on how he would deliver on his election pledges.
Promising the earth, delivering dust.
Vegh is the worst kind of politician imaginable - promising the earth in an election and delivering dust as soon as the votes are counted. This feeds cynicism and distrust in our politics. But for flip-flopper Vegh it’s water off a duck’s back.
On 21 May the Committee of the Whole decides to support in principle the redevelopment of land at Davis Drive and Patterson by the developer, Briarwood, described as “Scenario 1” in the staff report. (Agenda item 5.2. Page 69)
Councillors are not attracted to option 2 which involves the sale of the Hollingsworth Arena land to Briarwood and the construction of a six storey seniors’ residence and some kind of community facility whose ultimate use has never been specified.
After a presentation from senior planner Adrian Cammaert, councillors line up to argue the case for more parkland on the Hollingsworth Arena site citing the density of the adjacent condo development and the proximity of Southlake Hospital whose staff and visitors might, they suggest, enjoy spending time there, out in the open air.
More open space
Ward councillor, Jane Twinney, makes it clear from the outset she will not be supporting option 2 and calls for green space on the Hollingsworth site. She wants a “useable park” telling us we are going to need more green space in future. She is worried about the impact of increased traffic and parking. Victor Woodhouse, Christina Bisanz, Kelly Broome and Bob Kwapis echo her concerns.
Grace Simon confesses she is “leaning to Scenario 2” and votes with Vegh.
The committee goes on to vote 7- 2 for option 1.
TOM TALKS mendaciously
In TOM TALKS Vegh predictably makes no mention of the debate about parkland. He simply reports that councillors were presented with two options, suggesting they were obliged to choose between them.
It was, of course, always open to the Pancake to move an amendment to make the staff recommendation more to his liking.
That is precisely what Jane Twinney did, successfully.
I don't know if Vegh is misinforming his readers deliberately or if he just can’t keep up with the rest of the class. But people who rely on TOM TALKS to find out what's happening on Newmarket Council are getting useless information.
During the debate on 21 May 2019 on the future development of the land at Davis and Patterson and the Town-owned land at Hollingsworth Arena, Tom Vegh says:
“So, just a couple of comments... We’ve already gone into the planning justification and we went through quite a process to get there. We are viewing this through the lens of that Secondary Plan. So we are not going to talk too much about that. I think Scenario 2 is a real opportunity and that’s what I support. It speaks to seniors’ housing and we do definitely have a tremendous need. It is likely to be condos. It also speaks to… includes a community space. We haven’t really had any discussion regarding the size or purpose of that space. It is undefined. That’s a discussion for another time.”
“Davis Drive is really where we are looking to have our increased density and this location and the built-form we are talking about there – six storeys. It’s going to have a limited impact on the existing residents. To the north it is Huron Heights. It is not a highly developed area so it is not in the middle of an existing community. It is right up there close to Davis Drive. I will speak more of this project as it goes along but I am in favour of Scenario 2 now because I think it is needed and it is a real opportunity and it is consistent with our Secondary Plan.”
Note: Option 1 also involves selling a small strip of Town-owned land to the developer. Jane Twinney argued for the proceeds of this sale to be applied to the proposed new park at Hollingsworth.
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