Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Second Anniversary of the Orange Tory!

On June 22, 2010 I decided to reboot my blog. Since that time I have been posting weekly ever since. The past twelve months have been very good for my blog. The audience has consistently grown and this year my post about electoral reform in Ontario received hundreds of hits within a few days. I attribute my modest success to a growing social environment for Canadian politics. The Ontario provincial, federal and NDP leadership elections helped develop interest in this blog. The politics of the Conservative majority parliament have also provided a lot of fodder for political commentators, even amateurs such as me.

As this milestone approached I began to ponder what I wanted the Orange Tory blog to look like by the time the third anniversary rolled around. One of the biggest changes was to begin writing more than once a week. A friend of mine once told me when I started this blog that the most important thing is to post regularly. By now people know that once a week on Tuesdays a fresh post is coming their way. Still, no one swings by my blog multiple times a week to see what I’m writing. It simply isn’t necessarily. With me being a Master’s student it is not plausible to go to a daily schedule. Twice a week is possible, and something I’m considering.

Another aspect I’m considering is new features. Many of my favourite blogs are not only essays. My favourite bloggers post collections of their favourite articles from the week or day, guest columns, or special themes, etc. While I want to keep my opinion/news pieces the heart of this blog I have no problem expanding what I present. Related to this, a friend of mine and I are working on a new feature presently. I cannot promise that it will come to anything at this stage, but we’ll see. I would love to hear back from people for suggestions of what they might want to see in the future.

That all being said I want to sincerely thank my readers. It is incredibly rewarding to know that people have been enjoying and gaining something from the work I do here. It definitely encourages me to keep up the process.

Thanks again, and I look forward to the next year and all it may bring.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hot Tempers and a Summer Election

As the debate over the federal budget comes to a close the rhetoric over Ontario’s budget is heating up. Steve Paikin of TVO did a far better job than I could at summarizing the controversy, but I will do my best. A few weeks ago Andrea Horwath (ONDP - Hamilton Centre), leader of the NDP, managed to extract some concessions from Dalton McGuinty’s (OLP – Ottawa South) Liberal government’s budget. It was a tense negotiation and the ONDP were able to extract a few concession, including a significant new tax to offset spending cuts.

When it came time to support the bill in the Legislative Assembly the ONDP abstained from voting, allowing for the superior numbers of Liberals to outnumbered the Progressive Conservatives and pass the budget. This tactic also gave the ONDP deniability to the budget, as it did not pass with their support.

The budget then moved to the finance committee where Ontario New Democrats made several amendments to the budget with the support of the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals claimed that this was a breach of Andrea Horwath’s promise to pass the budget. On Monday Premier McGuinty threatened to call an election if amendments were made. The Opposition called his bluff and eliminated five sections of the budget.

That being said, it appears the budget will pass tomorrow and Ontarians will be spared an election. Watching this debate unfold in social media was interesting. Those allied in common cause to fight the federal Conservative budget quickly turned on each other and sniped at one another over this Ontario dust-up. The differences between Liberals and New Democrats once again became quite clear, and on some level that made me sad.

The discussion around the Ontario budget, in my opinion, has been flawed. Criticism has been harsh against the Ontario New Democrats, and relatively silent about the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. If the PCs did not side with New Democrats on the amendments they would not have passed. One might have thought this was a carefully constructed plan. Especially given how many of the amendments went against Tory policy. From very early on Tim Hudak (PCPO – Niagara West-Glanbrook) has refused to participate in the process.

Recent polling has the three parties in Ontario virtually tied. The PCs lead in the mid-30s, the NDP around 30% and the Liberals in thehigh-20s. All parties risk a great deal with this budget brinkmanship. The fortieth Legislative Assembly of Ontario may not be long for this world, while it may survive the dog days of summer, the fall may see us going back to the polls.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Canada Rescuing Europe?

The European financial crisis is like a sword of Damocles that refuses to fall. It dangles precariously over the heads of Europe, and beneath them rests the tender flesh of the rest of the world. Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal – sometimes collectively called the PIIGS – are all in a dangerous economic state. This is either the result of extreme sovereign debt, or bubbles within their financial industry.

This past week European leaders came together to arrange a $125 billion package for Spain’s ailing banks. This bailout in no way fixes the problem, but does postpone a major disaster. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Europe during this period. In such a time he commented that Europe needed to get its act together and stick to the austerity programme to restore fiscal solvency. I can’t say that the Europeans were too glad to hear theremarks. Perhaps more importantly Prime Minster Harper stated that Canada would not be part of any rescue packages in Europe.

My initial reaction to this was that it made clear sense for Canada to butt out. We had nothing to do with the rise of this particular crisis, the small interventions launched by Europe appear entirely ineffective, and most importantly – Canada lacks the economic muscle to contribute enough to these multibillion dollar schemes. Ideologically, I suppose, I am by inclination a bit of an isolationist. My isolationism is mostly reactionary to the constant call of some to intervene. Every time a dispute breaks out politicians will start calling for Canadian action. To manage the amount of interventions we would need to conscript British Columbia and send them into the field. Obviously my “let the world take care of itself” attitude goes against the grain of a lot on the left and the right at present.

However, watching the CTV programme Power Play, economist and actor Ben Stein pointed out that the IMF was founded for the very purpose of stabilizing Europe. The government’s absolute refusal to be involved in Canada, or to encourage the IMF’s participation seems remarkably short-sighted. Canada’s contribution could be largely symbolic, Australia loaned $7 billion into the process. Canada could do the same for the sake of a little stability.

The only argument for Mr. Harper’s position, I think, is an awfully crafty one. If Canada pledged support the next time a domino appeared to be on the brink of falling the country would be expected to run in and support Europe. The failure to do so could precipitate a crisis. In addition Canadian support (real or imagined) may offer false comfort to European leaders who must find a way to manage the crisis more effectively.

Europe’s collapsing is beginning to feel terrifyingly inevitable. There are only so many holes that can be plugged before the whole edifice breaches and the world is drowned in the twenty-first century’s massive bubble and accumulated state debt. If or when the dam breaks, there will be nothing Canada can do.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Continued Cost of Congestion

Eleven months ago I wrote about the cost of congestion. At the time the annual cost to Toronto of traffic congestion was pegged at about $6 billion each year. In addition, Toronto’s commute (80 minutes on average) was the longest in the world.

Metrolinx provides different numbers here, but regardless, it is the trend line. Metrolinx reports that the cost of Toronto’s congestion in 2006 was $2.7 billion, and estimates it would inflate to $7.8 billion by2031. The study likely takes into account planned transit projects. I am not entirely sure it should.

The relatively simply light rail projects in Toronto (St. Clair and Eglinton lines) are not expected to be complete until 2020. That’s a long time. Toronto’s transit programmes are also delayed periodically by changes in regime. The 1995 and 2010 elections killed established transit plans. It’s almost as though the TTC cannot get any headway before the mood of city hall shifts and causes a problem.

Coming out of Brampton I have seen some of the benefits of long-term stable planning. Mayor Susan Fennell has been in office for a number of terms and was elected first in 2000. The city’s Züm strategy and Brampton Transit reforms were able to get going because the leadership backed them. Admittedly it is easier to introduce bus systems than light rail or subways. The investment in infrastructure is far less, as is the wrangling of political support.

Toronto seems to have quite a partisan attitude to public transit. The left and right battle over the existence of transit, much like American politicians do for transit. It is a destructive debate that is not common (or so I imagine) in other major cities. I sincerely doubt right-wing politicians in Paris, London or New York see a limited role for transit. Good transit is good for business, again, see the cost of congestion. Without eliminating cars from the road through draconian methods the only other solution is to move people onto trains, buses and streetcars.

Ironically, in this Toronto Star article the author warns that Metrolinx, a provincial organization designed to aid public transit, may be unduly interfering with Toronto’s initiatives.  The last thing Toronto’s transit network needs it more interference. I agree with the suggestion that Metrolinx should focus more on regional connections.

I also wonder if the provincial capital should be experimenting more with bus rapid transit programmes. As this 2011 article lays out it can be much more cost efficient. BRT is also less disruptive. Though Mayor Ford is pro-car in the so-called War Against Cars, buses may be viewed as more palatable. Regardless, the band-aid and weak solutions will continue to hurt Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area in the decades to come. As I’ve said before it behooves municipalities and the citizens who live in the Golden Horseshoe to view this as a common problem. What’s good for Toronto and other parts of the region strengthen us all. Something must improve by 2031.