Paying for Transit in Toronto

Toronto transit is a mess. We have the longest daily commute in North America, possibly the world. This is nuts, but true.

Our mayor began his term with this: ‘the war on the car is over.’ Now he wants subways, but had no means of paying for them. We need $2billion a year for decades. So Metrolinx came up with some suggestions, and the shortlist included:

  • extra tax on gasoline
  • extra land development charges
  • extra HST dedicated to transit
  • tax on parking spaces of $1 each per day (off-street, business spaces)

What happened next is quite instructive. The Federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty, flatly stated that the HST cannot be modified for just one region.

And, the parking space levy was reduced to $0.25 – one quarter of what was proposed.

The HST was the bulk of the needed $2billion, providing some $1.3billion.

The parking levy at 25 cents would provide some $.35billion. (note that the amount of the levy was conveniently not made obvious in the attached link.)

Now for the dumb questions.

Why is the parking levy reduced? This is the only part of this tax that is not borne directly by consumers (although the cost will, of course, be passed on to them, eh?).

What would happen if the parking levy were $1. or $1.25? Multiply $.35 billion by four or by five, and you get $1.4 billion or $1.75billion. Enough to replace the HST tax, eh?

Given the relatively small contribution from raising gas tax (5 cents a litre, and the result was $.33billion), why do we assume people will buy gas near the GTA? (Disclaimer: I never drive downtown except under duress; I can arrange to get gasoline in Ancaster or Coldwater; my car does not go very far other than those trips, I only buy gas here to keep my local station running as it is 7/24 and thus convenient.)

Put it another way: why not pay for the whole transit plan with the parking levy and let the development charges go away as well? (Development charges end up in the house price, eh?)

Is it because businesses might actually have to contribute to transit improvements? If you look here, you’ll see that the (Greater) Toronto (Area) Board of Trade thinks it costs $6billion a year in lost productivity. (The article also mis-states the transit cost as being 50 million when it is in fact $50billion.) So now for the last dumb question:

Who is losing or paying this $6billion in lost productivity? If it is business, should they not pony up some of the transit money?

Write your councillor, mayor , MPP, MP, and Mister Flaherty. Let them know what you really think should happen. Oh yes, and write Kathleen Wynne as well. She at least may listen.

Why I think the UK will leave the EU

In BBC News the other day I learned several things about the UK and challenges made by the EU:

  • Red Diesel
  • Social Security for immigrants
  • Coal use
  • Border Controls

Red diesel is fuel dyed so it can be recognized as untaxed. Essentially, fishing boats are allowed to use this. Yachts can use it, but supposedly only for heating, not for engine power. The EU is challenging that the UK is allowing red diesel to be used by yachts.

EU rules say, more or less, that Schengen migrants get social security. The UK is putting extra qualifying rules on said migrants. The EU is challenging this too.

Coal is unnaturally cheap in the UK, partly due to US and others being able to get more natural gas, lowering the price of that fuel. Electricity is generated in the UK partly by coal, and the EU is bugging them not to slow down the closure of coal-fired generators. I suspect that the economics of coal will keep those generators going a bit longer than originally planned.

Temporary border controls. You can check me on this, but as I recall there were refugees leaving a country in Africa, arriving on an island that is part of Italy, getting temporary EU identification there, and then going to France using Schengen rules. France then began stopping the trains at the border.

Now the EU is making new rules allowing a state, for various reasons, (which can be political claims, eh?) to close its borders. Ireland was part of the negotiating team. Britain and Ireland have partial Schengen co-operation but not visa-free travel. Don’t expect this to change anytime soon, and if it does, new rules will allow border closing.

I am reminded of a bad joke on the world-view of British citizens: fog in channel, continent isolated.

One more thing: the UK can revalue its currency vis a vis the Euro. Greece cannot. Cyprus cannot. Spain cannot. Italy cannot. France cannot. Even Germany cannot – and they are headed for recession soon too, imho. Overall the EU is in recession and has been for several quarters.

Britain can participate in the coming war of currency devaluation. Japan is considering this; the US via ‘quantitative easing’ is essentially doing this, China is accused of keeping the yuan unnaturally low.

Britain kept out of the Euro, parts of the Schengen agreement, and is doing overall better than the EU. Meanwhile the EU is making life hard for yacht-owners, politicians, and electricity generators in the UK. I expect fallout – falling out of the EU by the UK.

Between Eden and the Open Road – Philip Gaber

This was my sixth KBR review on

Between Eden and the Open Road       Philip Gaber

From an Unusual Point of View, almost a parallel universe.

Four Stars.

“The greatest poverty is not to live / in a physical world, to feel that one’s desire / is too difficult to tell from despair.” (Wallace Stevens.) This large collection of poems includes some pretty harsh circumstances. There is a lot of material, and some of it may be depressing to you. The content reminds me slightly of Mordecai Richler’s ‘Saint Urbain’s Horseman.’ The chief protagonist is full of self-doubt and tends to overthink situations, generally opening up more room for self-doubt. Most of the secondary characters have negative self images, and are wracked with doubt, as well. Nevertheless within this world view, there are a lot of strange occurrences; you won’t be bored. You are bound to find some pieces that definitely speak to you.

In Just Part of this Ether you will meet, be actually, a bit of a lush coming to work late. Here there is both ambiguity/amusement (I was in a right-to-work state) and a surprise twist ending. Again in A Matter of Mathematics and Common Sense, the point of view is a man trying to get next to a woman who’s a bit of a wreck, and when she rejects him, his (compartmentalized) feelings aren’t hurt. The work is full of this sort of irony.

Depression is clearly presented in Tryin’ to Git it Back in My Soul, a poem in prose. In another favourite, There Were No Secrets Kept That Night, you will experience almost a happening, with yet another surprise ending. Final Draft is unforgettable; be sure to google ‘Follower’. If I had to make some tiny carps they would be these. Formatting could be nicer, starting each poem on its own page. Perhaps the internet gremlins got to my copy, as the table of contents at the front does not work, and there seem to be two partial tables at the back. There is a relentless mind-set which makes the work somewhat ‘of the same mood’ with few breaks for comic relief. However with this much material you are going to find some pieces of value to you, provided you are willing to check words you don’t know and move into the mind-space of this author. Within his own technique he does write with power.

This is a book you must either read from the mind-set and culture of its author, or, on your first pass through some of the pieces, have access to a very good dictionary, or better, Google. Once you’ve learned the unusual (for me, anyway) words, subsequent readings go quite smoothly. One could argue whether this is good technique or not; if you are of the same intellectual background as the author you’ll be wondering what I’m on about.

Why four stars? Not an easy decision. But the high level of intellectualization is fascinating. This is an interesting, challenging even, book. Recommended.

Tim Hudak, Andrea Horwath, Kathleen Wynne, and Insurance

This is an opinion piece, sort-of a rant of frustration. If you don’t live in Ontario you probably don’t care.

Let’s begin with Tim Hudak. The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, sponsored by the Niagara Home Builders’ Association, will be hosting Tim Hudak at a luncheon. It is my understanding that Mr. Hudak says we don’t need a Liberal budget, or a new budget at all; what we need is a new government. I believe he has stated that he will refuse to support this budget, despite not having read it.

So, now for Dumb Question #1: do you think the ability to refuse to read, makes you a better potential provincial premier? As a follow-on, do these obvious business ties make Mr. Hudak a clear candidate for improving the lot of ordinary (potentially unemployed) citizens?

Let’s continue with Ms. Horwath. (I warned you that this was a rant of frustration.) The current premier of Ontario proposed a budget. The NDP, including Ms. Horwath, requested (demanded?) additional features. Those features were added, including the treacherous insurance costs promise. Now we find that Ms. Horwath is producing more demands, on almost a daily basis, for her party’s support of the budget.

So, now for Dumb Question #2: do you think this kind of in-the-papers negotiation qualifies Ms. Horwath as a better provincial premier? And, as a follow-on, do you think these tactics will make for a smooth Ontario parliament?

On to Kathleen Wynne. There’s a wee bit of waffling on the car insurance premium decrease of 15% demanded by Ms. Horwath. Maybe it can’t be done quickly. But I beg to differ.

In this page, we read that in Ontario, automobile insurance is regulated by the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, a regulatory agency of the Ministry of Finance. Here you will find that claims were reduced in order to maintain and reduce premiums. Of course, the insurance industry, imho, simply took the reduced injury claims into profit.

The Ontario auto insurance industry was given a one-time profit boost, practically overnight. Now we want that boost back – in the form of reduced premiums – and we’re being told, it’s going to take slow steps. In effect, the waffling mentioned above is due, perhaps, to fear: the car insurance companies could lock shields and refuse insurance to those drivers or driver-groups whose inclusion in premium reductions might most affect profit.

Dumb Question #3: was Kathleen Wynne nuts to suggest she could reduce auto insurance premiums? Follow-on question: did Andrea Horwath propose this specific (fifteen percent) reduction suspecting that the insurance industry would react?

So, as the budget comes up for a vote, what do you think is a reasonable outcome?

Failure of a confidence vote (the budget) leading to an election which may or may not select Tim Hudak?

Failure of a confidence vote (the budget) leading to an election which may or may not reward Andrea Horwath for intransigence?

Failure of a confidence vote (the budget) leading to an election to punish Kathleen Wynne for being somewhat reasonable, if perhaps a trace naive?

Passing of the budget?

Dumb Question #4: what do you think will be the result, if the budget is passed? I said earlier that this was a sort-of rant, and here it comes: my predictions, assuming the budget passes:

  • Tim Hudak will continue to say that a new government is needed, and continue, as if on principle, to refuse support to any initiative whatsoever by the Ontario Liberals.
  • Andrea Horwath will claim magnificent success, being wholly responsible for everything good that happens next in Ontario, because she wields the balance of power.
  • Kathleen Wynne will keep quiet, assemble her allies, and wait. Perhaps a bit more cautiously with insurance promises.

Last dumb question: Comments, anyone?


The Mi’kmaq Solution to Health Care

If you read this article in the Toronto Star, you’ll find that some 100,000 individuals have applied to become Mi’kmaq status Indians in the province of Newfoundland.

In the article, the following sentence appears: ‘Under the 2008 agreement, those who receive Indian status — and their descendants — will be eligible for federal payments for post-secondary education and non-insured health benefits, including vision and dental care.

For one specific individual, we have this quote:

The dates marking the birth and death of Sarah Welsh confirmed she was Pearce’s great grandmother. They also confirmed she was the granddaughter of John Matthews, a Mi’kmaq Indian born in 1780 in Cape La Hune on the island’s southern coast. Matthews, in other words, was Pearce’s great, great, great grandfather.

In other words, a person can go back something like six generations, show a Mi’kmaq blood connection (however diluted) and receive free vision and dental care.

Wonderful. I now suggest this strategy for, over time, removing inequities in vision and dental care for all Canadians. The strategy is simple: deliberately intermarry. Eventually we could all be Mi’kmaq. Then we’d all get free vision and dental care. With all our descendants, forever. Plus assisted post-secondary education.

I submit that several cynical observations can me made:

  • Our governments, including that of Newfoundland and Labrador, and our Federal government, don’t think through the ‘system’ implications of their words, actions, laws, and promises. Predictable consequences aren’t predicted.
  • Ontarians should thank their dentists and dental associations, who lobbied extensively and successfully prevented dental care from being part of OHIP. Without this and similar (provincial) avoidance of dental health care, the Mi’kmaq might not have been so motivated as to have followed up on this promise.
  • Ontarians, who pay more post-secondary education tuition than most provinces, should ask why we do, and if the investments made by other provinces in this area are profitable to future generations’ well-being.
  • Pandora’s box has been opened. Now there is (see the above pointed-to article) a rush to rewrite the application criteria for being recognized as Mi’kmaq. There is probably no nice way out of this.

Now for the dumb questions:

  • Is the whole argument spurious? Is a six-generation single-relative connection enough to be considered Mi’kmaq, or anything else, in terms of race or culture?
  • Will the federal government cave in, and fund these benefits?
  • Will any of us question this?
  • Is it fair?

I would particularly appreciate comments on the last point.