Tuesday, September 27, 2011

dolime sounds like the name of a tropical beverage

Hey everyone, this here is a shout out to all the students in undergrad public policy programs. You should go to your city's council meetings. Practically no one shows up, so you're guaranteed to get a good seat. Also, it is not as boring as it sounds. The discussion that goes on is directly relevant to the courses you are studying, and it beats the hell out of reading a textbook.
Last night at Guelph's city council meeting, there was a presentation about the Guelph Dolime Quarry. I feel this is significant to bring up, aside from the striking environmental concern, because of the recent discussion of the Melancthon Quarry in Honeywood, Ontario

Guelph's Dolime Quarry has sat for the past several years departed of any mining activity. Recently, it became economically viable to use deeper methods of mining to extract aggregate from beneath a protective layer of the hard rock lining the bottom of the quarry. The hard rock, otherwise known as the aquitard, lies above the underground aquifer and prevents its contamination from surface waters.
The governance of aggregate extraction permits in Ontario is entirely out of date, and the dilemma faced by Guelph reflects that. Dolime has put forward a proposal that seeks to expand the scope of the current Dolime quarry and mine for aggregate at continually deeper levels. Dolime seeks to excavate beneath the aquitard, and refill any created hollow space with back fill. Last night at council, I think the date referenced for the current legislation regarding aggravate removal was sometime in the 1980's, and Wellington Water Watchers lists The Water Resources Act of 1990 as lacking safeguards as well. There is no current protection in legislation that prevents a pit operator from piercing through the aquitard.
Currently, the city is going back and forth between the Ministry of Natural Resources, Dolime, and environmental consultants to determine the risk and consequences of deepening the Dolime quarry into the aquifer.
When a huge hole is dug, not in terms of credit card debt, the groundwater can come into contact with contaminated surface water. As a result our tap water needs extra purification after it is pumped out of the ground and before it goes down our throats. City staff indicated 8 wells, or 25% of Guelph's water supply could be affected by pit expansion below the aquitard. Costs associated with retrofitting the wells to handle a new load of contaminants are estimated around 2-3 million per well. This does not take into account the time Guelph would spend with a greatly diminished water supply nor the public unrest surrounding possible contaminated drinking water. But maybe the aggregate beneath the aquitard is made of solid gold and every Guelph citizen will receive a 100oz gold bar. That would be wicked.

Friday, September 23, 2011

thoughts on the crime bill

a new comic for you.

I know y’all be thinking of the upcoming provincial election and I don’t mean to distract you. But this is important; do you remember all that talk during the Federal election about a massive omnibus crime bill proposed by the Conservatives? Well this past Tuesday, the Conservatives dropped the third piece of legislation in their “omnibus”.
Before all this was in the news, I thought “Omnibus” was an East German Volkswagen knock-off.

So what’s changed in the “Crime Landscape” since last May? Lots. I have taken some excerpts from a CBC article that outlined the changes, I have added my thoughts below in red.

Mandatory minimums: a range of drug, sex, violent and other serious offences will now have longer stipulated jail sentences, leading to questions about dramatic increases in the costs of incarceration for both federal and provincial prisons.
            Justice needs to be conducted on a case-by-case basis. Mandatory minimums (key word = mandatory) are not what we need. I agree mandatory minimums may be helpful for some violent and sex crimes, but mandatory minimums for growing 6 pot plants are going to put people in jail that shouldn’t be there. This part of the Bill doesn’t even consider popular opinion regarding certain drug crimes. I think the federal government should hold a referendum on this issue just to prove me correct.

Tougher penalties for drug offences, including a potential doubling of sentences for the production of drugs such as marijuana, to target the role of organized crime in the production and possession of illicit drugs and to crack down on marijuana grow-ops.
            I sort of touched on this above. This approach is misguided. The limit set for a mandatory minimum is 6 plants. If you want to target organized crime, set the limit at 2000. Give mandatory minimums to people who keep guns beside their stash. Don’t send the local mom and pop grow shop, college kids, and medicinal users (that failed to jump through the paperwork to get their MMAR license) to jail.

Tougher penalties for sexual offences against children, and the creation of two new offences related to the planning or enabling of sex assaults against children.
            I don’t know the particulars of this, but I agree with the statement as it stands. There is no excuse for hurting children.

Long-gun registry Ended
            I agree with the Conservatives ending the long-gun registry. I agree with the “idea” of registering all guns, but not if it costs a billion dollars. Besides, who commits crimes with long-guns nowadays? This isn’t 1912. Today’s criminals pack semi-automatic handguns.

More power for police to conduct internet surveillance (known as "lawful access") — a controversial step that would compel Web service providers to hand over information even without a search warrant has been feared by internet experts. But the government said Wednesday it has no plans for such measures. "Outrageous claims like that one, that private communications will be intercepted without a warrant, is a complete fabrication," said Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Wednesday, responding to a question from the NDP.
            In other words, don’t post stupid shit on Facebook. Don’t plan crimes over email. Don't wire money to terrorists. 

Mandatory jail time for repeat offences in trafficking contraband tobacco and a new RCMP anti-contraband force.
            This just sends an already marginalized group to jail for something trivial. Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure the people couriering cigarettes across the St. Lawrence are poor native groups being exploited by people higher up in the gang chain. 1 out of 3 cigarettes enjoyed by Ontario are “illegal”. Is the government targeting the right people? Big tobacco gets paid either way.

Stiffer sentences for violent and repeat young offenders for serious crimes, to protect the public from "out of control" young offenders
            I get the whole “stiffer sentences for repeat violent offenders”. I don’t get the “out of control youth” part. Where does one draw the line between bad kids and bad parents? The law should punish people who fornicate, have children, and can’t take care of them. How can we punish youth crimes, when a youth’s entire environment may have been filled with violence? Instead of punishing young offenders more harshly, we should save ourselves the legal fees. Let’s plant a garden in every school, and give every child a free, hot, and nutritious meal for lunch.

I took the italicized part from an article by CBC. It can be found here. I only covered a brief portion of the legislation that was passed. And I didn’t look very deep to find the particulars. I think the government should get “tough on crime”, but I think they should do it by getting “soft on people”. Take a more proactive approach and stop crime before it happens. The Netherlands is literally closing jails because they don’t have enough prisoners. They are importing prisoners from Belgium in order to pay for the Jail’s hydro bills. Aside from the recent massacre, Norway  typically experiences 50 murders a year. Norway has a population of 5 million, which makes about 1 murder for every 100,000 people. Canada and the US do not even come close to the this number, so how can we get “tough” on crime, when we are perpetuating a system that creates criminals by definition?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

hudak will not raise taxes. or expectations.

Taxes. I have a love/hate relationship with taxes. I hate paying them, but I love the services they provide. Fundamental to every political campaign is taxes; whether to raise them or not. The more rightist parties want to keep taxes low, while the leftist parties want to increase taxes and pay for more social services. It is a time-old debate.
In an interesting turn of events, Tim Hudak announced yesterday that his party will not raise taxes. He sent an explicit letter to the Chief Electoral Officer that declared his position. There are loop holes around this, such as downloading taxing responsibilities to the province *cough*Mike Harris*cough*. But Mr. Hudak also stated he would not increase the tax responsibilities of the province. woo hoooo!
You may be asking yourself, "Why would a party leader explicitly state their intentions during a campaign? Isn't it better to use vague political mumbo-jumbo and leave the outcome open-ended; so no matter what you do, you can say you met your "goals"? That may be so, but under the Tax Payer Protection Act parties are forced to announce their tax intentions before an election.
I admire Mr. Hudak's goals. Taxes suck. But let's be realistic. Taxes go up because government plays an increasingly bigger role in everyone's lives, whether we like it or not. More of us are crowding into increasingly smaller spaces, and the government sorts out the repercussions. Maybe if everyone just stopped making babies we could expect government to play a smaller role and taxes to go down.
I don't mean to say the Conservatives are off the mark, in terms of their ideology, but let's be serious. No tax increases for the next 4 years? seriously? You better not close my hospital... or let bums control my water supply. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

compare party platforms. easily.

You want a job? I want a job! Hopefully we don't want the same job, or else one of us is going to be unemployed :(
No, that was a poor joke; but job creation is a major policy area being explored in each party's platform. All the parties have the overarching goal of keeping everyone employed, at a decent wage, but the mechanisms they use differ between parties. Should we hire more underutilized immigrants? Should we cut corporate taxes so they can expand their business and hire more employees? or should we hire more bureaucrats to help promote small business on a national and global scale?
The Globe and Mail has compiled party's Provincial platforms for specific policy areas. It is nice to see all the headlining grabbing proposals all in one place. It is limited in scope and there is no way to tell what was left out without actually reading their platforms in their entirety. But who cares? It is so easy to use! Below I have copied the policy proposals regarding Job Creation.

Ontario Liberal Party

-Create a tax credit for businesses that hire skilled newcomers
-Double the premier’s trade missions to eight, to help businesses access new markets
-Make the Northern Ontario Heritage fund and Eastern Ontario Development funds permanent, as well as create a new Southwestern Ontario Economic Development Fund
-Move ahead with the Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act to develop innovations in clean water technology, with the goal of of creating clean water jobs
-Reduce small business tax rates to 4 per cent

Ontario PC

-Create a tax credit for employers who sponsor language training for newcomers to Ontario
-Introduce a small business “bill of rights,” guaranteeing small businesses a greater voice in new legislations and regulations
-Appoint a minister responsible for eliminating red tape for business owners
-Create a Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, to assist farmers and small business owners
-Reduce the basic corporate income tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent by 2013
-Create 200,000 new apprenticeships over four years for skilled tradespeople

Ontario New Democrats

-Create a 10 per cent tax credit for companies that invest in buildings, machinery and equipment in the province, and for companies who provide training for staff to upgrade their skills
-Create a new 'Job Creation Tax Credit' that would reimburse employers 20 per cent of wages for a new hire's first year, up to $5,000 per employee.
-Reduce the small business tax rate to 4 per cent
-Raise corporate tax rate back to 14 per cent, where it was in June of last year before the implementation of the HST
-Make it law for government contracts to be rewarded to Ontario companies
-Reject the London Stock Exchange’s takeover of the Toronto Stock Exchange
-Amend Ontario’s mining act to make it law that resources mined in Ontario must also be processed in Ontario 

Check out the rest of the policy areas and each parties stance, by clicking HERE

Monday, September 19, 2011

candidate meet'n' greet and other stuff

            On Thursday night, the CSA and Civic Engagement held a meet and greet with Guelph’s MPP candidates, in the Bullring. Candidates were on hand to speak about their platform, issues pertaining to students, and answer questions. After the meet and greet student representatives from each party addressed generic questions regarding major policy areas; education, environment, economy, energy, etc.
It is very exciting to see other students hushed and huddled around political candidates, discussing the direction of Ontario’s future.

            Aside from questions regarding each party’s platform; it was interesting to note the body language and demeanor of each candidate and the students who listened to them. The most obvious and interesting contrast is that of the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. Liberal Liz Sandals sat in an armchair encircled by students on couches, while PC Greg Schirk stood closely surrounded by students. When I stood listening to Mr. Schirk, the audience seemed tenser than with other candidates. I feel for him, he is up against a tough crowd. Guelph is a swing riding with a history of electing NDP,  Progressive Conservative and Liberal MPPs; but the university student body is more left leaning. Mr. Schirk handled himself very well when a student became slightly confrontational regarding Mr. Schirk’s use of the term “red-tape reduction”. In a casual style, he gave the student his business card and asked to set up a future conversation. Very classy.
            A consistent point of contention between the Liberals and Conservatives is the Green Energy Act. While some praise the act for “greening” the province’s energy sources, Conservatives claim the act has been responsible for raising the cost of energy in Ontario. I feel conflicted, as per usual, about the act. My understanding is that the Green Energy Act was sort of getting-ahead-of-itself. The essence of the Act was that the Liberal government would offer a subsidy to the construction of “green” energy projects and purchase energy from them at a grossly inflated rate.
            Ok, that sounds awesome, but it was apparently too successful. Now the government is locked into long term contracts, paying a premium for energy.
            Ok, that’s all fine and dandy; I understand that the investment helps the environment in the long term. The problem is this, as Liz Sandals explained: so many projects were built in rural areas and the existing grid infrastructure could not handle the power delivered from the subsidized projects.  As a result, we have a bunch of useless green energy projects sitting around, taking up space, and not adding power to the grid.
            Now let’s get back to reality; the Conservatives claim this project has been responsible for raising the energy costs. This may be partly true, but to what degree? Energy prices are constantly increasing; natural gas becomes harder to find, coal is more expensive to mine, and oil… don’t get me started on oil. The Green Energy Act may have under preformed its expectations, but not because it exorbitantly raised your electrical bill. When I asked Mr. Schirk about the act he said it was unfortunate that the government was locked into the contracts, and the project would not be sustainable in the future.
            The NDP’s James Gordon, Green’s Steve Dyck, and Communist Drew Garvie were also on hand, but due to lack of time I couldn’t listen to them in-depth. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

edumacation highlights.

This picture is totally unrelated to my post below. I just thought it captured so much raw emotion. It is a poverty advocate confronting McGuinty in 2007. Her immense finger waving abilities are superbly captured.

The Ontario Provincial election campaigns are well underway, with every leader touting how their platform is better than the others. Certain issues tend to galvanize the electorate more than others, bring about the ire of the party leaders, and garnish the most media attention. We always have the standard rhetoric of health care, education, security, employment, immigration, etc. But election campaigns and platforms may tend to emphasize certain issues more than others.
Here are some highlights

Isn't this just fabulous? maybe. This is a huge and costly promise. Don't get me wrong, I think it is wonderful that education will become more accessible to a wider range of people, and the lessened debt burdens of students will allow them to better enter the workforce. But at the moment, there is a criticism that there are no jobs for people coming out of university. I mean... there are jobs, but people are underemployed. An educated workforce doesn't matter if there no jobs. McGuinty has framed himself as the "education" candidate. I feel the "economy" is a bigger issue at contention in this election, so maybe framing himself this early in the campaign will be a problem.

The Liberals have been developing full day kindergarten programs for the past 2 years. During those 2 years, Tim Hudak complained about the program. But now... the Progressive Conservative platform wants to implement Full-Day-K, across the province. This shows that Tim Hudak is not a devout ideologue; he is a pragmatist that listens to polls (however delayed his response may be).

Policies like this are great because they make headlines, and maybe someone will derive the message, "Ohh isn't that great! Hudak prioritizes Canadians over foreigners". Well you must weigh the benefits and costs of giving grants to foreign students. Foreign students come to Canada with immense talents and contribute to knowledge creation. We give grants to foreign students because they are the best in the world, and fulfil roles that have not been filled by Canadian students. This does not mean that Canadian students were not given the chance.
A foreign student is a major bonus for Canada. We did not have to pay the cost of raising them, providing them with education, health care, etc, for the first couple decades of their life. Then they come here and research, study, contribute to knowledge creation, and will probably generate profits for someone down the road (hopefully they stay in Canada). Plussss, foreign students bring money from another country and spend it in Canada. Yipppeeeee!
Anyways, Hudak wants to use that money to expand OSAP.

Monday, September 12, 2011

party platform shoes.

Elections platforms are actually very similar to platform shoes. They both support people. The bigger a shoe's platform is, the harder time someone will have walking in them. But a bigger shoe platform makes it more stylish.
The bigger and more comprehensive a party's platform is, the harder time they will have living up to their promises and sticking to the schedule. But a bigger and more comprehensive election platform is more appealing to the masses (ie. more stylish)

Here's some links to the Party's Platforms. Read (skim), them over and see what you like or don't like. Make your own decision; we have enough distortion of platforms from the politicians themselves.