Tag Archives: Niagara_Independent

Whither the Canadian Middle Class?

The Niagara Independent, April 26, 2019 — It is a group that politicians like to promote as the focus of their attention, the targeted benefactors of their support initiatives. Yet, Canada’s middle class is not only decreasing in numbers, it is managing worse than past generations. This reality may cause trouble for any political Party posturing as “champions of the middle class” in the coming election campaign.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published an analysis that reveals the middle class is shrinking – squeezed primarily by high housing and education costs, and displaced by automation. The report defines middle class as 75-to-200 per cent of the median income in each nation. For Canada, that means a person living alone would have an income of about $29,432 to $78,485. In the 36 OECD countries, the portion of citizens considered middle class fell in the last 30 years to 61 per cent from 64 per cent. In Canada, middle-class shrinkage was sharper than the OECD average.

A key OECD finding about our country was that just 59 per cent of Canadian millennials were found to have attained middle class status by their 20s, compared to 67 per cent of their parents.

The report cites one of the greatest factors in this decline is housing costs, which have risen at twice the rate of inflation. Realizing the dream of middle-class home ownership is getting much tougher — “Housing costs are squeezing the middle class the hardest and these costs now consumes a third of disposable income for middle-class households, up from a quarter in the 1990s.”

The report also attributes Canadians’ middle class slippage to the rise of automation, estimating that one in five middle-class workers is at risk of losing their job to a machine. The report states that “while having high-level skills is not as much of a guarantee of financial success as it once was, being in a high-skill job still greatly increases the chances of making more money.”

The OECD’s underlying conclusion is worrisome for Canadians. It states: “The middle class used to be an aspiration. For many generations it meant the assurance of living in a comfortable house and affording a rewarding lifestyle. However, there are now signs that this bedrock of our democracies and economic growth is not as stable as in the past.”

Gabriela Ramos, the international organization’s chief of staff, commented in the preface of the report, “A strong and prosperous middle class is crucial for any successful economy and cohesive society. Societies with a strong middle class have lower crime rates, they enjoy higher levels of trust and life satisfaction, as well as greater political stability and good performance.”

Canadians attitudes about themselves seem to reflect this OECD report. A 2018 Ekos Research poll for The Canadian Press suggests fewer than half of all Canadians now identify as members of the middle class. This is a steep drop from nearly 70 per cent in 2002.  The poll results show the main contributing factors to this shift in Canadians’ attitude is perceived higher income inequality and slower economic growth in the country.

Ekos president Frank Graves states, “The whole notion of a middle-class dream — ‘I work hard, build a better mousetrap, do better than my parents, my kids do better than me, I get a house, a car, retire in comfort’ — that has all been shattered. A lot of people are stagnating or falling behind and they’re not happy.”

A recent Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of insolvency firm MNP Ltd. reports a quarter of Canadians say they struggle to pay bills by month-end. More Canadians are a thin line away from bankruptcy with 48 per cent admitting they are $200 or less each month away from financial insolvency. One in four (26 per cent) state they have no wiggle room at month-end — they are not making enough to cover their bills and debt payments.

Those surveyed also say they have been squeezed tighter with the rise in interest rates that began last year. Nearly half (47 per cent) think they may get into financial trouble if interest rates go up further, and 35 per cent believe rate increases will push them towards bankruptcy.

These are stark realities for Canada’s middle class – realities that cannot be addressed with political posturing and electioneering rhetoric.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/whither-the-canadian-middle-class/

The Tale of Two Regions – Our Canadian Paradox

The Niagara Independent, March 29, 2019 — Last week, the Government of Quebec heralded a budget with a $2.5 billion surplus and featuring increased spending in health care and education. On the other end of our country, Albertans entered into an election campaign feeling agitated about the treatment they are experiencing from the federal government and central Canada. This is the latest in the tale of two regions – and one needs not look too hard to discover the disturbing set of facts that underpin our Canadian paradox.

The 2019-20 Quebec budget highlighted an increased surplus of $2.5 billion from $1.65 billion over last year. On the strength of their books, the Quebec Government is planning for total increased spending of $16.1 billion through 2023-24. In this next year, there is a five per cent increase in spending in health care. There is also a five per cent increase in education budgets, delivered with a 17 per cent reduction overall in school property taxes.

What was not communicated in this good-news budget is that the Province of Quebec is expecting a $1.4 Billion increase in equalization payments this fiscal year – from last year’s payout of $11.7 Billion to $13.1 Billion in 2019-20.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the inequality of Canada’s equalization payments has become a focal point, and given the slumping oil prices and the country’s on-going pipeline debate, it is now an election issue. United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has tapped into Albertans’ sense of grievance on this issue saying that “Albertans are being forced to write cheques to Quebec.”

Kenny has stated publicly: “If the federal government continues its attacks through the National Energy Board (NEB) and the federal carbon tax, then Alberta should take a common-sense approach and hold a referendum demanding the removal of non-renewable resource revenues from the equalization formula.”

Alberta’s payments have become the subject of a grassroots appeal. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently sent out a message encouraging all Albertans to write/email all the leaders of the political parties to call for a referendum question. The CTF wrote: “…most Albertans are concerned regarding the present mechanism on how federal equalization payments are calculated and adversely affects Alberta… “Should the Government of Alberta challenge the federal equalization payment program under the Canadian Constitution?” Yes or No.

At the core of this dissention are the federal government’s equalization payments, a complex redistribution of federal tax dollars to “have-not” provinces to maintain their public services. In June 2018, it was revealed that Finance Minister Morneau committed to keeping the current formula for another five years – until 2024. Under the federal government’s renewed plan, it will be increasing payments to the “have not” provinces from $18.3 billion in 2017-2018 to $22.1 billion by 2022-2023. Remarkably, Quebec is scheduled to receive the lion’s share of these payments. For example, in this 2019-20 fiscal year, Quebec is receiving 67 per cent of the equalization payments. (Alberta, as a “have province,” will receive no payments this year, or for the next five years.)

Again, the inequity of the federal equalization formula is underscored when considering the total amounts of federal payments to provinces since 1957, the year these annual payments were introduced. The figures reveal that in the last 61 years Quebec has received $221 billion or more than half of all equalization dollars.

The billions of dollars of payments will assist Quebec with its education, health care – and with its surplus budgets. At the same time the Quebec Government opposes Canadian pipelines in favour of Saudi oil. The Quebec Government has also been silent on the implementation of the federal carbon tax or the new federal environmental review process that critics warn will shut down resource development in Alberta and the western provinces.

Last week, the Alberta Independence Party was given official party status and is fielding candidates in 46 election contests. Party Leader Dave Bjorkman states:  “It’s always been the right time for Alberta to separate. It absolutely has to be done now. We’ve taken too much abuse from Ottawa.”

Recent national polling reveals that three of four Canadians who live west of Ontario do not feel the federal government treats their province fairly. There is the Western Party in Manitoba, billboards in Saskatoon asking “Should Saskatchewan leave Canada?”, and now in Alberta a provincial separation party movement and as much as 50 percent of the population supporting secession from Canada.

Here is the paradoxical question: As the Province of Quebec continues to receive increased government services and programs, all Canadians should join with Westerners to ask “What will be the ultimate cost of the equalization payments to the future of our country?”

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-tale-of-two-regions-our-canadian-paradox/

This Federal Government Has a Spending Problem

The Niagara Independent, March 15, 2019 — Finance Minister Bill Morneau will be delivering his fourth federal government budget next Wednesday, March 19. Given the news that the government ran a budgetary surplus of $300 million through the first nine months of the fiscal year, many financial analysts and political pundits are expecting the Finance Minister to increase federal spending – yet again.

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist for CIBC, forecasts in a Canadian Press interview: “I’m expecting cheques to go out somewhere. Remember that in the last election the party that won was the one party not promising to balance the budget… The recent sluggishness of the economy is just one more reason to expect a budget that sends out some goodies.”

With the looming election this Fall, Canadians are likely to see Minister Morneau make new (costly) promises relating to a national first-time homeownership initiative and a new national pharmacare program to provide “free” basic drugs for all. Canadians will be told the government can afford these promises based on our strong economic performance and an attractive debt-to-GDP ratio.

Interestingly, the federal finance minister no longer speaks of “deficits” and of “balancing the budget.” His favourite economic metric now is Canada’s “debt-to-GDP ratio” – the federal debt figure divided by Canada’s total economic production.

Pundits believe Bill Morneau will also use this budget address to explain to Canadians that he and the Trudeau Government have a firm hold on federal government finances. His speech is sure to pre-empt the Opposition’s attack of the Liberals fiscal record through the past four years.

As the oft-heard criticism goes, Justin Trudeau ran in 2015 on a promise to stimulate and grow Canada’s economy by spending small, annual deficits of $10 million. Somewhere in the last few years this Liberal plan was abandoned and, today, the Finance Department projects the government is on track to run deficits until the year 2040, which will add approximately $300 billion to the country’s federal debt. (ed. – This is not as bad as it sounds given our debt-to-GDP ratio.)

The Liberals’ continuous deficits are fueled by their unbridled government spending. Federal spending has grown from just under $300 billion annually in the last year of the Harper Conservative government to almost $340 billion for this past fiscal year. In reviewing the post-WWII period in Canada, PM Justin Trudeau has presided over the fourth-largest average annual increase (3.1 per cent) in per person program spending. This unflattering record ranks behind only his father, Pierre Trudeau (4.5 per cent), Lester Pearson (5.3 per cent) and Louis St. Laurent (7.0 per cent). In fact, this Trudeau Government has now recorded two of the three highest-spending years in Canadian history – 2017 and 2018.

To place the current Liberal Government’s fiscal record into context with those of recent Prime Ministers’, both PMs Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien recorded average annual per-person spending declines of 0.3 per cent. Over the Stephen Harper Government’s 10 budgets, that government recorded an average annual per-person spending increase of 1.5 per cent.

The difficulty with the Trudeau Government’s continuous overspending is brought into sharp focus in a recent analysis released by the Fraser Institute.  Jason Clemens, co-author of the Institute’s report entitled Prime Ministers and Government Spending, observes, “Wars and recessions clearly affect government spending, but to see this high level of peacetime spending when the economy is also growing could spell trouble for Canadian taxpayers in the future.”

Clemens explains, “The past few years have seen rapid and historic increases in deficit-financed government spending in Ottawa, at a time when the economy is growing. Higher spending often leads to higher deficits and more debt that ultimately must be paid by taxpayers, which is why current spending levels represent a burden to current and future taxpayers.”

But on Wednesday Canadians will not hear about these facts – about the challenges presented by continuous deficit spending. Instead, Finance Minister Morneau will tell us about the Liberals’ attractive election promises. He will reassure us with an accounting of the country’s favourable debt-to-GDP ratio. Yet, as the Fraser Institute’s report suggests, it may be best to remember that all this government overspending does not add up for Canadians’ fiscal future.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/this-federal-government-has-a-spending-problem/

On Working Canadians and Their Taxes

The Niagara Independent, February 8, 2019 — Here is an excerpt from Ottawa’s Hansard, an official verbatim record of what was said in the House of Commons on Tuesday, February 5th. Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre was in a heated exchange with the Prime Minister about taxes imposed on Canadians. Poilievre questions:

“The Prime Minister says that people who take the bus are too rich and therefore should lose their transit tax credit. Soccer moms and hockey dads, the Prime Minister says are too rich, so he takes away their children’s fitness tax credit. At the same time, he forces these same working-class families to pay for his taxpayer-funded nannies. Will the Prime Minister put aside the hypocritical class warfare and tell us the true cost of his tax increases that he would bring in if he got re-elected?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds:

“Yet again, Mr. Speaker, we see proof that the Conservatives simply do not understand that low-income families do not benefit from tax breaks because they do not pay taxes. We will move forward on investing directly in low and middle-income families with the Canada child benefit that will actually directly benefit them. We have lifted hundreds of thousands…”

The Prime Minister lost his train of thought and sat down to a chorus of jeers – recorded by the Hansard as “Some hon. members: Oh, oh!”

This exchange in the House is fodder for the upcoming election campaign. Later on Tuesday Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted: “A man who inherited everything he has took time today to tell low income Canadians they don’t benefit from tax breaks. It’s out of touch. It’s condescending. It’s insulting. And it’s wrong. If you earn just $11,809 per year, then you pay federal tax.”

But, of course, working Canadians – middle class and lower class – pay taxes. In fact, in 2018 the Fraser Institute factored exactly what an average household pays in taxes. In the report, “Taxes versus the Necessities of Life,” the Institute states:

The average Canadian family now spends more of its income on taxes (43.1%) than it does on basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing combined (35.6%). By comparison, 33.5% of the average family’s income went to pay taxes in 1961 while 56.5% went to basic necessities.

For Canadians, taxes have grown much more rapidly than any other single expenditure for the average family and that includes our costs for shelter, clothing and food. It is also a fact that the increase in Canadians’ tax bill has greatly outpaced (by a factor of 3!) the increase in our cost of living.

Here is another fact. In the past three-and-a-half years, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the Liberal Government has raised taxes on Canadians. In a 2017 report, again from the Fraser Institute, it is revealed that 81% of middle-class families are ultimately paying higher taxes. The average income tax increase for middle income families is $840. Report author Charles Lammam states: “The federal government has repeatedly claimed they’ve lowered income taxes for the middle class while in reality, taking their major income tax changes into account, they’ve actually raised taxes on the vast majority of middle-class families.”

There is also a new tax dawning on the country’s horizon, introduced by this Prime Minister and Finance Minister. Canadians will hear a lot during the federal election this fall on the purpose and impact of the carbon tax. The Liberals will want to portray their carbon policy as a necessary “price on pollution.” The Conservatives will state that not only is it a direct tax on Canadian businesses and on items like gas prices, but that the carbon tax will raise prices indirectly on everything, including life’s essentials like home heating, driving to and from work, and food. Point of fact: all Canadians, including middle- and low-income Canadians, will pay this new tax.

So, not only do working Canadians pay taxes, but depending on the outcome of the federal election we may be paying more of them.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/on-working-canadians-and-their-taxes/

Canadians are Adrift on a Sea of Debt (Part 2 of 2)

The Niagara Independent, November 9, 2018 – Recent government announcements and news reports have provided Canadians with an accounting of how much our Canadian governments are in debt. The current federal government, spending hundreds of billions of dollars, seemingly pays no heed to the size of their annual deficits. Add the sum of all provincial governments’ deficit budgets and one soon realizes that our governments are burying us in a deep, dank financial hole; from which no Canadian alive today will likely climb out. The reported numbers are startling.

In Ottawa, the federal government recorded a shortfall of $19 billion for the last fiscal year, repeating the deficit amount of the previous year. The government reports its federal spending continues to rise and is now $332 billion – $332,000,000,000 – the highest amount of government spending ever recorded.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and finance officials will be quick to point out that the $332 billion figure is higher than in the past because of a change in accounting practices. But, this explanation does not address the fact that the federal government spending continues to increase.

The trend of overspending in Ottawa has resulted in the government adding almost $20 billion to the national debt in the 2017-18 fiscal year. As of March 31, 2018, Canada’s net debt is $758 billion. PM Justin Trudeau recently indicated his government will not balance the books before the election. Neither he, nor the finance minister, will offer a target date for when the Liberals can commit to a balanced budget.

In late October, an independent report on the state of federal finances assessed that the government will require deeper-than-expected deficits in each of the next few years. Canada’s federal parliamentary budget officer concludes that there is only a 10 per cent chance the federal books will return to balance in 2021-22, and a 30 per cent chance of seeing black ink in 2023-24. Are Canadians left to assume annual deficit budgets are here to stay?

In a recent Financial Post editorial, Fraser Institute economists provided no reassurances about the federal finance minister’s ability to manage budgets. They opine: “Morneau seems unaware of the risks of running deficits during periods of economic growth. Specifically, running deficits outside of recessions (or pronounced slowdowns) risks a permanent imbalance between spending and revenues, like what happened in Canada throughout the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s. Simply put, it didn’t matter if the economy was growing, slowing or in recession. Ottawa could not balance its budget.”

At the provincial level, assessments based on past and current performances appear just as bleak. Last week, the Fraser Institute issued a report on provincial government debt which underlines “a serious problem.” Deficit budgeting appears to be systemic throughout the country – and especially burdensome in the province of Ontario. The report reveals: “Over the 10-year period from 2007-08 to 2017-18, total net provincial debt grew from $317.3 billion to $645.7 billion for an increase of 104 per cent. In addition, 50 per cent of the net debt belongs to Ontario – a proportion much larger than its population share of 39 per cent.”

Factoring in all of the latest news on our government’s finances, the combined federal and provincial debt currently stands at an astounding $1.4 trillion – a figure that has increased by more than 60 per cent in the past decade.

Canadians often hear Finance Minister Morneau crow that Canada has a very low federal debt-to-GDP ratio of just over 30 per cent. But, again, when factoring in all levels of government collectively, the Canadian governments’ debt-to-GDP in the last 10 years has risen from 69 per cent to 87 per cent.

Lots of figures. Lots of debt. Why should Canadians pay attention? Simply put, our current government spending and the national debt load directly impacts future governments’ abilities to respond to changing circumstances and global pressures. Our governments’ deficit budgeting curtails Canadians’ choices and opportunities – today, and for generations to come.

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/canadians-are-adrift-on-a-sea-of-debt-part-2-of-2/

Serious Challenges as Canadians are Adrift on a Sea of Debt (Part 1 of 2)

The Bank of Canada has indicated they are about to become more aggressive in 2019 and 2020 with increasing interest rates.

The Niagara Independent, November 2, 2018 – Interest rates are rising and many Canadians will begin to feel the pain. Last week the Bank of Canada hiked its key lending rate and major lending institutions followed suit, raising prime interest rates. This is the fifth time since the summer of 2017 that rates have risen and the Bank of Canada has indicated they are about to become more aggressive in 2019 and 2020. Some financial analysts point to recent comments made by Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz to forecast the rate could climb as high as 3.5 percent.

What does that mean for an average household? Over the past 15 months, the Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes have added an average of $2,500 in costs for Canadian households. Should the rate go as high as 3.5 percent, the costs would double again. If this were to occur, financial surveys indicate that one in two Canadians’ ability to service their existing debts will be directly affected. Half of Canadian households.

The “average middle class Canadian” is anxious about what might be coming in the months ahead. The latest Consumer Debt Index by insolvency practice MNP LTD., found that approximately 40 percent of Canadians are concerned about their existing debt loads, and 43 percent regret the amount of debt that they have incurred in their lives. The index reported that one in three Canadians are concerned that rising rates could push them towards bankruptcy.

The challenge with household debt and interest rates is compounded with the increasing amounts of taxes Canadians must pay. The Fraser Institute has documented the government’s take from Canadians’ earnings through the years. The average Canadian family now spends more of its income on taxes (43.1 percent) than it does on basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing combined (35.6 percent). In 2017, the average Canadian family earned an income of $85,883 and paid total taxes equaling $37,058 (43.1 percent). By comparison, in 1961, the average family had an income of $5,000 and paid a total tax bill of $1,675 (33.5 percent).

Taxes have grown much more rapidly than any other single expenditure for the average Canadian family – food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health and personal care, education, and other items. (And should the new carbon tax be imposed as designed by the federal Liberal Government, this tax burden will become heavier to bear for the average Canadian household.)

In a CBC News special series entitled “Debt Nation – looking at the state of consumer debt in Canada,” Theresa Tedesco pinpoints the foreboding issue:  Canada is now a country of borrowers and accumulating high levels of household debt has become a necessity for a modern life. It is an alarming fact that Canadians owe $1.69 for every dollar of after-tax, earned, annual income – which is substantially higher than $1.00 from 20 years ago.

Again, it is the “average middle class Canadian” that has the most to worry about. Statistics Canada figures tell us that 71 per cent of all Canadian families carried some form of debt and 35 per cent of Canadian families were carrying debt worth at least two times the value of their after-tax annual income. According to the Bank of Canada, about eight per cent of indebted households owe a staggering 350 per cent or more of their gross income.

CBC’s Theresa Tedesco also makes the point that debt has lost its stigma and has become culturally more acceptable in Canada. She surmises: “Canadians are socialized into debt at an earlier age as younger people are developing an awareness of it by necessity and appear to be living with it longer. Our parents and grandparents borrowed to buy houses and cars with the intention of paying it back. We don’t think like that anymore.”

Indeed. The latest numbers from the Bank of Canada tell us that individual Canadians are swimming in more than $2 trillion of debt today. The worry is, in the months and years to come, they just may not be able to tread water given the rising interest rates and increasing tax burden.

Next week: a look at our governments’ debt levels and what that means for Canada’s future.

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS.  Contact: ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/serious-challenges-as-canadians-are-adrift-on-a-sea-of-debt-part-1-of-2/

MPs’ Summer Plans (Not What You Might Expect)

The Niagara Independent, July 27, 2018 – When Members of Parliament recess for the summer, they don’t don shorts and sandals to hit a beach like quick-change artists; but instead, the first step they take is to meet their local constituency staff and schedule “the summer break.”

The 2018 summer plans of Niagara West MP Dean Allison are a good example of what our elected representatives organize for themselves when they are not in the Nation’s Capital.

He may have escaped his Ottawa office, however, Dean must plan time to attend to his various parliamentary duties. He is the International Trade Critic for the Conservatives and he explained, “For the last week of June, MPs of the trade committee had to return to Ottawa for meetings regarding U.S. trade and Canada’s retaliatory tariffs, and we discussed the possibility of having to reconvene in the event of an escalating trade dispute.”

As the trade critic, Dean has committed to hosting 4-weeks of information sessions this summer to hear firsthand from Canadian businesses on how the American (and our own Canadian) tariffs will impact business and local jobs. Dean has scheduled 3-weeks of roundtables in southern Ontario and another week in the west.

Dean is a Canadian representative on the inter-parliamentary Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This responsibility took him recently to Berlin, Germany to discuss Mediterranean security issues and the need for parliamentary diplomacy. Canadian MPs are active participants in the OSCE meetings where they will deliberate on issues such as arms control and human rights.

In mid-August, the Conservatives have planned their Party convention in Halifax and Dean will be present to attend the many caucus functions and the party meetings.

Apart from the tasks that take him from his Niagara home, Dean plans constituency office days. “I get in the office by 9:00 to meet with staff. We book meetings with constituents, often seeing dozens of people each week. I make a point to also get out to visit with constituents, organizations and businesses. For example, this week I am in Brantford to meet with a manufacturers’ association and I will also be touring a local farm.”

Lest there is an impression that all-day-every-day is work, Dean Allison stated, “I do try and relax. I don’t take a whole lot of time off and when I do, it is spent with my wife and kids. This year we’ve planned two weeks of pleasure, though the second week is not yet booked and may not happen. But, I enjoyed my first week of vacation in Portugal…”

Dean relishes his downtime at home, between hosting family members and friends, and indulging in movies and books. “I read a lot and have a habit of reading 6 newspapers daily. My summertime reading list consists of the latest by author Tim Grover, a book my son recommended entitled Fanatical Prospecting, and I also want to read The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. I have a wish-list of movies to see this summer: Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the new Mission Impossible flick, and I look forward to the sequel of Mamma Mia!

“We host a lot of friends through the summer months.” Dean shares. “Niagara is such a beautiful region. Everybody loves to visit in the summertime. We tour our friends through all the communities. We like to show off Balls Falls, a place local residents know well, but still a hidden treasure for many who visit our region. We also like taking our guests to the farmers market in Grimsby, or on Thursday nights in Pelham.”

“With our friends we visit many of the local wineries and our new Beamsville brewery, Bench Brewing. There are so many wonderful events being hosted at the wineries – so we like to take in the shows and features.”

On Saturday, August 11, Dean will be hosting a public barbeque with MPP Sam Oosterhoff.  Dean also has countless community events planned before he returns to resume House of Commons duties in mid-September.

“It’s quite a schedule, eh,” laughed Dean.

So much for the lazy, hazy days of summer for this MP – typical of hundreds of MPs’ summer plans across our country.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS. 

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/mps-summer-plans-not-what-you-might-expect/

The Inequity of Canada’s Equalization Payments

The Niagara Independent – June 29, 2018 – As Parliament recessed for the summer, news leaked out that the Trudeau Government quietly renewed the current federal equalization formula for provinces through the year 2024.

In the 584-pages of 2018 budget documentation, Finance Minister Bill Morneau had buried a provision that extended the existing equalization formula, providing no formal notices to provinces or the public. With the passage of the omnibus budget legislation, stealthily, Morneau unilaterally assured the renewal of the federal-provincial equalization arrangement — to the huge benefit of Quebec, and over the vocal protests of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the western provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The federal government’s equalization payments are a complex redistribution of federal tax dollars to “have-not” provinces – those provinces requiring assistance to maintain their public services. Equalization is written into subsection 36(2) of the Canadian constitution to ensure provincial governments have “sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation.”

Federal equalization dollars are not funds for specific use, but dollars that get placed into the general revenue of “have-not” provinces. The payments have no strings attached. (These payments are not to be confused with the explicit federal transfers to provinces for health, social programs, and infrastructure expenditure programs.)

The federal payments this fiscal year are nearly $19 Billion. Provinces are receiving these amounts: PEI $419 Million, NS $1.9 Billion, NB $1.9 Billon, ON $963 Million, MB $2.0 Billion and QB receives $11.7 Billion. With the current equalization formula, Quebec receives more than 60 per cent of the total paid out. The “have” provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador, B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan receive no equalization payments.

The current redistribution of federal tax dollars has prompted calls for a re-calculation of the equalization formula.

  • Tom Osborne, finance minister from Newfoundland and Labrador, says, “When you see other provinces with a smaller geography and a much larger population and are receiving a large portion of equalization payments, I challenge anybody to explain to me how Newfoundland and Labrador is still considered a ‘have’ province.”
  • Alberta Premier Rachel Notley states, “It’s disadvantaging Alberta,” and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney says, “This is a slap in the face to Alberta. It means we will continue to be forced, even when times are bad in Alberta, forced to subsidize public services in other parts of the country where politicians have been trying to block out pipelines and impair our energy industry.”
  • Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe states, “There are provinces across the nation looking to have this discussion. This is obviously a flawed program.”

In the end, the Trudeau Government ignored these calls for a review by the provincial leaders.

The arguments over the equalization payouts are fanning regional tensions between western provinces and Quebec, particularly this year when Quebecers helped to cancel the Energy East pipeline project. As Alberta Conservative Leader Jason Kenny points out, “We’ve been sending Albertans’ tax dollars to politicians who have opposed our energy industry, which helps to create the wealth transferred through equalization.”

Reflecting westerners’ frustrations, Don Braid, Calgary Herald’s political editorialist, observes “rarely has there been a sneakier ploy… The closest for sheer nose-thumbing gall may be the 1980 meeting of Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet in Lake Louise, to discuss details of the National Energy Program.”

The inequity of the federal equalization formula is underscored when considering the total amounts of federal payments to provinces since 1957 — the year these annual payments were introduced.

NL – $ 25 B

PEI – $ 10 B

NS – $ 47 B

NB – $ 46 B

QB – $ 221 B

ON – $ 19 B

MB – $ 50 B

SK – $ 8 B

AB – $ 92 M

BC – $ 3 B

The figures reveal that in the last 61 years Quebec has received more than half of all equalization dollars. Now the Trudeau Government has assured Quebec receives its cash bonanza for another five years. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is blunt about the unfairness of it all: “Five years of zeroes for Saskatchewan, Alberta, Newfoundland, while Quebec keeps receiving $50-$60 Billion.”

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS.  ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK:  https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-inequity-of-canadas-equalization-payments/

 

 

The most poignant moment of Parliament’s Spring Session

Chris George has begun writing a weekly news column for The Niagara Independent covering federal politics and happenings on Parliament Hill. Here is his third column which appears in the Independent on Fridays and reposted in this By George Journal on Sunday mornings.

On Parliament Hill, time stood stand, or rather any sense of time was lost in the surreal tension of Wednesday, May 2nd. Members of Parliament were shocked. News travelled in whispers of disbelief. And then there was an oppressive sadness that enveloped the Nation’s Capital and left anguished MPs groping for words, as we all do when faced with a close friend’s passing.

That Morning

Wednesday morning, Gordon Brown – Gordie to everyone who knew him – had started his day playing hockey with friends at the Ottawa Morning Hockey League. The MP made it to his Hill office and sometime shortly before 10 o’clock he had a heart attack. Paramedics performed emergency resuscitation efforts en route to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

At 57 years young, Gordie leaves behind his wife, Claudine, and two sons, Chance and Tristan.

Gordie  

Gordie was ever-popular – a man with a big heart who cared deeply about his home community and its people. Before he entered federal politics, Gordie was a municipal councillor in the Ontario seaway town of Gananoque, He was also president of the 1000 Islands-Gananoque Chamber of Commerce and chair of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission. Gordie was also a great athlete, a Canadian kayaking champion and an avid hockey player.

In 2004, he was first elected to the House of Commons and then reelected in 2006, 2008, 2011 and in 2015 when he received nearly 50% of the vote from the electorate of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.

Gordie was a duty-bound, responsible and respected Parliamentarian and, most recently, was appointed by the Prime Minister to sit as a member of the influential National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.

“One of the Good Guys”

On that Wednesday, the House proceedings were cancelled. Instead, MPs gathered in the hallowed Chamber to pay tribute to their friend. Gordie’s blue hockey jersey with his number, 27, and a vase of white flowers were place on his desk. Beside the jersey was a framed photo – Gordie smiling, stick raised.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer led the MPs reflections by describing Gordie as the “quintessential happy warrior”, “He was an eternal optimist, who was always quick with a compliment or a supportive word. He recognized that the challenges of this place on members can be very, very difficult and he wanted to make sure our caucus supported each other, not just on the professional level, but on the human level as well.”

Green Party MP Elizabeth May stated: “I don’t think there’s a single person in this place who knew Gord in his life who would have had a bad word to say about him. And in politics, I don’t think there’s any greater tribute to a human being than to be universally well-liked and loved by colleagues in this place.”

There were many moving tributes that afternoon, but perhaps the rawest reaction to the news of the day came from Muskoka Ontario MP Tony Clement, who was a close friend since 1981 when Gordie and he were young Progressive Conservatives. “He’s just a good man. He was always there for all of us. I’m just at a loss for words. I’ll miss him every minute of every day.”

Clement candidly reflected on the pace of life in politics, “I’m not trying to be morbid, but it’s a death trap for people sometimes. It takes years off your life, and I know we do it willingly, but sometimes the price is very high.”

Then later, Clement tweeted, “He’s been a constant inspiration. He was one of the good guys.”

In remembering Gordie as a passionate, thoughtful politician and a loving family man, we are all reminded of just how precious and fleeting our time is.

 

A Postscript

With a sense that he needed to do something to respond to the sudden death of his colleague, MP Rob Nicholson ordered hundreds of special pill cases to hand out on the Hill and in his Niagara Falls riding. Only weeks after “that morning,” Nicholson accompanied by Gordie’s widow, Claudine, announced his initiative in front of the doors to the House of Commons. Nicholson explained: “Taking aspirin may buy you time should you begin to experience the symptoms of a heart attack. In the hopes of preventing more fatal heart attacks, this pill holder can be attached to your key chain – ensuring that a safeguard is always on hand.”

Another fitting tribute to Gordon Brown.

 

Chris George is an Ottawa-based government affairs advisor and wordsmith, president of CG&A COMMUNICATIONS.  ChrisG.George@gmail.com

LINK: https://niagaraindependent.ca/the-most-poignant-moment-of-parliaments-spring-session/