Mike Sullivan may have misused office space for partisan rally

Conservatives and Liberals are attacking the NDP MPs, including Mike Sullivan, for misusing their community offices as staging grounds for political events such as door-to-door blitzes. This would violate the rules about spending government money.

Sullivan comes under particular scrutiny in a CBC story, which says,

But at least one NDP MP has used his constituency office as a gathering place for a more overtly partisan event.

Mike Sullivan used his Toronto office earlier this month to gather supporters for a bus ride to a downtown rally with NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

 

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The rules governing the use of government resources—including MPs offices—are uncommonly clear: MPs are not allowed to use offices for

 the administration, organization and internal communications of a political party [or] activities designed, in the context of a federal, provincial, or municipal election, or any other local election, to support or oppose a political party or an individual candidate

And that is the nub of the issue. Was Mulcair’s rally an election rally?

I think so. Sullivan himself tagged his tweets #NDP, and wrote in a Facebook post

This past Sunday, Thomas Mulcair spoke to our wonderful city of Toronto. His message was one of hope not fear and optimism not despair….  It’s time to build a more progressive and generous Canada. In the next election say no to the same old kind of politics, turn away from the talking points of cynicism and negativity, and vote for the change you want – and actually get it.

However, in response to the CBC story, Sullivan said:

My constituency office was not used for partisan purposes – it happened to be a convenient location for folks to meet before getting on a bus, near parking and 11 bus routes. As far as I know, the freedom to assemble is still in the Charter of Rights & Freedoms.

It is true; we still have the right to assemble. Next time, though, Sullivan supporters might consider exercising those rights in the Tim Horton’s just down the street.

 

UP Express nearing completion.

The UP Express is close to becoming a reality. Beginning today, Monday, March 30, Metrolinx will be testing its service at 15 minute intervals between 8:00 pm and 3:00 am, moving to daytime towards the end of April.

In early April, a footbridge across Lawrence just east of Weston Road will be installed to steer passengers safely to the train platform for UP Express and GO Train users. The big lift into place will occur on Saturday, April 11th and should be worth watching.

The North ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.

The North ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.

 

The North ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.

The South ramp of the Lawrence footbridge.

As for the John Street footbridge, this will be installed in the summer.

John Street looking towards Rosemount March 2015

John Street (and its unattractive overhead wiring) looking towards Rosemount. March 2015

The John Street bridge deck - artist's impression.

The John Street bridge deck – artist’s impression – looking towards Weston Road.

The John Street Bridge.

The John Street Bridge – artist’s impression – looking towards Rosemount Avenue.

The UP Express and GO stations are almost complete and are next to each other.

Note the higher platforms for the UP Express.

Note the higher platforms for the UP Express.

The new GO platforms and waiting areas.

The new GO platforms and waiting areas.

Artist's impression of the new Weston GO Station.

Artist’s impression of the new Weston GO Station.

It has been a long haul since the airport link was first proposed. The UP Express is seen by many to be an elitist project for the rich while the transportation needs of the many are unchanged. The trains will be diesel which is a disappointment as it was hoped that the new train would provide an opportunity to electrify the line. Sadly, the much hoped for all-day electrified GO service is still a far off dream.

What’s good about the changes that the UP Express is bringing?

First, the good citizens of Weston showed their political muscle by arguing for and receiving one of only two stations along the route. The fight galvanized the community and has ensured that Weston has a voice and can no longer be relied upon to meekly accept whatever planners and politicians decide is best for us.

Second, although the GO station moved further away from many people in Weston, its replacement is modern, visible (unlike the old station) right on Main Street (Weston Road) and is a visual reminder of access to an incredibly quick ride downtown (and frequent once all day GO service is launched). As has been pointed out before, even on the currently limited GO Train service, Westonians can glide downtown in comfort in 21 or 23 minutes while commuters from the much coveted Royal York subway area have a 34-minute journey and have to change trains, battling the crowds at St George.

Third, the old station was hidden and the new visual reminder and the upgrading of transportation infrastructure has begun to revive interest in Weston as a place to live. Real estate prices, once depressed are starting to recover and businesses are investing in our commercial areas. While the old GO station occupied virtually no real estate, its parking lot that doubles as the home of the Weston Farmers Market (and surrounding property) will be developed to be the focal point of an exciting ‘Community Hub‘.

The lesson we have all learned is that a community has to be vigilant and fight for good infrastructure. It won’t arrive by itself. In addition, developers want to make money regardless of the social cost to the community. We need continued citizen involvement and active and responsive politicians who will represent us regardless of the cost to their career ambitions or political beliefs. We also need to believe in our own community by patronizing local business. Only then will Weston achieve its awesome potential.

Train crash in Northern Ontario should concern Westonians

Weston is, among other things, a railway town.  That is why we should worry more than most about railway politics and economics—and about crashes that happen far from us.

Last weekend, a train derailed near Gogoma, Ontario. Nobody was killed or hurt. But imagine for a minute what a crash like this would do in Weston.

CN Derailment 20150308 CN Derailment 20150308CN Derailment 20150308

Fiery train crashes and explosions are now quite common, and a direct, predictable result of government failures. Because of the enormous growth in natural gas and tar sands production, train cars are now transporting vastly more oil than they did.

  • A pipeline may have helped, but the feds blew that by blowing off Kyoto.
  • Regulation might have helped, but the Conservatives are allergic to government oversight—leaving rail companies to be, to a large degree, self-‘regulating’.
  • Community pushback might help, but communities can only guess about what is passing through them, because the feds made it impossible to konw.

And, as always, it gets worse.

This is not the first crash in Gogoma. It’s the second crash in a month. There was another fiery crash in Illinois. And one in West Virginia. That’s four train crashes in a month. All were carrying oil.

And it gets even worse.

The Gogoma train cars were not the DOT-111 cars that lead to the explosion in Lac Mégantic and the deaths of 47. These were improved cars. Nor were these cars carrying Bakken Shale oil; they were carrying tar sands crude. So—and this is small comfort—the crash in Gogoma is a kind-of best-case scenario.

 

 

Business as usual at City Hall

In spite of the nice shine that Mayor John Tory is putting on the work of running Toronto, for lobbyists and the councillors who meet with them and accept their money, it’s business as usual.

A typical example is the sad story of how eight massive highway billboards were imposed on the people of this city by councillors acting against the public good. Sadly, our own councillor, Frances Nunziata appears to be part of the problem. According to influential blogger and Toronto activist, Dave Meslin, Nunziata, met with billboard lobbyists Paul Sutherland (twice) and David Bordonali (three times), accepting campaign contributions from them both. By mere coincidence, Ms Nunziata then thought she knew better than City Staffers and the citizen Sign Advisory Committee (both of whom rejected the signs) and voted to impose these eyesore traffic distractions onto our landscape.

Apparently this is quite normal – if you’re ever puzzled by the voting patterns of councillors, and why they seem to vote against the public interest, lobbyists might be the answer to your question.

Read the awful details of this depressing story here.

Mulcair lends an ear.

Mike Sullivan, Asha Ahmed, Tom Mulcair.

M.P. Mike Sullivan, Wiff owner Asha Ahmed, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair.

MP Mike Sullivan and Federal Opposition Leader, Tom Mulcair hosted a small business round table on Wednesday, February 11th, inside Wiff Restaurant, a Somali fusion eatery on Weston Road.

According to Mulcair, small and medium sized businesses are responsible for 80% of new jobs in Canada, hence his election year push into Weston to gauge the mood of Weston’s entrepreneurial community. He acknowledged that these are very tight times for small businesses in the GTA.

Mulcair is promising to lower the small and medium business tax rate from 11% to 9%, along with an accelerated capital cost allowance. He claimed that the Conservatives have reduced the tax burden for large businesses to the tune of $15 billion. ‘The rich are getting richer and the poor getting poorer’, he declared.

A wide variety of enterprises were represented included brewing, urban farming, book selling, money transfer, dry cleaners, chartered accountancy and store-front businesses. The common thread of comments seemed to be how hard it is to operate a business here in York South-Weston, especially when such difficulties are compounded by rampant obstructionism from all three levels of government. There seems to be a perception of super efficiency when it comes to enforcement of rules and assessment of taxes combined with a reluctance to provide any service in return. Another business owner bristled against what seems to be a fixed Federal Government procuring process. Mention was made of store owners unable to afford fuel so they operate in cold buildings.

Mulcair promised to look into the big banks’ refusal to work with companies that send remittance monies overseas. Only one bank deals with remittance companies but apparently charges outrageous rates.

Many business owners expressed the concern that until they make a profit, they won’t be paying any business income tax. I heard afterwards that one city inspector is presently making things difficult for at least two Weston businesses while others endure irritants such as excessive development charges and bloody-minded nit-picking. The entrepreneurs seemed to agree that more is needed to help businesses thrive along with less red tape and a reduction in municipal and provincial taxation.

Federal business tax reductions won’t help struggling businesses. Nine percent of zero is still zero.

Oh yes, citizens of Weston we can help: if you want a vibrant walkable shopping district, support local businesses. Buy Local.

Nunziata Spanks Ford.

After four years of being accused of being too gentle with the rambunctious Mayor Rob Ford, today Council speaker and our councillor, Frances Nunziata finally tossed (now Councillor) Ford from the council chamber. Ford’s sin was to make unwarranted accusations against defenceless members of council staff. Regardless, he stamped his feet and insisted on a council vote before he could be persuaded to take the hint. Kindred spirit Giorgio Mammoliti exiled himself in sympathy as Ford left the chamber.

Ever the master of the put down, Mammoliti declared afterwards that ‘Nunziata should get off her high horse and start riding a donkey for a while’.

While it’s unclear what Councillor Mammolliti was referring to, the rest of us can only hope that she heeds the advice and continues to ride both donkeys.

Sullivan’s Bill

mikesullivan

Politics is a bit of a balancing act between public service and loyalty to your party. The taxpayer subsidizes the public service part and the party is supposed to take care of things like canvassing, advertising and fundraising. On the one hand, MPs receive government money in order to hire assistants and run their offices. This money also includes provisions for communicating with constituents on the work that they are doing. On the other, MPs are supposed to draw a firm line between partisan spending on things like canvassing and advertising (which should be paid for by the party) and helping constituents who come to them with a problem.

Some aspects of political spending are easy to categorize. For example, election signage and campaign leaflets should always be paid for by the party. The line gets thin when a party uses tax money to promote itself. For example, MP’s newsletters not only report to constituents but often paint the member in an unduly flattering light. The recent string of federal government TV commercials seem to be telling Canadians that the Federal Government is working hard for you and, by the way, it’s led by a wonderful, God fearing, military-worshipping Prime Minister and his talented Cabinet. In fine Canadian tradition, the Liberals did exactly the same when they were in office – not to mention AdScam.

In this grey and murky world, the NDP has been found guilty of spending tax money on partisan activities by the seven-member Board of Internal Economy, a parliamentary committee (controlled by the Conservatives) that has deemed the pooling of MPs money allocations (sent to create satellite offices in Quebec City and Montreal) to be partisan spending. The committee has presented the NDP with a $2.7 million bill that needs to be paid. While the Party is appealing the order to the courts, the NDP Caucus must cough up the money a.s.a.p. Naturally, Quebec MPs will be paying the lion’s share while most outside Quebec, like our own Mike Sullivan are being billed $1288.

Sullivan claimed to WestonWeb that the BOIE is an, ‘Ever-secret kangaroo court’ and that the truth, ‘Will be brought out into the open when we are in government. We followed all the rules. No partisan work was done.’ Whether or not the NDP is guilty, it is a moral and financial blow in an election year, and an expensive one for some Quebec MPs

In the meantime, those thinly disguised Government of Canada / Conservative Party commercials continue to help us understand what the government is doing for us annoy – and all paid for by the taxpayer. But that’s ok because the government is in charge and they would never lie to us would they?