Hussen defends refugees

Ahmed Hussen, our MP, spoke in the House this week about the deaths of 400 refugee-applicants off the shore of Italy.

He said “I urge Canada to provide leadership and work with our international partners to ensure that those fleeing persecution have safe passage to countries that guarantee them the protection they are entitled to under international law.”

Quite so.

Last month he was pleased to meet the Turkish autocrat Erdoğan, whose government in February locked out  35,000 Syrian refugees fleeing bombardment.

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Toronto Star looks at corporate donations across the city.

The Toronto Star has published an in-depth look at corporate election influence across the city. The article has details on every ward in the city.

Some of the ‘notable’ contributors in Ward 11 donate liberally to other councillors’ campaigns and have (as in the case of Robert Deluce of Porter Airlines and Tridel’s Stephen Upton) actually exceeded the legal donation limits. Surprisingly, there are no consequences for wealthy business owners who do this.

The Star agrees that donation limits should be lowered.

Read all about it here.

Election Reform In Toronto

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For a while, there has been a movement to question the way politics is done in Canada – from the federal government to city councils. A major concern is that money from corporations, unions and the rich can move politicians to vote against the interest of ordinary people. It can be expensive to run an election campaign and commonly, federal and provincial parties have charged $5,000 or $10,000, for admission to an intimate soiree with a cabinet minister. It’s hard to justify such access for the rich, even if politicians claim it makes no difference. It looks as if the Wynne Liberals are seeing the light and may ban the practice.

At the Toronto City Council level, lobbying is another contentious matter. Currently all lobbyists must be registered and a list is kept of meetings between lobbyists and councillors. Some lobbyists have now taken to hiring other companies to lobby on their behalf to conceal their activities. It’s a constant cat and mouse game that council needs to address soon.

Donations to candidates’ election campaigns

Cash donations are allowed only from individuals, (and the candidate and their spouse) and may not exceed $750 per person. If a person wishes to donate to several candidates, for the same council, the total they can donate is $5000. The spending limit for a campaign on things like signs, office supplies and paid staff is calculated by the number of eligible voters. In York South-Weston’s ward 11, this was about $36,000 for the 2014 election. Surprisingly, contributions are not limited to Toronto but may come from anywhere in the province.

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Questions about donors and donations:

Why do people donate to candidates?

Probably because they feel that they will be heard. They may like the voting record of that councillor. Politicians are quick to say that their votes are not influenced by individual donations but then one must ask why don’t more ordinary citizens contribute?

What is a typical donation to a Toronto Council candidate?

It’s quite high. Few donations to Toronto councillors seem to be under the $50 threshold which most people would be comfortable with. The only contribution below $200 in Ms. Nunziata’s campaign was one of $20 and that was from the Councillor herself.

Does a contribution affect the voting record of a politician?

All politicians will tell you that lobbying efforts and campaign donations make no difference. If that were true, lobbying and donations would dry up. Lobbying and donations are legal and effective ways to ‘bend the ear’ and possibly the vote of a politician.

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Do contributors get a rebate?

The city will refund 75% of contributions up to $300 and 50% above that. A donor’s payment of $750 would cost him or her only $300 as the city would rebate $450. This means that donors from inside and outside the city have their payments subsidized by Toronto taxpayers.

What happens to money not spent in a campaign?

Unspent campaign money and money over the campaign limit must be donated to the City to assist with the cost of donor rebates (see below). Signs and office supplies may be retained for the next election but their value will be counted towards the next campaign’s expenses.

Can we find out the names of campaign donors?

The process of donations is on the public record and all candidates’ campaign donations and the names of donors are available online. In the case of Ward 11, which has 34,128 eligible voters,136 individuals, most of whom live outside the ward, donated a total of $47,320.

A breakdown of the donations to Councillor Nunziata’s campaign:

  • Only 136 people donated to Ms. Nunziata’s campaign.
  • No person gave less than $200.
  • 45% of donor money comes from outside the City of Toronto.
  • Less than half of the donors were eligible to vote in Ward 11.

Some notable and large contributors of interest (I have attempted to find the commercial or political connections of the donors) include:

  • Rueben Devlin $200 – President & CEO Humber River Hospital
  • Robert Deluce $300 – President of Porter Airlines
  • Karla Ford $750 – Doug Ford’s Wife
  • Alex , Bela and Jack Matrosov $2000 – Checker Taxi
  • Frances Nunziata $20
  • Matthew Pantalone $750 – Developer
  • David Paiva $750 – Luso Canadian Masonry Ltd.
  • Cormac O’Muiri $500 – from Mississauga
  • Dero Sabatini $400 Mississauga – TD Bank VP (Etobicoke)
  • Marvin Sadowski $500 – Former Developer?
  • Stacey Scher $600  – All Canadian Self Storage
  • Bruno Schickedanz $750 – Developer and Woodbine horse owner
  • Conrad Schickedanz $250 – Developer
  • Tony Scianitti $750 – Developer
  • Darryl Simsovic $400 CEO – Trillium College (Private career college)
  • George Seretis $400 – Easy Plastic Containers Vaughan
  • John Ruddy $750 – Ottawa Developer
  • Alan Tonks $200 – Former YSW MP
  • Chris Tonks $300 – TDSB Trustee
  • Alan Tregebov $200 – Architect
  • Steven Upton $600 – Tridel
  • Susan Vavaroutsos $750 – Old Mill Cadillac (Lou)
  • John Ward $500 – Wards Funeral Home
  • Jack Winberg $200 – Weston Hub Developer
  • Hua Yang $500

It should be pointed out that every one of these donations is perfectly legal. What is up for discussion is whether extra influence is obtained by the few people who make donations and whether people from outside the city should be allowed to contribute or even receive a rebate.

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When a tiny number of individuals provide the campaign money, do they have an undue influence? Should council candidates not seek donation money from the tens of thousands of ordinary people in their wards? Are companies able to exert undue influence when CEO’s donate privately? Should the donation limit be lowered so that councillors are forced to seek more individual donations? Should donations from outside the ward or the city be either banned or ineligible for a rebate?

Bottom Line

Very few ordinary voters can afford $750 for a campaign contribution. For business owners, such a donation may be seen as a good investment regardless of the lack of a guarantee. Since there are so few contributors to most councillors’ campaigns, the $750 donors certainly stand out.

It would probably be a good idea to keep donations to a maximum of $50.00 to force a candidate to gather a large base of support.

Another bone of contention for some is the donations to councillors from non residents.

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For a more in-depth look at lobbying at City Hall read this excellent article written last year by Dave Meslin. He is a big proponent of ranked balloting, another movement designed to improve the way elections are run. The Province of Ontario is allowing municipalities to use ranked balloting in their elections from 2018. Unfortunately Council in its wisdom voted to support ranked balloting and then shortly afterwards voted against it.

What do you think? Should the candidate donation limit be lowered from $750?

Are campaign donation limits too high?

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Payday loan shops face push

City Council is considering a motion to space out payday loan shops. The motion would force money stores to be separated by at least 400m and increase the licence fees from $1000 to $3000. The motion was seconded by Frances Nunziata.

There are at least 10 cheque-cashers and two pawn shops in Weston. This bylaw would not affect them; it will only affect new businesses. 

The law will reduce the number of cheque cashing businesses, but will likely enrich the existing owners by reducing competition.

The motion would also ask the province to reduce the interest rate to 35%. It will also build encourage credit unions and banks to set up (or not leave) priority communities, like our own.

Finally, it will ask the feds to look into a postal bank—an idea recently championed by ACORN in Weston.

Kathy Haley a scapegoat? Not so much.

Kathy Haley has resigned as head of the Union Pearson Express effective March 31st. She has been employed by Metrolinx since July 2011 and came in with high hopes to run a successful airport express. There are two interesting videos on YouTube that encapsulate the hopes and aspirations of Ms. Haley and they certainly don’t seem to mesh with reality.

Watch this first video taken in Vienna when she confidently announces, “I’m developing and building a new air-rail link for Toronto”. Along with giving the impression of building the train single-handed, she frames herself as a person able to explore and adopt the needed expertise.

In the second video, taken in late 2014, Ms Haley makes some excellent points about marketing and the customer, “If you put the voice of the customer on the table, it’s hard to argue with his or her voice”. Unfortunately those words were uttered just months before the UP Express opened in July 2015 with outrageously high fares. Presumably once the train began running, it became hard to listen to the customers because they were nowhere to be found.

Once the UP Express was up and running, Ms. Haley became its official cheerleader and her new goal was to get more bums on seats. The bean counters in the Ontario Liberal Government had decided that operating costs had to be recouped through passenger revenue and Ms. Haley was given the impossible task of encouraging people to pay exorbitant fares that were devised by and approved by the Ontario Government through the nodding heads of the Metrolinx Board. All this in spite of the Auditor General’s advice (based on Metrolinx’s own figures) that ridership would be low and a fare price over $22.50 would be too high. The Board decided that regardless of the reality, high fares would not be a problem for the target customers (presumably those mythical captains of industry for whom money was no object).

As the months dragged on with no significant change in ridership, Ms. Haley was regularly seen earnestly arguing that despite the awkward facts, passenger numbers really were improving and a breakthrough was imminent. This flew in the face of many anecdotal reports of almost empty trains. Each grudgingly parsimonious fare promotion and discount was greeted with excitement by Ms. Haley and with a yawning indifference by the public. Bums remained off seats.

The final straw came during the most recent Valentine’s Day giveaway when hordes of people waited for hours to try out the service. The glaring gap between the huge interest in UPX and Ms Haley’s declaration that ‘once people know that we’re here, passengers will flock to the service’ simply became untenable. The truth was quite simple. Fares were too high. Their reduction finally came about through a humiliating but necessary intervention by the Premier. Already passenger numbers have doubled as fares have become affordable. Weston residents have a fast portal to downtown for a reasonable cost.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who earns an such an awesome salary ($249,020.54 in 2012). No doubt she has a golden parachute to soften the landing until the next well-endowed gig comes along. While her resignation is understandable, the other players in this debacle (in the immortal words of Ricky Ricardo), “Have some ‘splainin’ to do”. These would be the Metrolinx Board of Directors, Metrolinx Chair Robert Pritchard, CEO Bruce McCuaig and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

Last but not least, the Premier was herself Transportation Minister in 2010 when private consortium SNC Lavalin pulled out of building UPX when tit was clear there was no chance of making a profit. She knew the task was impossible from the start. Wouldn’t it be nice if all players acknowledged their individual blame in this sequence of events instead of hoping that Ms Haley’s departure will clear the air? Some more resignations would not go amiss.

Scotiabank gives Weston one last wedgie.

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Right at the corner of Weston and Lawrence sits a unique wedge shaped building that has been there for decades. On July 22nd, the occupant, Scotiabank, will be pulling out of 1885 Weston Road in an attempt (one presumes) to maximize shareholder value. This in spite of earnings up a healthy 6% over the first quarter of last year.

Our local politicians can blather all they want about the evils of payday loan companies in the area but here is a profitable, successful corporation demonstrating that it cares so little about its customers, they can now do their banking at the next closest branches at Weston and Eglinton or Lawrence and Keele – a hefty hike or a $6.00 round trip by TTC. These are the same compassionate folks who recently cut hundreds of jobs in Alberta.

For those of us who don’t use Scotiabank or who do their banking electronically this is probably not a big deal. For low income folks, this is another push towards payday loan companies. Many seniors are not comfortable banking by computer and will be severely inconvenienced by this closure. In addition, as a sign of confidence in Weston’s emergence from decades of neglect, this is a terrible setback. No doubt yet another payday loan company will open in its place.

If I was Councillor Frances Nunziata, MPP Laura Albanese or our non-resident MP Ahmed Hussen, I would be in front of the branch waving placards protesting the closure – in fact I’ll be happy to be part of any such demonstration should any of these representatives wish to show their displeasure and shame Scotiabank for their vote of non-confidence in our community. Embarrassing Scotiabank is probably the only way to get any reconsideration especially if as a result, people decide to move their money to the remaining banks in the area; TD Canada Trust, RBC and BMO.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada is interested in hearing from customers who will be inconvenienced by this move: 1-866-461-3222.

If you would like to express your displeasure to Scotiabank directly, call 1-888-722-3970.

And finally, a quote from the lovely folks at Scotiabank:

Although our reach is global, our energies are focused on individual customers, employees, and shareholders, and on building a strong community presence.

YSW NDP AGM

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 10.12.19 AMNext Monday, March 21 will see the annual general meeting of York South-Weston’s New Democrats. On the agenda will be the task of electing a new executive.

Guest speaker will be Peter Tabuns, NDP parliamentary critic on the environment and education.

  • Date: Monday March 21
  • Time: 6:30 – 9:30 pm
  • Place: York Civic Centre, 2700 Eglinton Avenue West.

For more details read here.