Clean Train Coalition launching new campaign

The Clean Train Coalition is launching a new campaign to pressure politicians into taking a stand on the electrification of GO Transit.

The coalition has been very successful in the past. Pressure from it and other community groups forced GO Transit to make many expensive concessions along the planned Georgetown expansion. The Coalition is co-chaired by the NDP candidate for York-South Weston, Mike Sullivan.

The new campaign will ask local politicians from all levels to take a pledge to “call on Premier Dalton McGuinty to direct Metrolinx to electrify the Georgetown Corridor”.

This pledge campaign coincides with a vulnerable time for many politicians: the provincial and civic elections will both be this autumn. Politicians who refuse to take the pledge will look rather foolish when more expensive and expansive promises are falling like so many leaves from the trees.

The coalition says, though, and rather implausibly, that the pledge is meant to coincide with a City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Alan Tonks may have been tired and emotional

In a heated session on June 2, Parliament debated the costs of the G8 and G20 summit being held in Toronto. Alan Tonks asked a rather strange question of the PC defenseman Phil McColeman.

McColeman had given his justification of the costs of the summits. He said, in short, that the costs were the price of being on the world stage and within the realm of reason.

After a preamble, Tonks asked the following:

I know it is difficult to ask a question based on intelligence, but could the member share any intelligence that would be of the proportion that he has described with respect to nuclear threats, and so on, such that Canadians could say, God bless the government, that it is taking the appropriate initiative in keeping with that degree of possibility?

It is not at all clear what Tonks meant.

Tonks may have been asking whether the G8 and G20 summits are threatened by nuclear attack, and whether the $1B expense is to protect us against rogue nukes. At no point in the debate, though, had anyone else mentioned such a horrible possibility.

McColeman had said that the G8 would discussing how to reduce the chance of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons. Sensibly, he did not mention the possibility that the G8 would be the target for such an attack—doing so would inspire panic. Perhaps, then, Tonks meant to ask: Is Canada ensuring that terrorists don’t ever get nuclear weapons? That would match McColeman’s passing remark but not the rest of the discussion (why the G8 is costing so much). Interpreted thus, Tonks would be would be both wildly off topic and asking odd, slow-pitch questions. Would McColeman really answer “Nope. We’re not worried at all about nuclear-armed terrorists!”?

It is hard to see what Tonks could have been getting at. If he wanted to know whether the $1B was being spent on preventing nuclear attacks at the G8, he could have asked directly—if irresponsibly. The answer, however, is obvious: of course (some of ) it is. If he was interested in knowing whether the government worries about nuclear attacks on Canada, he should seen that such a question hardly suits his role in the official opposition. The question implies that Liberals are either unconcerned about nuclear annihilation or hopelessly naive about the duties of government.

McColeman had no idea what Tonks was talking about either. In what seems like a pointed rejoinder, he said:

Mr. Speaker, I believe the member’s question is what are the comparable costs. The one example that I would point out to the hon. member is, in Japan, when it hosted the G8, the costs were $1.7 billion just to hold the G8 in Japan.

Normally, avoiding the question is unbecoming. In this case, it was quite decent of McColeman to leave Tonks’ dignity intact.

Alan Tonks’ Salary

There is an uproar on Parliament Hill about transparency. It’s not the Afghan detainee scandal: it’s a screaming match about MP’s expenses.

Almost no MPs want their expenses to be transparent, but all parties want to appear transparent. The Conservatives are calling for more debate about MP’s expenditures, but won’t release the actual data. The Liberals this week released their member’s expenses to show the Conservatives up—never mind that the data are exactly the same as were released in the annual House of Commons report—and exactly as paltry.

Alan Tonks

According to the report, Alan Tonks’ office costs taxpayers about $575,000 a year. His office expenditures are $423,035, and the base salary for an MP is $155,400.

Tonks’ expenses do not compare favourably with his colleagues. The Prime Minister’s expenses are only 60% of Tonks’. Stephane Dion’s expenses are 20% less.

Tonks’ leader, Michael Ignatieff, spends only 13% more than Tonks does, as does Gilles Duceppe, the BQ leader. Jack Layton spends 30% more.

Constituents and taxpayers should be concerned with the expenses of a back-bench MP who spends like a leader. Unfortunately, until MPs reveal more detail, we won’t know whether Tonks’ expenditures were justified. His secrecy does not lend confidence.

Other Liberal MPs have released their expenses. Tonks should do the same. He has little to lose and much to gain.

My data, in OpenOffice format: Tonks’ expenses

Nunziata makes a controversial choice

This is slightly old news.

Frances Nunziata, city councillor for Weston,  has endorsed Rob Ford for mayor. She said at his campaign launch, “I know that Rob will make a great mayor. Council is out of control — spend, spend, spend”.

Rob Ford
Rob Ford

Ford is, to say the least, a controversial candidate. He is well known for two things: blustering and being ready to help his constituents. Despite his reputation, he is doing very well in the polls. He is now in 2nd place, after Smitherman.

Ford has been a rash on City Hall’s bum for many years and is greatly disliked by many councillors for his right-wing views and outspoken criticism of city spending. Generally speaking, Ford is extremely (if incoherently) socially and fiscally conservative. His platform includes reducing spending at City Hall by reducing the size and spending of council; improving “customer service”; eliminating the car and land transfer tax: and making the TTC an essential service.

Councillor Ford has said many preposterous things in the past that may yet come back to haunt him, and he has reserved unusual criticism for bicyclists, the homeless, and minorities.

I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

At Maple Leafs game in 2006: “Are you some kind of right-wing commie bastard? Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?”

Those Oriental people work like dogs. They work their hearts out … that’s why they’re successful in life. … I’m telling you, Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over, because there’s no excuses for them. They’re hard, hard workers.”

To homeless people: “Do you have a job, sir? I’ll give you a newspaper to find a job, like everyone else has to do between 9 and 5.” In 2005, Ford told a homeless protestor, “I’m working. Why don’t you get a job?”

Local connection to BP disaster

Alan Tonks, the federal MP for York South-Weston, sits on the Standing Committee for Natural Resources, a federal committee that oversees drilling for oil and gas. For the past two weeks, the SCNR has been interviewing experts and industry representatives and questioning their preparedness for a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon.

On May 13, the committee’s most notable guests were Anne Drinkwater, the CEO of BP Canada, and Gaéton Caron, the CEO of the National Energy Board, the federal agency that regulates drilling. Both Drinkwater and Caron were given some rough handling, particularly by the NDP’s Nathan Cullen.

Cullen unsparing questions of Caron and accused the NEB of being a booster for big business, saying it is  a “promoter of the oil and gas industry” and has been replacing regulations with guidelines.

Cullen asked Drinkwater and Caron about the oil industry’s plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean. The most contentious issue was the oil industry’s desire to reduce regulations, in particular the requirement for relief wells (used to end spills) to be drilled in the same year as leaks Because the summer is short and drilling can only be done where there is no ice, wells could leak catastrophically from one summer until the next if the industry is allowed this reduction in oversight.

Cullen hammered Drinkwater with tough rhetorical questions, saying, “two weeks before your rig caught fire… your company was in front of Canadian regulators asking for the relief well requirement to be lifted… Do you think that was a bad thing to ask for? And do you still support British Petroleum and other oil companies’ request to remove that safety regulation?”

The Bloc’s Paule Brunelle also asked tough questions of the Association of Energy Producers and BP but spread her fire over many targets. The Conservative and Liberal members were not particularly offensive to the delicate sensibilities of their guests. Tonks, unfortunately, said very little, leaving most of the work to Larry Bagnell, the Liberal MP from Yukon.

Gerard Kennedy joining Blue 22 opposition

InsideToronto.com is reporting that Gerard Kennedy, a powerful Toronto MP and Weston resident, will be creating a group to lobby for electrification of GO Transit trains.

The group appears to be comprised of politicians, not citizens. So far, 12 MPs are members, but the group will be open to “representatives of all levels of government, including the school board”. While InsideToronto does not name the MPs, they are likely the same ones that opposed Metrolinx in the past. If so, Alan Tonks will be included.

In the past, Kennedy has been reluctant to oppose the Blue 22 train. It was only in October of last year that he voiced his opposition to the airport rail expansion; even then, he was irresolute. To now have him organizing opposition (and not merely joining it) will likely bring joy to advocates. It will also put Alan Tonks under pressure. Tonks has not fully opposed Metrolinx’s plans and has even supported the airport link in the past. Gerard Kennedy could end up representing Weston better than its elected MP does.

Nunziata concerned about payday loan shops

Weston likely has more payday loan shops than any other part of Toronto. That may change, if only a little, as loan businesses come under increased pressure from local government.

For a large fee, payday loan shops will convert a post-dated cheque into cash. They are often used for short-term ‘cash crunches’, when a person is employed but does not have enough money to meet immediate expenses. The loans, however, are very expensive: Cash Money, a very popular franchise with 350 locations in Canada and 5 locations within 5 km of Weston, charges $21 for a 14 day loan of $100, the maximum allowed by law.

Payday loan and cheque-cashing business have been expanding rapidly but have recently been subject to much more regulation. Last year, the province restricted the amount of interest lenders could charge and limited their ability to ‘rollover’ loans—paying off one loan with another to the same client. These practices made it difficult for clients to get control of their debts.

The Etobicoke York Community Council (which covers Weston), heard a report today about payday loan stores. The report was commissioned because the council identified a “proliferation” of payday loan stores in the neighbourhood and because of concerns that these stores were operating without the correct permits. The council was concerned that some payday loan stores were accepting collateral (like old gold).

The report was referred for further review.