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.
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.
The Etobicoke-York Community Council voted this week to inspect many (but not all) of the payday loan shops in Weston.
Payday loan shops are very common in Weston, but their social value is dubious. Stores such as Money Mart and Cash Money offer small loans at high interest rates for short durations, among other services. Perhaps because of the low average income in Weston, payday loan storefronts are very common.
Council has made several recommendations to put pressure on the loan shops, though direct curbs seem out of reach. The city will ask the province to investigate what can be done to reduce “problems” such stores cause. Council will also investigate whether they can be licenced by the city.
City staff will be asked to bear down on the operations. They are being directed to address “the issues arising from this type of business”.
Finally, licencing staff will also investigate payday loan shops along Weston Road and Jane Street. It is not clear what, if anything, staff will be able to do against the loan shops—or, in fact, if anything should be done until the “problems” and “issues” are more clearly defined.
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”.
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?”
Weston Public opened its doors to its youngest class yesterday. The school hosted an information night for its incoming class of junior kindergarten students—and their parents.
Next year’s kindergarten class is an important one: it is the first year that Ontario will have full-day kindergarten. Both local elementary schools, Weston Public and HJ Alexander, will be part of the pilot project.
The information night started with an open house, and students and parents were allowed to tour the building. At 7:30, the principal and some faculty spoke to the assembly.
Weston Public is, according to Principal Baglione, “the best little school in the city”. Ms Di Vincenzo emphasized the educational philosophy of the school, and how the kindergarten class will be play-based and fun. “Kindergarten children learn through play”.
While the mood was upbeat, there were two portions of the assembly that were disappointing to parents. Baglione said that the before- and after-care, which was supposed to be affordable, would cost between $25 and $35 a day. He said that interest in the program had diminished considerably once the price had been announced. Baglione also said that classes would have a cap of 26 students—6 more than the cap in grades 1 through 5. The kindergarten classrooms, though, will have two faculty: one teacher and one early-childhood educator. “Your little ones will be well taken care of”, he said.
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.