Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reforming Social Assistance - Evidence Based Rates

In the mid-nineties Mike Harris’ government reduced social assistance rates in Ontario by 22%. 
There was no economic rationale for this move – just a stupid, mean spirited, ill informed attempt to make social assistance rates unattractive and presumably to make people find jobs that didn’t exist or that they weren’t qualified to do.
In addition, getting on to social assistance was made much more difficult as people were forced to reduce their assets before qualifying.  What kind of reductions?  Well, today a single person applying for Ontario Works is permitted to have a maximum of $592 in assets in order to qualify so that they can receive a maximum of $7,104 annually.

The issue of inadequacy of social assistance rates must be addressed.  At the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, where I work, we believe that social assistance rates need to have some relation to the actual cost of rent, food and other basic necessities in communities across Ontario.
A few years ago the Clinic, with the leadership of staff lawyer Craig Foye, drafted legislation that proposed the idea of setting up an expert panel that each year would recommend evidence-based social assistance rates to the Provincial Government. “An Act to Establish the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board” (Bill 235) was introduced for first reading as a private member’s bill in the Ontario Legislature by MPP Ted McMeekin on June 4, 2007. Unfortunately, the Legislature was then prorogued the next day in anticipation of a fall election, meaning the Bill was effectively discontinued. The Bill has not yet been reintroduced. Since that time the Clinic and others have continued to advocate with government to implement a process for determining evidence-based social assistance rates.  You can read the proposed legislation at

Recently the Clinic prepared a submission to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario submission. In that submission we made the following recommendation:
That the Government of Ontario establish an arm’s length body to recommend evidence-based social assistance rates on an annual basis. Those rates should be based on an analysis of the actual costs of rent, a healthy food basket, and other basic necessities in communities across Ontario, and should provide a level of assistance that will allow individuals and families to live with dignity. An example of such a body is the Ontario Social Assistance Rates Board as proposed in the former Bill 235 introduced on June 4, 2007.

Next month the Commissioners are coming back with a report on Options for reforming the system.  Hopefully, the rates board will be among the options on the table.

You can keep up to date on this matter by checking the clinic website at

Monday, October 03, 2011

Mississauga Inquiry

"I really believe the citizens of Mississauga have confidence that I've always put Mississauga first in all negotiations during my time over past 33 years," McCallion said during a news conference. "If any citizen feels that I was in conflict, I think the commissioner has clearly indicated that I was not in conflict within the (act)." from CP 24

That’s Mayor McCallion’s opinion. Not all would agree.

Hopefully, though, we can steer clear of a lengthy wrangle on Mayor McCallion's shortcomings and use the report to make necessary reforms to our municipal systems.

Recommendations in Updating the Ethical Infrastructure would take conflict issues out of the realm of individual opinion and make city council’s work more transparent. That’s at the crux of the report.
In the Executive Summary of the 400 page document Justice J. Douglas Cunningham comments on a Mayor’s duties specific to the issues before him:

Re the Mayor’s Obligation to make Reasonable Inquiries
If the Mayor has reason to believe that a relative’s involvement may put her/him in a real or apparent conflict position they need to make reasonable inquiries. In this case “even if Mayor McCallion did not understand” the extent of her son’s interest “she knew her son stood to benefit financially if the World Class Development (WCD) transaction was successfully completed.”

Conclusion: “She should have made further inquiries.”

Re the Responsibility to keep Council informed.

A mayor has an obligation to keep Council up to speed on matters. In this case Council “does not appear to have been aware of the Mayor’s private interventions.”

Conclusion: “She should have identified and disclosed to council the nature and extent of her son’s involvement in WCD.

Re: Duty to Refrain from Official Action where Conflict Exists

A municipal politician should refuse involvement in a file when she/he becomes aware of a real or apparent conflict of interest. Justice Cunningham distinguishes between the Mayor’s legislative and executive roles. Mayor McCallion essentially declared a conflict of interest re her legislative role but not for her executive function.

“It is no answer say that her actions were done for the benefit of the City Of Mississauga when her son stood to make millions of dollars if the deal was concluded.” She should have refrained from further involvement...and not simply withdrawn from her legislative role.”

Cunninghams’s analysis leads to sound recommendations which, if put in place, will prevent such situations from occurring in Mississauga and other jurisdictions. Specifically, the term “pecuniary interest” should be replaced with “private interest,” guidelines for lobbyists will be prescribed and a strengthened role for integrity commissioners should be put in place. These are just a few of the recommendations that jump out from a quick read of the Executive Summary.

The general thrust of the recommendations is that overall greater transparency “will serve to protect the public interest by removing possibilities for members of council to discharge their public offices in the pursuit of private interests.”

We need to move on this and not get bogged down with Hazel McCallion’s particular and unique situation.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Scamming Cities #2

You are probably wondering what is happening with the Edmonton Oilers since we last reported in August.
Will beleaguered owner Daryl Katz be able to save the franchise for the City of Champions?

Well he’s working on it but the clock is running –his clock anyway - as he has given the City until Halloween to approve his plan.
Even after two and a half years of discussion, as the Edmonton Journal reported last week, council might have to vote on the deal before all the details are worked out. Incroyable!!

The new rink will cost $450 million. The Katz Group will come up with $100 million, $125 million will come from a ticket tax, and $125 million will come from the city through a levy and “other reassigned funds.”

In addition, if the arena deal goes ahead, the city would probably also need to budget between $57 million and $72 million to buy the land and build an LRT station and a pedestrian bridge, the Journal reports.
The two details not yet worked out:

#A gap in the funding of $100 million.
#The fact that Northlands who own the rink where the Oilers now play has yet to agree to not compete with Katz’s new subsidized facility.
Today the Alberta Conservatives choose a new leader. That individual will have a lot to say on the $100 million gap although some local pols claim it is a done deal.
On the non compete aspect of the deal I can offer now advice. Unfortunately, I believe, well known non-compete experts David Radler and Conrad Black will not be available to provide their wise counsel.
Northlands runs about 2,500 events each year. Going back to 1879 it was created for the purpose of “bringing together farmers and agriculturalists.” It has, what it calls, a ‘time honoured tradition of dedication to community service.” Over time Northlands’ focus has broadened so that they now work with partners” to attract and produce world class events.” But its facility (Rexall place) needs $200 – 250 million in retrofits.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation chimed in yesterday calling the idea of the Oilers leaving “an empty threat.” A media release said:

"We know that Edmonton is one of the best markets in the whole NHL right now to have a team. Their claim of making this big investment and they're willing to stay here, is all worth nothing and is just a bunch of spin to make people scared that they might pull out and run away. That's not going to happen."

Have you seen this picture before?
I’ll take some inspiration from Oliver Hardy – just “another fine mess.”