Friday, May 06, 2011

From owning bars to provide group homes for children

Jody Paterson takes an interesting look at the for-profit group home in Prince George where an 11-year-old was tasered.
Paterson writes:

"The owner of the group home, Taborview Programs, is a home-grown Prince George entrepreneur, Jordy Hoover. He’s better known in the region for the many bars and liquor stores he owns.
Hoover also owns 30 greenhouses, a nursery growing three million seedlings for the forest industry, and a gravel operation. A 2009 story in the Prince George Citizen described him as having 'a diversified portfolio of business in the city.'
That portfolio includes 26 beds for youth with profound behavioural problems, disabilities or other special needs. Hoover received almost $3 million from the Ministry of Children and Family Development in 2009-10 to provide those services. (That same year, he and his companies donated more than $32,000 to the B.C. Liberal Party.)"

You can read the piece here.

Crossed the 300,000 visit mark today

To the site, that is. I can't remember when I added Sitemeter, and so don't know how long it took.
But anyway, thanks for stopping by.

HST report makes the tax a much tougher sell

The Liberals’ hope of saving the HST took a big blow this week.
The government asked an impressive expert panel to do an independent report on the tax, hoping to build support.
Instead, the report trashed the government’s claims. 
The panel did find the tax would help the economy and result in more jobs. 
But it would also increase taxes for 85 per cent of families and reduce taxes for business. The costs to families were greater than the government had claimed. The economic benefits were much smaller. The government’s credibility on the HST was further shredded.
Three issues are likely to come into play in the referendum — the actual impact of the harmonized sales tax, the incompetence or dishonesty of the government in introducing it and the costs of getting rid of the HST.
They all matter. And the report offers the most credible assessment so far of all three.
The report found the harmonized sales tax will cost families and individuals an extra $1.33 billion a year, after accounting for the rebates and tax changes introduced to ease its impact.
That’s $295 for every person — adults and children — in the province.
In practice, the impact isn’t the same for everyone. Broadly, the more you spend the more you pay. Only the poorest people, with incomes under $10,000, will come out ahead thanks to tax rebates, the panel found.
Everyone else is paying more as a result of the HST. For a family with a household income of $70,000, the HST adds $527 a year in taxes on basic living expenses, the report says. That doesn’t include the HST on less frequent items, like new home purchases or big repairs.
That’s far more than the government claimed when it introduced the tax. In fact, its website set up to sell the tax continues to claim a family at that income level is only paying about $107 more in tax — one-fifth the amount the panelt says is the real cost.
The panel found the government has provided — and continues to provide — wildly inflated estimates of the economic benefits.
The government has been claiming, based on a $12,000 study it commissioned after the tax was introduced, that the HST would result in 113,000 new jobs by 2020. (The government did no studies or analysis before introducing the tax.)
But the panel says benefits are hard to assess, but the most likely estimate is an extra $2.5 billion in economic activity and 24,400 more jobs by 2020 — less than one-quarter the job growth the government has claimed.
Any new jobs are welcome. But the report is projecting just 3,000 additional jobs a year; B.C. added three times that number last month, by way of perspective.
The panel also found the government has presented inaccurate information on two other important aspects. The tax is not revenue neutral — while individuals and families are paying $1.33 billion a year more, companies are paying $730 million less. That means the HST is, in fact, a tax increase. It also means claims that consumers would also see price decreases because of the reduced tax on businesses were exaggerated.
The report radically changes the cost-benefit assessment from the glowing picture presented by the government. The extra tax on consumers will add up to more than $10 billion by 2020. The economic benefits will be much smaller.
And it will fuel the anger of those determined to vote against the tax because of the way it was introduced. The clash between the panel’s assessment and the information provided by the government will be seen as evidence of incompetence or dishonesty.
The report did find that returning to the provincial sales tax would be costly and difficult. The government would lose the extra tax revenue and likely have to repay the $1.6 billion Ottawa provided as an inducement to harmonize the provincial sales tax and the GST.
But its overall findings are bad news for the government.
Footnote: The government appears to be considering changes to the HST to make it more palatable, including promises of a lower rate. The problem is that it has insisted in the past that changes — such as exemptions for restaurant meals or for bicycles — are impossible under the agreement with the federal government.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Opposition choices: Co-operate, or be crushed

The federal election results have sparked a lot of discussion about the need for a party that could unite centre-left voters - people not inclined to vote for Harper’s Conservatives.
That rates a separate column.
But there are incentives for the opposition parties to co-operate now. If they don’t, they risk being rolled over by the Conservatives.
Jack Layton is the opposition leader. But his caucus includes many MPs who never thought they would be elected; they ran as placeholders. Some will likely be effective. Others will hate the job, or be dismal at it.
Unexpected political success is risky. I was living in Peterborough when Bob Rae’s NDP won a surprise Ontario election victory in 1990. Our MPP, who ran as a New Democrat candidate expecting to be defeated by a popular Liberal incumbent, ended up as energy minister. Six disastrous months later, she was dropped from cabinet. It was not a happy experience for anyone. The Rae government was a one-term flop.
The Liberals are shattered. Leaderless, adrift, rejected, demoralized and broke.
And while Green leader Elizabeth May is buoyant now, rightly, the challenges in Ottawa will be tough.
All parties face the end of public funding, one of the changes Stephen Harper promised if he won a majority. The funding - roughly $2 each year per vote received in the previous election - was an overly generous replacement when corporate and union donations were banned.
The change is huge.
The Green party raises about $1.1 million in donations from supporters, and received $1.9 million in public funding. Spending will have to be slashed.
The New Democrats got about $4 million in donations and $6 million in public funding. About 60 per cent of their spending is going to have to stop.
The Liberals got $7.3 million in public funding and $9 million in donations. They too face cuts.
The Conservatives will be affected. As the top vote-getters, they received $10.4 million in public funding.
But they also pulled in $17.7 million in donations. The other three parties combined received $15.1 million.
The opposition parties also face a skillful Conservative government, with - based on the finding of contempt of Parliament - a willingness to do whatever it takes to reach political goals.
The questions around long-term alliances, or new parties, are complex.
But if the NDP, Liberal and Green MPs don’t co-operate now, at least in the short term, they’re likely going to be shredded.

Hallsor on Lunn's defeat, and the election

Bruce Hallsor was Gary Lunn's campaign manager. (And a controversial figure in the last election - see here.)
He offered a simple, but inaccurate explanation for Elizabeth May's convincing victory over Lunn this time.
Hallsor said Lunn's support stayed about the same, and May united the non-Conservative
That's only partially true. Lunn actually captured about 3,500 fewer votes than he did in 2008.
And even if he had held all his support, he would have lost this time.
Hallsor said May's success was in winning Liberal and NDP support. "We're used to having the opposition split and Elizabeth pulled it together."
There's more basis for that claim. And the vote split was a factor that produced Conservative victories in a lot of ridings this election. The number of people voting jumped by seven per cent — about 4,500 more people cast ballots than in 2008.
It appears the Greens captured the interest of non-voters and had the organization to get them to the polls.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Conservatives poised for long time in power

Assuming Stephen Harper and the Conservatives don't mess up, they are now poised to settle into government for many years.
It's not just that Harper has finally won a majority on his fourth try.
But the victory came largely because of the dramatic collapse of the Liberals. The party, for the first time in Canadian history, fell to third place in Monday's election. With 34 seats as I write this, the party is desperately weak. It faces fierce challenges in the months ahead and might not survive.
The New Democrats made big gains as a result of falling Liberal support and the collapse of the Bloc Québécois. The party, for the first time in its history, has the second largest number of seats, at 104. Jack Layton will lead the official Opposition.
But the NDP surge also is largely responsible for the Conservative majority. (The Conservatives' targeted campaign also deserves credit.)
The Harper party's share of the popular vote scarcely changed, from 37.6 per cent in 2008 to about 40 per cent in this election.
That translated into a 20-per-cent increase in seats, because the NDP gained votes in ridings that had been held by the Liberals. In many of those, the result was a Conservative victory.
The Liberals are left in a dismal situation, which will only get worse. They will have a minor role in Parliament and face a potentially divisive leadership campaign to replace Michael Ignatieff.
Harper's majority means he will go ahead with his plan to end public financial support for political parties. Liberal donations will plummet as a result of their third-place finish, leaving the party short of the money needed to rebuild.
All this should create some hard decisions for the two main opposition parties. The Liberals aren't beaten into the dirt as the Conservatives were in the 2000 election, setting the stage for their takeover by the Canadian Alliance.
But they aren't far off. The Conservatives won 12 seats in 2000; the Liberals' 34 in this election isn't much more impressive.
The Liberals are lost. They can't pry votes from the Conservatives' base and they can no longer count on being the default choice of centre-left voters.
That's almost certain to lead to pressure to unite the centre-left, as Harper united the centre-right.
And those discussions will create additional problems for the Liberals, with members likely to be sharply divided on any alliance with the New Democrats.
The Bloc collapse was even greater than the Liberal stumble, with the party reduced from the 49 seats won two years ago to just three. That's not necessarily a good thing in terms of national unity.
The Conservatives have just six seats in the province; Quebecers will again be on the outside of the national government.
It's also hard to know what to make of Green party leader Elizabeth May's victory in Saanich-Gulf Islands. It's a historic win; the Greens have never had a seat in Parliament.
But at the same time, the party's support across Canada fell sharply and it has demonstrated no potential as a serious political force. May has four years to change that.
Now the attention shifts to Harper. His entire campaign was based on the need for a majority to allow him to complete his agenda (and the perils of a coalition by the other parties).
But Harper still only has the support of a minority of Canadian voters, and he faces some significant challenges in fulfilling his commitments. Big spending cuts, for example, will be needed to meet the timeline for eliminating the deficit, with no clear indication where those savings will be found.
And, based on the campaign, Layton will be an effective opposition leader. His success in the election came from a positive campaign that convinced many Canadians he understood the issues that mattered to them. He now has four years to reinforce that, while portraying Harper as out of touch.
It's customary to claim most elections bring dramatic change to the political landscape. This time, it's true.
Footnote: The Conservatives elected the most MPs from B.C. with 20, but they and the Liberals still lost seats. The Liberals are down to two MPs. The New Democrats gained and have 13 seats.

Reminder on strategic voting

A pretty thorough riding by riding guide is available here.

About those fat severance cheques

The federal election shifted attention from the $2.4 million in severance payments made after Christy Clark decided on some post-victory housecleaning. That's only a small part of the total cost - more people were fired as part of the purges.
The Times Colonist had a useful editorial Saturday, reprinted below.

"Generous severances

Taxpayers should feel abused by the rich severance payments to 13 senior managers terminated by Christy Clark days after she took office.

The payments totalled $2.4 million, or about $185,000 per person. The highest payment went to Gordon Campbell's displaced deputy Allan Seckel, who got $550,000. Paul Taylor received $114,000 even though he had only been hired as Campbell's chief of staff six months ago. The amounts will rise once bonuses are added.

The payments -first reported by Sean Holman of -raise two issues. First, did Clark need to terminate all these people, or could they have been offered other positions and continued to contribute? Most could and that would have been less disruptive and saved money.

And second, why are these payments so generous? Employees terminated without cause are entitled to severance and government managers should be treated no differently. Political staff, in particular, live with limited job security -if the election brings a new government, they are likely going to be looking for new jobs.

But severance is not supposed to be a windfall. It is intended to provide replacement income for a reasonable period, allowing the terminated employee to find comparable work. Typically, barring unusual circumstances, courts will award something like one month per year of service. Employers sometimes choose to continue monthly payments, rather than a lump sum, and halt the severance payments once the employee finds a new job.

Instead, the government chose to be generous with taxpayers' money. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon noted the maximum payments were equal to 18 months' pay, and said some of the people had been employees for years.

But in the private sector, the payments would almost certainly be much less.

The payments also highlight the gap between what the government considers fair for itself and for other British Columbians. The Employment Standards Act sets out severance payments for similar terminations. Under those rules, payments are capped at a maximum of two months, no matter how long an employee has served. Taylor's six months on the job would entitle him to severance pay equal to one week's salary.

People in the public sector have to be treated fairly, and pay and employment conditions should be competitive.

These payments go well beyond those standards."