Casinos and the Private Sector

Our Mayor has distinguished himself again by revealing his total ignorance and lack of understanding about the issues at hand.  He suggests that “casinos” and the private sector can provide the transit we need without any additional revenue tools – which without the use of consultant’s English, would be called taxes.

First, he continues to use the discredited figure of $100mm per year for the City’s take of casino revenue.  That would not actually be “revenue” but money appropriated from deluded gamblers and at the expense of the previously existing City infrastructure.  Also, the ability of a casino to appropriate that much and give it to the City is without a doubt a pipe dream.  Windsor gets $3mm a year from its casino – which has contributed to the deterioration of Windsor’s downtown along with the effects of a bad economy.

However, let us for a moment, enter the Mayor’s fantasy world.  Toronto receives $100mm a year and that is a net addition to the income – pretend there are no negative City income effects from a casino.  Pretend that this money is 100% allocated to transit as well.

What effect does this have on our transit needs.  The Big Move has a projected budget of $2Bn per year.  This number is widely perceived as understated, but let’s take it at face value and look at what will happen with a no tax increase, fantasy casino revenue of $100mm scenario.  It will take 20 years to finance The Big Move – year one.  The whole project would take 500 years.  Maybe this plan is not so visionary.

As for the private sector – they will only invest in a scheme that has a guaranteed return.  Think of your own RRSPs.  Would you give money to a losing venture?  I think not.  Rob Ford’s embrace of the private sector is only a way of ‘borrowing” not a net contributor to any project.  Since the private sector wants to make a return on its investment, that borrowing is by definition more expensive for the City than the traditional method – issuing debentures.  There may or may not be “efficiencies” in asking private sector parters to enter Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) during the building phase, but that is a question to ask after the funding is in place.  The PPP does not wish to offer a free contribution to any project any more than you or I would want a portion of our RRSP to be given away.  If we want to make a real charitable contribution to a real charity, that is a distinct and separate matter based on our conscience and sense of obligation. Few of us would agree to pay more taxes than our neighbour.

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Casino – Part II

It is very upsetting to hear comments from the “mushy middle” that they will vote against a casino if Toronto does not get a “premium” take and if that take is not $100mm or more per year. These Councillors were elected to do what is best for Toronto. They were not elected to sell out a section of our City – likely downtown or the CNE – for $100mm per year. First of all, $100 mm is chicken feed. Our Mayor “blew away” $60mm per year by arbitrarily cancelling the vehicle tax. We should not suffer any negative social impacts at all for a measly hundred million.

If a casino is a good thing for Toronto – in it’s own right – then our Councillors should vote for it – if that is their opinion. That is not my opinion. If a casino is a bad thing for Toronto, then our Councillors should vote against it no matter how much a Casino may pay us to sell our soul. If a Casino is a bad thing – which I believe – then no amount of money should be enough to harm or even destroy our Downtown or even one single neighbourhood. I expect the Mayor, his brother and his cabal to have one opinion, the left on Council to have another, but I expect the “Mushy Middle” to make their decision on moral grounds. Making the decision to “sell out” based on “how much” is lacking in moral backbone.

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How the Right is Ruining our Society

The Right Wing of our society is a very diverse group.  It ranges from the lowest paid to the richest among us.  However, the agenda is very carefully administered by the richest to the detriment of most of society.

The rich use two key strategies in order to generate the votes that they need to impose their view on society – and at the same time maximise their wealth.  The first is implementing populist policies – especially tax cuts – that undermine the existing system. This is a pretty easy sell amongst the population as a whole – especially people that are living “paycheque to paycheque”. There is “waste”, they say, without exactly documenting what waste and how much.  Tax “relief” is offered as an antidote.  No empirical evidence is ever offered to show that we, as a society, can afford that tax “relief” but it is an easy sell to those who get to spend more of what the right calls “their” money.  The “painlessness” is reinforced by the lie that there will be no reduction in services.  The savings will all come from the “waste”.  This has proved, over and over, to be untrue.

The second lever that the right uses is the “politics of resentment”.  It appeals to the least fortunate amongst us who would, in reality, benefit the most from a progressive inclusive society that would spread the wealth to those who need it the most.  Instead, the right – the rich – persuade this group to resent anyone that has more – “I don’t get sick leave – or holiday pay – or job security.  Why should they?” becomes a mantra that is used to “lower all ships” – reduce others to poverty level wages.  This is in direct contradiction to the just and fair approach which is to spread the immense wealth of our society to more and more people and give more and more people a living wage and a lifestyle commensurate with our overall prosperity.

Tax deceases are easy to sell.  However, after they are in effect there is not enough money to fund existing programmes.  The right then says that a crisis has arisen and blames it on “overspending”.  The “only” solution, they say, is a cut in services.  No matter how “essential” those services may be, they say we have to bite the bullet together – and suffer.  Of course, those who are rich are not suffering at all.

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the tax base is funded by middle class and poor people.  The rich may pay progressive taxes that result in greater per capita payments, but there are not enough of them to carry the burden.  The vast majority of the taxes are paid by people who are not rich.  However, if the campaign to “erode the middle class” is allowed to proceed, the tax base will continue to shrink.  Ironically, as people need services more and more, the “crisis” of underfunding will erode those services more and more as well.

The bottom line is that the success of our society is based on two things – a viable middle class and a tax base sufficient to provide services.

The erosion of the middle class is a disaster from three perspectives.  First, the effect on families that have been cast out of the middle class into the working poor is well documented.  It is not a good situation.  Second, the tax base is eroded when families no longer have a middle class income.  This continues, the spiral.  Finally, and ironically, the shortsighted right wing rich perpetrators of this plan fail to understand that our overall economic prosperity is dependant on spending.  Without a “spending class” the rich will have no one to sell to and no matter how much they have depressed their “labour cost” they will not be able to run a profitable business.  Henry Ford – in many ways not a nice man and a right winger – paid a living wage to his employees so that they could afford to buy his cars.

The current spiral is beneficial to nobody and hurtful to all – but only in the long run.  In the short term it benefits the rich to look for short term gains to their ultimate dismay.

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Toronto is being besieged by Casino Operators who are attracted by our Mayor’s desire to get “money for nothing”.  Huge numbers are being tossed around and they are designed to influence the average voter in favour of casinos.  However, a pause is in order before endorsing this alternative.

First of all, any argument based on the “property tax” that a casino might pay is irrelevant.  Casinos have a tendency to displace other businesses and the property tax paid by a casino is offset by the property tax not paid by the displaced businesses.  The latter are often more benefit to the community than the casino related ventures.

The “hosting fee” is often touted as a benefit to Toronto.  Wild numbers are quoted at astronomical levels without any empirical support.  Windsor is reported to receive $3mm per year in hosting fees – a pittance.  Even if we accept the suggestion that the hosting fee may be $50mm, we have to remember that there are 3 million of us.  That is about $17 each every year or about $1.42 a month.  Hardly enough to make us do something that is otherwise bad for our City.

Casinos have many bad effects.  They drive out otherwise successful businesses.  They attract organised crime – loan sharks, prostitutes, pimps and other victims and victimisers. Gambling addiction increases with casino presence and either victim suffering or crime results from that affliction.

This is a great City.  We already have attractions that benefit tourists and locals.  We do not need a casino.

In any case, a Toronto casino is unlikely to attract any additional tourists.  There are two casinos in Niagara Falls, Ontario and one more in Niagara Falls NY.  There is a casino in Rama.  NYC residents have a choice of three casinos.  Atlantic City is losing money because of a casino in Philadelphia.  Windsor’s casino is suffering because there is a casino in Detroit.  No one is going to come to Toronto because we ruined our City by letting a casino have its sway.  Any casino customers would be local – and that is money that would be spent elsewhere in our economy in more healthy ways.  There is no upside for anyone except the big casino company that succeeds in persuading us to destroy our future for their benefit. That company would be sucking the lifeblood from our City for their profit.

Casinos have nothing to offer us.  We should – must – say no thank you.

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Rob Ford’s Verdict

The verdict is out on the Rob Ford conflict of interest debacle.  The judge’s decision is unequivocal – Rob Ford breached the conflict of interest law and the mandatory penalty has been imposed. As a progressive, I had hoped that it would not come to this – precisely because of the unfair and incorrect reaction that has arisen after this decision.

The conflict of interest law is without a doubt a blunt regulation.  If you are in conflict – knowingly or in a position where you should have known – you are out.  This was the decision that was made about Rob Ford.  He did not accidentally or inadvertently break the rules.  He was warned – multiple times.  He barrelled on anyway based on his belief that the rules do not apply to him.  The judge reminded him that they do.  Given the current law, the decision was fair and accurate.

The “Ford Nation” and Sue Ann Levy interpretation that the decision represents a campaign by “vindictive leftists” is nonsense.  All the leftists in the world could not have set Rob Ford up for a conflict of interest dismissal from office if Rob Ford had not committed the original conflict.  And he did have a conflict and he was caught.  The admittedly bad state of relations between the right and left is no worse now than during the Miller administration when Sue Ann and her cabal railed against “Socialist Silly Hall” without actually providing any substantiated backup to show that this was the case.

The idea that Mr. Ford should be absolved because his football charity is a “good cause” is also nonsense.  When a millionaire asks lobbyists to contribute to his favourite charity – and they do – the only only motive of the contributor is to curry favour.  This is the heart of any conflict of interest regime.  Nobody should be able to curry favour by doing something for the Councillor.  In any case, what the actual conflict case was about was Mr. Ford’s vote that he should not have to repay the $3,000 or so that had been requested by a previous council motion.  This was not anything to do with “charity” – it was a direct pecuniary interest of the Mayor.  I agree that the amount is trivial to Mr. Ford and that he was acting out of conviction – or stubbornness – or in actual fact a belief that the rules do not apply to him.  The latter is the ledge that he stubbed his toe against.

While it is inconvenient to those of us who wanted to see the Buffoon removed from office by a vote in 2014, the decision is in every way sound.


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Why is Rob Ford in court?

Rob Ford is facing a court date where he could be found in conflict of interest in his duties as Mayor and removed from office.  If the Judge decides to do so,  Mayor Ford could be barred from running again for up to 7 years.  Here is a summary of the events that lead to this situation.

Rob Ford runs a commendable football programme for teenagers and has a non-profit charitable foundation which supports this work.  Whatever one may think about Mr. Ford, it would be churlish to criticise his commitment to this cause and the cheerful way that he gives his time.  In his overenthusiastic naive way Mr. Ford used City resources, including his Councillor letterhead, to solicit contributions to his charity.  The letter was sent to lobbyists, or at least people who were on the City’s registered list of lobbyists.  I received a copy.  While it was obviously offside, there was no hint of partisanship or any attempt at political gain – only a request for support for this charity.

Mr. Ford was found to have made an improper solicitation by the City staff and asked to repay – from his own funds – the three thousand dollars or so that the campaign raised.  Mr. Ford, being the person he is ignored several requests for payment of the requested amount.

After he was Mayor, City Council debated about whether, notwithstanding the findings of the staff, Mr. Ford should be absolved of any responsibility to repay this amount.  This was an easy to support motion and cut through red tape to restore simple justice.  While, it could be argued that the lobbyists who contributed to Mr. Ford’s favourite charity may have wanted to curry favour with the Councillor, now Mayor, the amounts were insignificant.  Furthermore, it did not make sense for Mr. Ford to pay back a charitable donation with his own resources.  The motion passed easily.

Unfortunately for Mr. Ford, he not only participated in the discussion of this motion, but he also voted on it.  This was a clear conflict, but once again in his own brash way he ignored the rules.  Technically, there is no doubt that he is guilty of a conflict.  However, in the “real world” the affront is very slight and there was no personal gain for Mr. Ford.

I am disappointed that a faction that opposes the Mayor would use this situation as an attempt to unseat Mr. Ford.  Even if the electorate acted rashly (as I think they did) in choosing Mr. Ford, the fact remains that he was democratically elected by a large plurality.  This trivial conflict is not a good reason to turf a Mayor from office. However, his behaviour throughout the piece is also evidence that Mr. Ford should not be re-elected as Mayor.  While this affair may be trivial, it is a clear illustration of his tendency to run roughshod over proper procedure and assume rights that are not really due to him.  In this instance his “bull in the china shop” behaviour is unimportant.  It is not unimportant with respect to Public Transit, Social Housing, Union Contracts or many other important areas.

I look forward to voting for another Mayor in 2014 and urging others to join me.  I sincerely hope we will elect a new Mayor at that time.  However, in the meantime, I hope he is acquitted of this charge and allowed to serve his term.

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Hardship Fund

Toronto City Council – either with the consent of the majority or not – has somehow allowed the City’s hardship fund to expire – at a tax savings of a mere $900,000.  In todays Star an HIV sufferer who relies on the fund for his drugs is cited as being cut off from his $1,200 monthly support. A senior with Multiple Sclerosis who relies on the fund for $700 a month of essential drugs has also been cut off. Some Councillors claim that they did not cut off this fund, but their support for it was equivocal and only to the end of 2012 at best. In any case, the funding has been cut off.

Those who are religious will know that Jesus said that we will be judged by how we treat the least amongst us. Secular Humanists, such as me, will merely say that this is a disgraceful state of affairs. In either case our City Council should be ashamed.

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Giorgio Mammoliti

Giorgi Mammoliti brings  simplistic and emotionally appealing solutions to difficult questions.  His latest suggestion is that people with criminal records – or who commit crimes – should be forced out of public housing (TCHC).   This has superficial “doing something” appeal and plays well in certain elements of the populist media.  However, his ideas are unwise.

First, our society hopes to rehabiltate people who commit crimes.  It is simplistic and counterproductive to send a person doing his or her best to be a functioning member of society into homelessness just to satisfy the thirst for revenge.  In the end, if those people were in fact homeless, our society as a whole would suffer greater crime from recidivism and a great extrajudicial injustice would have been delivered to individuals who were innocent of any crime at the time of punishment.

Even worse, TCHC houses many families in circumstances where there is no alternative housing.  Any parent knows that controlling a teenager’s behaviour can be, to say the least, challenging.  If one teenage member of a family strays into improper behaviour – carrying a gun, gang membership or even more serious crime – it is not consistent with or society’s moral values to assert collective punishment.  The teenager’s parents or parent or siblings have done nothing wrong and do not deserve knee jerk retribution.

Gangs, violence, guns and unnecessary and senseless killings  are a scourge on our society.  However, our reaction as responsible citizens cannot be to lash out at the innocent

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