Canada’s political battle over the middle class: Walkom

February 28 2014 04:13PM


Is Canada’s middle class hurting? Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says it is. So does New Democratic Party Leader Tom Mulcair.

The federal Conservative government calls their claims nonsense. This week, Employment Minister Jason Kenney accused Trudeau of “making things up”.

Who’s right?

The answer is complicated. It depends on what is being looked at and when. Economists who are paid to study these things disagree among themselves.

The debate isn’t helped by the fact that different participants use different indicators. Some focus on wealth, some on income and others on inequality.

But here’s the best I can make of it.

First, middle-income earners have had a rocky time over the last 25 years. Inflation-adjusted figures from Kenney’s department show that median after-tax family income in Canada fell during the 1990s, before bouncing back and then rising to a peak of $51,100 in 2008.

Median family income then dipped to $50,700 in 2011.

Bottom line: a family right in the middle (a median marks the half-way mark between lowest and highest incomes) is doing better now than it was in 1989 but worse than when the recession first hit.

Second, middle-class Canadians have done much better in terms of wealth. A Statistics Canada report this week found that the median net worth of middle-income earners rose by 45 per cent between 2005 and 2012, reaching $245,000.

This is the study that Kenney used to label Trudeau a know-nothing.

The problem here is that, according to Statistics Canada, the biggest single element of this middle-class wealth consists of housing. Low interest rates have sent house values skyrocketing — which means that families who own homes are suddenly richer.

For many, this is paper wealth. A Toronto family that sells its home for $500,000 will still have to live somewhere. And if that somewhere is Toronto, a new home might well cost the same.

Third, inequality — as measured by income groups — is increasing. Figures from Kenney’s department show that the richest 20 per cent of Canadians are outpacing everyone else, including the middle class.

The richest fifth saw their after-tax family incomes rise by 37.2 per cent between 1995 and 2011. By contrast, family income for the middle class rose by just 23.2 per cent.

Another measure of inequality, the so-called Gini coefficient, provides a different perspective. A report from the Conference Board of Canada shows that, by this measure, Canada’s income distribution is far more unequal than it was in the 1980s. But it has changed little over the last decade.

Since the Gini coefficient doesn’t distinguish among income groups, this finding says nothing about the relative position of the middle class.

In yet another study, University of British Columbia Kevin Milligan looks at weekly earnings growth since 1996 and concludes on his blog that the biggest percentage gains have gone to those already making the most.

Meanwhile, Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, points out that trends vary widely across the country. Her research shows that income inequality has increased more in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia than in other provinces.

So are Trudeau and Mulcair making it all up when they go on about the travails of the middle class? The substantive answer is: Not really. Canada’s situation is by no means as dire as that of Greece or Spain. Nor is income inequality as big a problem as it is in the U.S.

But under successive Liberal and Conservative governments, the middle classes have taken a whack relative to higher-income Canadians. That is what the data show.

Politically, however, statistics don’t much matter. Most people pay little attention to the Gini coefficient. What they do have is a pretty good idea of their own situations.

If middle-class voters feel aggrieved, they’re likely to respond to the opposition critique, regardless of what economists and pundits say.

If not, they won’t.

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Mansbridge shouldn’t moonlight for oil cash: Mallick

February 28 2014 03:38PM


I have a strong opinion about Peter Mansbridge being paid a huge fee to give a speech to Canadian oil industry lobbyists, which is that I would pay a huge fee not to hear it.

It’s bad enough that Mansbridge reads the news every night on The National. How that man can drone. Last night I heard him as I floated between dreams, but of course I didn’t. It was the sound of the hallucinatory slow and deep male voice that lives inside my humidifier.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers paid this voice to render a pet speech, “Celebrate Canada: Canada and Canadians in a Changing World” while trapped people poked at their baked rabbit pellets with a hotel fork, oh the tedium.

Here’s the précis of what his speakers agency says you get when you hire Mansbridge: “He ties all of his talks together with his desire to see Canadians celebrate their heritage: to recognize that a shared national story has shaped us at both an individual and a collective level. This story is being written, and rewritten, every day by all Canadians.”

Are you drifting off? “Drawing on world leaders he’s interviewed, Mansbridge also talks about leadership: what it takes and how it can be achieved, whether in politics, academia or business.” And with that, you are gone for six, maybe 11, hours.

At a time when environmental organizations which say climate change is a fact are being audited by the Canada Revenue Agency, it is unethical for Mansbridge to accept money from a volatile tarsands industry group aching for national validation.

Although Mansbridge wrote a deeply boring blogpost defending his moonlighting, he is breaking his own ethical standards because he still calls himself a “journalist,” and he is not. (If he were, he’d have revealed how much CAPP paid him, as it’s said to be a nice chunk.) He is a talking head who reads the news and cannot conduct a respectable interview, as he proved in a recent TV chat with Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug.

When the Fords make claims that are untrue, they should be challenged on them, but Mansbridge is incapable of doing this. Later the CBC explained that there wasn’t enough time to fact-check the interview before airing it, forgetting that Mansbridge should fact-check while interviewing.

That’s why TV people are highly paid. They have to be mentally agile, to leap from place to place with an army of facts stationed in their head and confront their subjects with grace and persistence. That’s why Jon Stewart is a great interviewer — the man is a gazelle — but the lumbering Conrad Black on the dreadful Zoomer channel is even more of an embarrassment than usual.

I don’t mind Max Pointy, sorry, I meant Rex Murphy, accepting speaking fees from the oil industry because he isn’t on the staff of the CBC, which is so hemmed in, so short of money that I’m amazed it has anyone left on staff at all. It’s good to see the CBC defend Murphy, who is a freelance opinionator and has a right to say anything he pleases, however daft and stale. They’re valiant, although wrong-headed about allowing the CBC to even briefly resemble Fox News.

But the CBC can’t have it both ways, and neither can anyone. Jackson Proskow of Global is a wonderful TV reporter whose tough questions of the Ford brothers have enraged them, but Proskow is hardly going to do a Murphy and demand the Fords resign. That’s my columnizing job and what fun it is. I do paid speeches, with the Star’s permission, because I’m not a reporter. I take sides.

I still love the CBC for its honesty and solidity, for the fact that it has even bothered to respond to its critics, which private TV companies often don’t do. I love its magnificent website, built from nothing. Even the BBC, great with voice and images, has been unable to build one nearly as good. Prose is not its strength. I yearn for the day when the CBC’s funding will be restored, and a smart journalist like Wendy Mesley might be our national news voice.

But let’s look at the context of this latest attack of the CBC and learn something about hate, and bait.

We live in a harsh era. When money is as scarce as it is now — and our noses are constantly smelling the perfumed wealth of the super-rich, far above our own sweaty struggles — the news stories we most love are about Senate expenses, Ontario’s sunshine list of public salaries over $100,000, income-splitting, pensions (lovely, lousy or non-existent), property taxes (downtown vs. suburban) and powerful people with paid gigs on the side.

In most cases, we’re talking about relatively small sums that nevertheless cross some imaginary line.

I suspect this current wave of petty cash news began with the 2009 leaked expenses of British MPs. To this day, when I think Britain, I think of little duck houses, moat-cleaning and the pruned wisteria of the Tories, with MPs bouncing among three homes while always claiming one on expenses.

Hmmm, expenses, thought Canada’s Conservatives, smelling blood. Justin Trudeau made speeches, which he was entirely entitled to do, although now he does it for votes, not fees. So did former Conservative senator Pamela Wallin and so does every politician because that’s what politicians do, show up, talk, glad-hand and flop into an empty bed in a lonely roadhouse, it’s a lousy life.

I do think senators will bitterly regret having thrown out those three over-expensers.

But what fascinates people isn’t the money, it’s the tiny human details, the fact that Sen. Scott Tannas of Alberta billed $12,000 to taxpayers to fly himself and his wife in executive class to Ottawa for a two-day trip, as the CBC reported recently. There he sat behind the curtain with his missus.

Thank you, CBC. In response, Tannas mumbled that he had found out some exciting news, that one can save money by buying such tickets in bulk. Great, now he’s flying more often.

Smart people on the public tab know not to file for cups of tea or a $16 glass of orange juice, as delicious as the fluid was, because it just looks so stingy to the person who reuses his tea bag and mixes from frozen.

Cash is always petty, that’s why they keep it in a little locked box in a drawer. Pandora’s box, they call it.

hmallick@thestar.ca

His fridge still broken after $415 in repairs: Roseman

February 28 2014 03:30PM

Richard Carroll called Appliance Repair Guys, based in Concord, Ont., because his refrigerator wasn’t working.

After he paid $415 (plus HST) to fix his fridge, it still wasn’t working.

Carroll could have found many negative reviews of Appliance Repair Guys if he had checked online before calling.

At Homestars, a website that lets customers review their contractors, there are 20 complaints. The average rating is 0.6 out of 10.

The Better Business Bureau has a rating of D- for Appliance Repair Guys. There’s also a warning to potential customers.

The business has a pattern of complaints, the BBB says, listing these issues:

Inability to diagnose and repair issues with appliances Repairs done do not solve the issue Customer service and lack of follow-ups and resolution Cost of parts is high

Appliance Repair Guys has the same address and phone number as a firm called Service4Appliances, which is rated F by the Better Business Bureau.

“127 complaints filed against business. Failure to respond to 125 complaints filed against business,” the BBB says about Service4Appliances.

“Our concerns regarding the volume and nature of complaints were brought to the attention of the business on Dec. 20, 2012. We requested they work towards correcting the underlying reason for these complaints. The company has not resolved this matter to date.”

When Carroll called Appliance Repairs Guys, he had two technicians come to his home (one was in training).

“They said they could probably fix it without any parts,” he said. “I was asked to approve a $280 labour quote.”

The technicians spent 20 minutes and told him a part needed replacing at a cost of $135.

Carroll couldn’t use a credit card for payment, a surprise after seeing a different message at the website.

“Interac, cash and all major credit cards are accepted,” the company says. But next to credit cards, it has a small-print asterisk and disclaimer that says, “For pre-authorized accounts.”

There was no cold air after his fridge was fixed. The technicians returned a week later and said there were two new possible issues.

“The refrigerator could be repaired at an absurd cost, but with no warranty,” Carroll said.

He was offered $50 in compensation if he signed a waiver releasing the company against any future claims. He refused to sign and contacted me.

I sent his complaint to Dan Vidoser, listed as business owner by the BBB, who said I couldn’t use his comments in my column. Then, he took back the offer of $50 compensation.

“Due to your email communications with the Toronto Star, Appliance Repair Guys is retracting our refund offer. No refund will be issued,” Carroll was told in an email and voicemail message.

Andrea Restauri called Appliance Repair Guys, which said there would be an $80 fee to diagnose her oven. But the technician who came to her home insisted on a $280 fee before he would proceed.

“He said we needed a new circuit board,” she said. “His company charged $708 for the part and there may be additional fees for labour.”

She turned down the expensive repair, but her oven didn’t work any more after the technician put the circuit board back together. She ended buying a new stove and giving away the old one for free on Kijiji.

I asked Vidoser about Restauri’s complaint. Again, he refused to let me use any of his comments in my column.

Appliance Repair Guys shows the logos of well-known appliance brands at its website. One brand is LG, a Korean manufacturer.

“That’s not our logo. It looks like ours, but it has a different font and no smiley face next to it,” said Court Elliott, a spokesman for LG Electronics Canada.

“We don’t work with them at all,” he said about Appliance Repair Guys and Service4Appliances. “We have our own repair staff and only work with selected authorized dealers to ensure the quality of the work.”

I have two tips: (1) Check a firm’s reputation online. Add “complaints” to the name when doing a search. (2) Ask if your credit card is accepted before getting a service call. This means you can ask the card issuer for a refund if the technicians fall down on the job.

Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues. You can reach her at eroseman@thestar.ca or www.ellenroseman.com

Greater Toronto’s deep freeze may sap maple syrup season

February 28 2014 03:26PM


March means maple syrup season, but whether the sap flows will be up to, well, the weather.

“You need below-freezing nights and above-freezing days,” says Adrian O’Driscoll, the supervisor of education at Kortright Centre in Kleinburg, where a festival celebrating the sweet Canadian treat kicks off Saturday.

But it looks like the weather will only deliver half of what’s necessary.

“Below-freezing nights are no problem whatsoever,” says Geoff Coulson of Environment Canada, who predicted Friday’s temperature of -13C would rise to only -7C by Saturday morning.

But it’s expected the mercury will struggle to reach a high of 0C on Saturday, and the forecast calls for a couple of centimeters of snow to fall in Toronto from a storm system sliding west to east through Northern Ontario, he says.

Sap, the starch the tree stored up last year through photosynthesis, flows best when the weather is a little warmer.

O’Driscoll says the centre is optimistic about the coming maple syrup season, which hangs on what Mother Nature throws out.

“One question is whether the ice storm has affected the maple syrup production,” he says. But “it won’t this year, because the trees would have made their sugars and stored the starch before the ice storm.”

The maple syrup festival runs at Kortright and in Bruce’s Mill in Stouffville from March 1 to April 6.

Together, the centres annually welcome 50,000 people to maple syrup demonstrations. They show how the aboriginal peoples, who introduced settlers to the sweet treat and methods for making it, hollowed out trees as receptacles and dumped in hot rocks to help evaporate the water — and how Canadian pioneers began using cast-iron kettles for the same task.

Staff will also show how sap — which is 97 per cent water — is reduced to syrup today using a modern evaporator. It takes 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup.

Festival-goers can also enjoy horse-drawn wagon and pony rides, watch magic shows and take part in face painting.

Attending the festivities “is a family tradition for many people,” says O’Driscoll. Traditions surrounding the maple leaf are “sort of what Canada is about. And it’s a way to bring in and welcome the spring.”

Whether we can put the welcome mat out in March will, once again, be dependent on the weather. Below-normal temperatures are expected for most of the month.

“Saturday is better than the days that follow, when we’re back to the deep freeze,” says Coulson. Overnight temperatures next week are supposed to hover between -16C and -20C; daytime highs from -5C to -9C.

Forecast models for next weekend show more seasonal temperatures, but if they come, they’ll be accompanied by a large-scale storm.

“I haven’t been the bearer of any good news lately,” Coulson says.

Canadiens' Price to miss third straight game

February 28 2014 02:18PM

Goaltender Carey Price will miss the Montreal Canadiens game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday with a lower-body injury, coach Michel Therrien told reporters Friday.

It will be Price's third straight game out of uniform since returnin...

Ontario Land transfer tax an election issue

February 28 2014 02:00PM


The provincial land transfer tax can add an additional one to two per cent on the cost of a home purchase if you live outside of Toronto. If you buy in Toronto, the amount is almost double.

The Toronto Real Estate Board has been lobbying for two years to remove this tax, claiming that it penalizes buyers in Toronto, who already face record high prices. It also reduces the number of potential sales in Toronto, and thus reduces overall economic activity. It is interesting that no other city in Ontario has introduced this tax, even though they have the power to do so.

The problem is that the city needs the money that the tax brings.

First time buyers do get a break as they pay no Toronto land transfer tax when their home costs $400,000 or less. But for everyone else buying a $400,000 home in Toronto, the tax is $3,725, and rises to $15,425 if the purchase price is one million dollars, very common now in Toronto. This is in addition to the $16,475 Ontario land transfer tax that has to be paid. so the total land transfer tax in Toronto today for a million dollar home is $32,000.

As the race for mayor heats up it may become an issue. Karen Stintz says she wants to reform the tax so that it is applied at a higher amount to make the tax fairer. Mayor Rob Ford would like to reduce the total tax by at least five per cent. David Socknacki would like to tie it in to the rate of inflation. John Tory has not yet stated his position.

Here are some ways the candidates could change things for the better

•Reduce the tax by 10 per cent;

•Raise the credit for first time home buyers, to $5,725, which would make no Toronto land transfer tax payable for a home up to a price of $500,000;

•Change the policy so that anyone buying their first home in Toronto gets the rebate, even if they owned a home elsewhere in Ontario.

•Change the policy so no-one pays tax on the first $400,000 in Toronto, regardless whether you owned a home before;

Here are some other things to consider when it comes to the land transfer tax

First time buyer rebates

If you buy your first home outside Toronto, you pay one tax only and are entitled to a $2,000 rebate. As stated above, the second rebate in Toronto is up to $3,725. So, if you have the means and the choice, I recommend buyers buy their first home in Toronto, take the extra rebate, and then buy their next home elsewhere if they so choose. When you buy your first home outside Toronto, you will then have to pay the double tax without any rebate if you later move to Toronto.

Spouse rules

If your spouse has owned a home while married to you, you are not entitled to the first time buyer rebate, even if you never owned a home yourself. However, if your spouse sold the home before marrying you, then you are still entitled to a rebate. So, for example, if you and your spouse jointly buy a home, you would be able to claim 50 per cent of the tax rebate, which is up to $1,000 in Ontario and $1,812.50 in Toronto.

Here it gets interesting. If you take title differently, with your spouse owning 1 per cent and you owning 99 per cent of the home, then you can get 99 per cent of the rebate, which means $1,980 on the Ontario tax and $3,692.75 towards the Toronto tax.

Family transfers

If you transfer property to your spouse, for natural love and affection, no land transfer tax is payable. If a parent transfers a property to a child for no money, there is no land transfer tax payable as long as the property has no mortgages registered against it. If the property is worth $500,000 and there is a mortgage on title with $200,000 outstanding, land transfer tax will have to be paid on the $200,000.

Understand the land transfer tax rules and save money.

More real estate articles by Mark Weisleder

Mark Weisleder is a lawyer, author and speaker to the real estate industry. You can contact Mark at mark@markweisleder.com

Goalie Budaj to replace Price again vs Leafs

February 28 2014 01:32PM

Peter Budaj will make a third straight start in goal when the Montreal Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

#StarBigIdeas: Social media reaction to Toronto cops being disarmed

February 28 2014 01:30PM


Peter Rosenthal, professor emeritus of mathematics and adjunct professor of law at the University of Toronto, posed the Big Idea of ordinary officers in Toronto being unarmed on Feb. 27.

Here’s a collection of online response.

Do you have an idea on how to make the GTA a better place to live? Submit it here to participate in our year-long project.

Budaj to replace Price in net for third straight game as Canadiens face Leafs

February 28 2014 12:55PM

BROSSARD, Que. - Peter Budaj will make a third straight start in goal when the Montreal Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

Incumbent Carey Price, who suffered a suspected groin injury during a practice this week, underw...

Aga Khan and Prime Minister Harper visit Massey Hall

February 28 2014 12:42PM


Prime Minister Stephen Harper is appearing with His Highness the Aga Khan. He will be joined by Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, Chris Alexander, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and Salma Ataullahjan, Senator for Toronto.

Mobile users click here to follow.

Doug Ford: Rob Ford scandal 'put Toronto on the map'

February 28 2014 12:29PM


Councillor Doug Ford is not at all worried about the impact of Mayor Rob Ford's crack cocaine scandal on Toronto's global reputation.

"Matter of fact, good or bad, it has put Toronto on the map," Doug Ford, his brother’s campaign manager, told SiriusXM radio host Arlene Bynon on Thursday in an entirely serious tone of voice.

Ford said “everything is booming in the city.” His evidence: “Like I've said a million times, 189 cranes in the air. The records for tourism. They say, 'well, it's embarrassing, it's hurting the city' — well, a lot of cities wish they were in the same shape as Toronto is.”

Only one of Ford's three supporting assertions is definitively accurate. One is false, and one is more false than true.

The accurate claim: Toronto is indeed setting tourism records. The city hit all-time highs in 2013 for the number of overseas visitors and the number of hotel rooms sold.

The false claim: The Fords use "cranes in the air" as a way to describe the number of high-rise buildings under construction. Cranes and buildings-under-construction aren't the same thing, but Doug Ford's claim isn't true even if he is granted some creative leeway. In June 2012, when Rob Ford cited the “189 cranes,” there were indeed 189 buildings under construction. But there were 111 as of last month, according to data released by the city — down from 184 in January 2013

The more-false-than-true claim: Some sectors are booming in Toronto, but far from “everything.” The unemployment rate was 10.1 per cent in December — higher than the 9.4 per cent rate when the Fords took office — and youth unemployment is close to 20 per cent.

Carter Ashton Assigned To Marlies

February 28 2014 12:22PM

The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Friday that the hockey club has assigned forward Carter Ashton to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.

Ashton, 22, has registered three assists and 19 penalty minutes in 30 games with the Maple Le...

Spiceman restaurateur guilty of assaulting back-alley bottle picker

February 28 2014 10:45AM


In one of the first Ontario cases decided under the new federal self-defence law, a restaurateur known as the Spiceman was found guilty Friday of assaulting a man he says he believed was a thief.

Naveen Polapady “was acting out of anger, not self-defence,” Ontario Court Justice Peter Harris wrote in his decision.

“The evidence overwhelmingly points to an individual who was so sure he had the GPS thief and so angry about the loss of his property that he waited for the predictable return of Mr. Belo with weapons in hand to teach him a lesson.”

The August 2011 incident occurred in a laneway behind Polapady’s Bloor St. W. restaurant. He lives upstairs with his family.

Early that morning, a few days after someone broke into Polapady’s van and stole his GPS, Emmanuel Belo came by on his bike to collect empty bottles.

The case boiled down to “who attacked whom,” wrote Harris.

Polapady claimed Belo was trying to break into the van, and that Belo attacked him with a stick. He threw chicken masala spices he was holding at Belo and managed to get the stick away from him, Polapady said. (A charge of administering a noxious substance related to the spices was dropped earlier.)

Harris rejected this version of events.

There was no motive for Belo to attack Polapady with a stick, he found.

A security video of the violent altercation shows Polapady hitting Belo with the broom handle, leaving him with welts and in need of six stitches to the head, Harris noted.

The evidence suggests “a blinding attack with a debilitating substance followed by many blows with the stick,” he wrote.

Belo fled on his bicycle pursued by Polapady in his car calling 911.

Police ended up charging Polapady instead of Belo.

The incident initially made headlines for its similarities to the case of David Chen, owner of the Lucky Moose grocery in Chinatown, who chased and tied up a thief. Chen was acquitted of assault and forcible confinement charges.

Chen became the face of the Conservative government’s citizen arrest and self-defence legislation that came into effect last year, allowing “reasonable” use of force in the circumstances.

Polapady received a call of support from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office after he was charged. Toronto police union chief Mike McCormack is still demanding an apology for that.

The ruling shows “that vigilante justice will not be tolerated,” said McCormack, who criticized politicians for exploiting the case before it was completed.

Reasonable action in Polapady’s case would have been a stern admonishment or if he “used some force to eject (Belo),” said Harris.

“I recognize the fact that Mr. Polapady was incensed about his van being burglarized and was to some degree hypersensitive about strangers entering upon his property,” the judge wrote, adding Polapady went “far beyond what was required.”

Polapady was found guilty of assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm. He declined to comment following the verdict.

A sentencing hearing is set for April 1.

“Did he go too far or not . . . this very seasoned judge, pardon the pun, found that he did,” said Polapady’s lawyer, Calvin Barry, adding they haven’t decided whether to appeal.

The ruling doesn’t clarify what would be considered “reasonable” in defence of self and property, said Barry. Rather, it lays out criteria the courts can consider on a case-by-case basis.

Barry said they expect to request a discharge, which will leave Polapady without a conviction.

However, Harris commented during the court appearance that this “is a very serious case; he opened a man’s head.”

It may turn out that a discharge makes sense, but that doesn’t preclude other sentences, said Harris.

Rob Ford? John Tory? Olivia Chow? Here’s what matters

February 28 2014 10:18AM


This past week John Tory and Karen Stintz entered the mayoral race, while others, most notably Olivia Chow, are still standing in the wings. It goes without saying that our next mayor should have integrity, be law-abiding and set a good example to our children. We also need an effective consensus builder and administrator. We need a mayor whom police will want to work with rather than tail.

But these are table stakes. Our city is on the cusp of profound changes and we need a mayor with the vision and capacity to lead.

Toronto became a city in the industrial age, a period that saw the rise of mass industrial production, mass media, mass education, and mass marketing. Powerful forces pushed out products such as cars, newspapers, television shows, university lectures, services, and advertisements to passive recipients.

MORE AT THESTAR.COM: Big Ideas series

Toronto election campaign

We created wealth through large corporations and built our city around the automobile. Our urban form separated where we work (downtown), live (the suburbs) and shop (the malls). Cars consumed energy and exhaled toxins. Our low density hampered the growth of vibrant communities.

We fretted as to whether our number of theatre productions, art galleries, good restaurants and professional sports teams made us world-class. These indices still matter. But there are bigger opportunities on the table.

We are undergoing huge transformation precipitated by the Internet and the digital revolution. It gives us access to the knowledge and intelligence in the crania of people across the city and around the world. Our economy is increasingly based on brain, not brawn. Moving into the networked age provides new opportunities to transform the very warp and woof of the city — to reinvent our local infrastructure and institutions as more collaborative and participatory, powerful and effective — to create a prosperous, sustainable, vibrant and open city.

To be sure, some of these changes fall beyond the authority of the mayor and local government. We need to change the dumb power grid that pushes electricity out to devices to a power grid that looks more like the Internet, with devices contributing to and drawing from the system. We need to move from the industrial model of teachers lecturing students and move to a more student-focused model in which educators exploit digital technologies and engage with small work groups.

We need to transform our clinician-focused health care to one where citizens take a more active role in promoting good health. While these are not municipal dossiers, the municipal government must be part of the solution. Ours is an increasingly complex world, resistant to simple and clearly delineated questions and answers.

But so far the discussion has focused on fiscal responsibility (on the right) and divvying up the pie differently (on the left). The debate needs to shift to how we govern, move around, create prosperity, take care of our citizens, and sustain our world.

Mayoralty candidates must acknowledge that the city is in a crisis that goes far beyond the incumbent’s buffoonery. There are much bigger issues. They include:

1. Prosperity

In the industrial age, traditional corporations created wealth. Tariffs nurtured car companies, strong banks provided financial services and big shopping malls made us spend money. But today our youth jobless level is above 15 per cent and pundits predict decades of structural unemployment. We can’t look to U.S. branch plants or big companies to generate jobs.

Entrepreneurs are the key to prosperity and employment. Companies less than five years old create 80 per cent of new jobs. Digital technologies mean small companies can challenge large firms. One study found that readily available resources such as open-source software, cloud computing, and the rise of virtual office infrastructure have driven the cost of launching an Internet venture down from $5 million in 1997 to less than $50,000 today.

Which mayoral candidate will lead us in making Toronto the startup capital of the world? Rather than championing the waterfront as an ideal casino venue, we need a mayor that takes a page from Boston — developing a startup and innovation area in the redeveloped waterfront. We need to nurture our homegrown entrepreneurs and attract new entrepreneurs from afar.

2. Open Government and an Open Toronto

Talking only about how to control local government costs misses the point. The industrial age model of government bureaucracy is stalled. The solution is not simply to slash budgets. Toronto needs to embrace the next wave of innovation and fundamentally redesign how it operates, how and what the city provides, and how it interacts and engages with its citizens.

We need to open up by releasing data to the world. Imagine if the mayor led a process to get all institutions to provide raw data into a citywide platform. This would go beyond opening the data troves of the municipal government to include data from hospitals, schools, the transportation system, the power grid, laboratories and stores. In doing so we could engender self-organizing networks involving the private sector, NGO’s, academics, foundations, individuals and other government agencies to create public value. This has nothing to do with outsourcing, but rather it’s a change in the division of labour in society about how we create services and public value overall.

3. Turning Public Safety Inside Out

The industrial model of public safety was that police kept passive citizens safe. Innovative cities now have more connected law enforcement agencies that involve citizens in creating a safer community. Networks help boost police visibility, simplify the ease and accuracy of citizen reporting, and keep visible statistics on police follow-up, conviction rates, and so on. Cities have objective measures of whether matters are getting better or worse, and help pinpoint areas needing extra attention.

In Toronto this transformation has already started, led by Deputy Chief Peter Sloly. He says: “Social media, mobile technologies, and new analytics tools are enabling deep changes in policing. We can use these tools to better engage and mobilize citizens to help citizens co-produce safety in their own neighborhoods. At the same time the police are better able to sense and respond in real-time to dangers. This is one of the biggest changes to policing in a generation and the opportunities are pretty much unlimited.”

We need a mayor that understands and supports this critical transformation.

4. Rethinking Transportation

Enough about burying the Gardiner and subways versus LRTs. Most thoughtful people see LRTs as the better way. But our mayor needs to provide leadership for the next generation of transportation and so far the topic hasn’t even come up. Soon there will be autonomous vehicles moving around the streets of Toronto, guided by electronics and not the person behind the wheel.

Indeed, it has already happened. Google photographed every street in North America with cars that drove themselves. The only accident was when a Google car was hit from behind at a red light.

Further, according to a University of California study every car-sharing vehicle replaces nine to 13 cars. So combine autonomous vehicles with new incentives for ride-sharing to exploit excess capacity in cars, along with low-emission vehicles, and we could have a “virtual” public transportation system for the entire city — with almost no cost to government.

5. Creating a Sustainable City

With the industrial age products came industrial-grade grime and pollution. In her new book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert explains that man-made climate change will precipitate what biologists call the sixth mass extinction — the elimination of 20 to 50 per cent of plant and animal species by the end of the century. “Right now,” she writes, “we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed.”

We can’t continue as before, and as Canada’s largest city, we need to be a leader in reducing carbon, and promoting cleaner air and water. Digital technologies can help us move to networked models of air and water management. New modes of distribution and monitoring (including independent citizen monitoring) can improve the air and water security and quality. Easy initiatives such as telecommuting can reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

We need leadership to ensure smart buildings and wired communities, where for example every new condo project and office tower has a telepresence centre for global telecommuting.

6. Transforming Social Services

In the past governments delivered social services to needy people. Today we can engage those in need to kickstart social development and justice. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is building a vast campus in the heart of Toronto at Queen and Dufferin. Rather than an old-style institution it’s building an urban village to integrate with the local community. Instead of simply delivering services to people with problems it’s attempting to collaborate with them, build communities, and reduce isolation, which is the number one risk factor in health, according to U.S. National Institutes of Health studies.

A number of young people have created “CAMH engage,” which seeks to build a movement across the city and country to lower the stigma about mental health, involve thousands of youth in fundraising, and take the issue of addiction and mental illness into every workplace.

Do any of the candidates understand the reinvention of social services?

7. Reinventing Local Democracy

In the industrial age we had an industrial-style, top-down democracy. We elected politicians who talked amongst themselves and passed laws. We had accountable institutions of governance, but with a weak public mandate and an inert citizenry.

Digital technologies now enable a new era of much greater citizen involvement in government. Digital networks enable all citizens to become active, know what is going on in the city and contribute their ideas. A culture of public deliberation and active citizenship will help achieve social cohesion, good government and shared norms.

This is not direct democracy: it is about a new model of citizen engagement and politics appropriate for the 21st century. We need this to stop the abuse of trust by office holders which alienates citizens and produces bumper stickers that say “Don’t vote. It only encourages them.”

American political sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset wrote that legitimacy is “the capacity of a political system to engender and maintain the belief that existing political institutions are the most appropriate and proper ones for the society.” To rebuild the public’s trust in our mayor, city council and other political institutions, elected officials need to embrace the principles of honesty, consideration and accountability. We need candidates for mayor that go beyond simply discussing parochial issues and mudslinging.

The Toronto Star’s Big Ideas challenge was a great start. But we need a mayor who understands the new paradigm in democracy and can drive innovations in citizen engagement.

Note to All Candidates

There is more to municipal life than cost control, and for that matter we can’t fund the creation of an open, networked and global city through property taxes. As cities become more important we need a mayor who can lead in a national discussion on how to reinvent Canadian federalism and provide cities and mayors with the resources and power they need.

And please don’t call me a taxpayer, dammit! I’m a citizen. And I want to live in a 21st century city! Which of you has a vision and plan to get us there?

Don Tapscott is an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management and the chancellor of Trent University. He is speaking on “Rethinking Government and Democracy” March 5, 6:30 p.m. Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St., Toronto. Reserve a seat at: http://www.eventbrite.ca/o/trent-university-5581403235 http://govtdemocracy.eventbrite.ca END

Blue Jays mailbag: Toronto predicted to finish with about 80 wins: Griffin

February 28 2014 09:51AM


The Blue Jays baseball mailbag is making its 2014 debut and we’ll try to add it as a weekly feature of our coverage throughout the season. Last season, as Jays’ fans may remember, everyone including the Las Vegas odds makers, bought into the excitement of GM Alex Anthopoulos and his empire-building of what was perceived as the pre-season favourite in the AL East. The early over/under in wins a year ago for the Jays was 89.5. Obviously they didn’t come close. This season, being far more conservative, Bodog.ca has listed the Jays at 79.5 victories, tied for 20th in baseball and last in the AL East. Following are the first release of the MLB win totals courtesy of Bodog (www.Bodog.ca )

Team (Predicted wins)

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92.5)

2. St. Louis Cardinals (90.5)

3. Detroit Tigers (89.5)

4. Oakland Athletics (88.5)

4. Tampa Bay Rays (88.5)

4. Washington Nationals (88.5)

7 (tie). Atlanta Braves (87.5)

7 (tie). Boston Red Sox (87.5)

9 (tie). Los Angeles Angels (86.5)

9 (tie). New York Yankees (86.5)

9 (tie). San Francisco Giants (86.5)

9 (tie). Texas Rangers (86.5)

13. Cincinnati Reds (84.5)

14. Pittsburgh Pirates (83.5)

15 (tie). Kansas City Royals (81.5)

15 (tie). Seattle Mariners (81.5)

17 (tie). Arizona Diamondbacks (80.5)

17 (tie). Baltimore Orioles (80.5)

17 (tie). Cleveland Indians (80.5)

20 (tie). Milwaukee Brewers (79.5)

20 (tie). Toronto Blue Jays (79.5)

22. San Diego Padres (78.5)

23 (tie). Colorado Rockies (76.5)

23 (tie). Philadelphia Phillies (76.5)

25. Chicago White Sox (75.5)

26. New York Mets (73.5)

27. Minnesota Twins (70.5)

28 (tie). Chicago Cubs (69.5)

28 (tie). Miami Marlins (69.5)

30. Houston Astros (62.5)

On to the Mailbag.

Q. Hi Richard,

Pouring rain in Destin today, I hope it’s better in Dunedin.

Question on Jays’ pitching: I think the Jays have eight pitchers after Drew Hutchison becomes the fifth starter (Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Jeremy Jeffress, Chad Jenkins, Kyle Drabek, Luis Perez, Neil Wagner and Liam Hendriks), some of whom are out of options. Over the winter did you ever hear anything about any of them being discussed for trades?

If not, is that an indication that the rest of the teams wouldn’t be interested in any of them, and what does that say about our backup plans when someone in the starting five falters or gets injured?

Thanks and regards,

D’Arcy Draper

A. The problem with that question of whether any other team may have been interested over the winter in those eight Jays pitchers is that every other team has their own eight pitchers exactly like that. There is no shortage of those guys in every MLB organization. Consider that of that group of eight you mention, the foursome of Redmond, Jeffress, Wagner and Hendriks have spent their careers being available to anyone. In trade, it was Rogers for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes and Drabek for Roy Halladay, while in the cases of Jenkins and Perez, they were originally signed and developed by the Jays. All of those pitchers are very available but would be secondary sweeteners in any deal and as such, discussions would always start somewhere else and end up with these names.

I believe that the current backup plans for 2014 Jays’ starting pitchers is in a far better position than it was a year ago. Not the Top 5, but the 6-10 that was filled by guys like Aaron Laffey, Ramon Ortiz and Chien-Ming Wang in 2013. If we accept your assumption that Hutchison is going to be No. 5 and Happ is four, then in reserve and ready to help out are Rogers, Drabek, Redmond, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin and (loud throat clear) Ricky Romero. The future of Jenkins, I believe, is in the bullpen, in middle relief. This is Deck McGuire’s last chance to re-establish his credentials as a prospect.

Q. Hello,

It is great to have baseball back!

I am wondering what story lines you would suggest we keep our eyes on this spring and start to the season.

Thanks.

Phil

A. Let’s start behind the plate. How durable can Dioner Navarro be? He has never started more than 113 games, which even if you understand he will have the 33 Dickey days off, that leaves 16 other games and that’s if Navarro equals his high — which at 30 is unlikely. If that’s the case, then is it Josh Thole or Erik Kratz as the backup. That will play itself out, with Kratz being the frontrunner.

With Adam Lind, is he a full-time DH and is there someone else that could play first base when Edwin Encarnacion needs a day off? Who will be the right-handed hitting half of the Jays’ DH platoon with Lind? Is it Moises Sierra, even though manager John Gibbons prefers a more veteran guy? If not Sierra then is it someone not yet in camp?

Who is the fifth starter? Is he even here in camp yet? It’s likely that the Jays will work with the service time of Stroman and Nolin and that neither has a realistic chance of fighting for the No. 5 starter until at least May. The reason for that intentional delay is that if they start in the minors then their free agency can be postponed by a year from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020.

Can new batting coach Kevin Seitzer get through to Brett Lawrie and calm down his swing, allowing his natural athletic ability to shine through? So far so good. What are the Jays going to do with the extra depth in the bullpen, many of whom deserve to be pitching in the majors at the end of the day?

Other storylines will surely develop.

Q-Hi Richard

Wonder if you could insert a small section in one of your columns on some of the lesser stars in the firmament, for instance: How did poor old Ricky Romero’s winter pan out? Does Esmil Rodgers still have a shot in the starting rotation? (I still think he is an ideal long relief in the bullpen)

Who looks the likeliest of our rather anonymous backup catchers to make the bench? Has the most honest manager in baseball still got a smile on his face etc. Despite this rotten winter, spring training always gets me optimistic. So despite last year’s stinker I think this could be a decent year for the Jays, (something I seem to have been saying for too many years now).

All the best

Frank T., Prescott, ON

A. The previous answer to Phil’s question above addresses many of those questions that you pose. And, after all, does the true definition of “backup catcher” not always begin with the words “rather anonymous?” As for Romero, the only way his situation will get better is by pitching and getting left-handers out. It will either be in AAA-Buffalo or in another organization. Esmil Rogers does have a chance to begin the season as a fifth starter, but that will play itself out. And as for the manager, he seems more relaxed and more familiar with his roster. He’s very easy to like. He’s the kind of guy you’d just like to throw the tape recorder and notebook aside and go for a beer with. Oh, wait I did when I visited him in San Antonio. This needs to be a good season for the major-league Jays with at least a winning record or Jays jobs are in jeopardy.

Q. Hello Richard,

I guess the best that Alex Anthopoulos could do was lay claim to right-handed pitcher Liam Hendriks off waivers, a pitcher with a 2-13 record and a 6.06 era with the Twins in three seasons. Wow isn’t that something — he waited all year long to achieve this result? Kudos to him — I guess we will just have to sit and watch the grass grow for the next four years. The die-hard Jays fans deserve better. Let’s hope for a change in upper management of this team soon. Bring in people who know how to put together a winning team and pry open the tight purse strings of the owners.

Have a great weekend.

Tony in Toronto.

A. I detect a little sarcasm in your question. The fact is that the Jays went from $83 million in payroll in 2012 to $119 in 2013 to about $135-140 million in 2014. That seems to me to be a case of Rogers opening the tight purse strings starting in November 2012 when they pulled the trigger on the deal with the Marlins. There is light at the end of the competitive tunnel. In a couple of years, the quality depth of the very young Jays’ farm system is going to reach the AA and AAA levels and be pretty impressive. But, you’re right, that hasn’t produced a major-league winner. Oh and until the Argos leave for another home stadium, you will never be able to, as you suggest, “sit and watch the grass grow.”

Q. Morning Richard,

What a disingenuous pile of slop from Ervin Santana’s agent, referring to him as a top pitcher. Santana is a mediocre (pitcher) who had one fair year in 2013. It would follow a pattern for AA to pay too much for this guy, just as he bought at the top of the market to get one-year wonder R.A. Dickey.

As a retired investment manager, I’d love to see AA’s stock portfolio; bet it’s full of bad stocks he bought during a spike. Put me down for 70 wins this year, and the none-too-soon firing of AA, and hopefully the obtuse Paul Beeston. This team needs to be sold to someone who knows baseball.

Look forward to a new year of your Mailbag soon.

Best Regards

Selby Martin, Toronto

A. Of the two free-agent pitchers, I always thought they should sign Santana, but I believed they would choose Ubaldo Jimenez. It seems that AA agrees with you that the price is too high in terms of value in return. I still would sign Santana if you could get him for three years plus an option. If the Jays win 70 games as you suggest, I might also suggest if that is the case, Gibbons would not last the season.

Q. Hi Richard,

Great pieces lately on Jim Fregosi and Derek Jeter . It seems to me that of the available free-agent pitchers Ervin Santana has been the Jays’ best choice all along. Since he’s still available, is it at all possible that AA’s current “we’re-happy-with-what-we’ve-got” approach is just posturing? It’s hard to believe that AA would wager so much promise and payroll on so many unproven arms. Or is there some other nickel-and-dime reason why AA isn’t giving Santana what he wants and getting on with the summer?

Matthew McKean, Ottawa

A. I believe, and I may be wrong, that Santana has always had a ground floor offer of three years and $27 million from Anthopoulos and that the GM honestly believed that the market would come back close enough to that offer that, when bargaining started, he might only have to add slightly to that to cement a deal. But the Jimenez contract with the O’s of four years and $50 million threw a crimp into that plan in both years and dollars. However, with Santana still unsigned and Bean Stringfellow aware that AA is still interested in his client, maybe some sort of short term compromise might be worked out.

Q. Hi Griff,

Excited for this season to start and excited for more mailbags! I want the Jays to win now and I agree with you that they should do what they can to get Ervin Santana as we cannot count on, or hope for, one of the young arms to be a major contributor in 2014 if we are to be serious about being a contender. Saying that, I like a lot of these young arms in the system and I am hopeful that they are handled correctly and groomed in order to reach their potential, which is more likely 2015-16. Hypothetically if we were to get Santana which I assume would be for four years and certainly no more than five, what could the Jays rotation look like in 2015 and then 2016? Who goes and who makes the grade?

All the best,

Aaron H, Sydney, Australia

A. I would say that by 2017 the Jays will have a five-man rotation of homegrown arms that will be the envy of baseball. Not all the top prospects develop, but even if 50 per cent of them do, it’s possible. Consider names like Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna, Daniel Norris, Sean Nolin, Matt Smoral, Tom Robson, Chase DeJong and Alberto Tirado.

Q. Dear Richard,

Why do I have no idea whether the Blue Jays are going to bounce back and be a playoff contender this year or be completely awful, but have no doubt that Josh Johnson and J.P. Arencibia will have excellent seasons? Am I alone in this thinking? But my question is this: why don’t pitchers have a knuckleball as part of their repertoire as opposed to always being a ‘knuckleballer’ specialist? I’m sure a lot of pitchers can throw one. So why not toss the odd knuckler in the mix?

Are you going to Sydney for the MLB opener?

Thanks,

Rob Brander, Sydney, Australia

A. Is your nickname “Eeyore?” As for the knuckleball question: to throw a good knuckleball takes total dedication and concentration. If the ball spins at all instead of fluttering up with no movement in the seams, it will be tonged into the next county by slavering hitters. You need the consistent grip, delivery and release point in order to make it work and it is counter-intuitive that can be done on a 10-times-a-game basis. Knuckleballers pre-game warmup in bullpen is to reach that perfection. No, it’s easier for a knuckleballer to throw an occasional fastball than for a fastballer to throw an occasional knuckleball.

Q. Dear Richard,

I am curious about your view of Adam Lind’s beard. I am not the type of person to comment towards appearances, since players can make their own choices. However, watching today’s spring training game versus the Phillies, when I watched Adam Lind step up to the plate, I felt that his long beard has crossed the line to make him, along with his team, look unprofessional. I would feel somewhat embarrassed to watch a Blue Jays game right now with my children present. 

Rob

Kitchener, Ontario

A. Times change and the long scraggly beards did not seem to affect the Red Sox and their popularity on the way to a World Series championship last year. There are still some teams with a facial hair policy like the Yankees, but when you’re like most organizations struggling to attract quality players it sometimes is hard to put restrictions on players self-expression. Besides, I checked out Lind’s beard yesterday from up close and it’s quite well maintained. You want a tangle, look at mine some mornings.