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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This year’s federal budget tries to position itself as one focused on the crisis of housing affordability in this country. The entire first chapter of the budget was focused on housing. It was the first section in Freeland’s speech on the specific measures being taken. The problem is that there are very few levers at the federal government’s disposal when it comes to actually doing much about said crisis, particularly in attacking the root causes of it, which is of course the shortage of supply, and the fact that municipalities simply aren’t building enough of it. But how can a federal government push provinces and municipalities if their sales job consists of crowing about how much money they are sinking into solving the problem, and when some of their measures simply exacerbate the problem while simply trying to look like they’re helping?

In her speech, Chrystia Freeland acknowledged the supply problem, but quickly moved to back-patting about what the budget hopes to do.

“This must become a great national effort, and it will demand a new spirit of collaboration—provinces and territories; cities and towns; the private sector and non-profits all working together with us to build the homes that Canadians need,” Freeland said.

And a necessary note was in the prose as well: “But on housing, I would like to offer one caution: There is no silver bullet which will immediately, once and forever, make every Canadian a homeowner in the neighbourhood where they want to live.”

The document itself is far clearer that this is largely a problem that the federal government has too few tools at its disposal.

“To fill the gap that already exists—and to keep up with our growing population over the next decade—Finance Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimate that Canada will need to build at least 3.5 million new homes by 2031,” the document reads, and notes that currently, only about 200,000 new housing units are being built in any given year, and that we need to double that rate.

“Neither the federal government nor developers can solve this issue alone—provincial, territorial, and municipal governments also have a significant role to play,” it reads, and I’m surprised that this is not bolded, highlighted, and used as a pull-quote, because this is precisely the issue that we face.

Most of the logjams we face with building new housing is happening at the municipal level, particularly around zoning and permitting, with local councillors pandering to NIMBYs who are more concerned about their property values than in the housing crisis facing the country—because they want their votes—and many are financially beholden to kinds of developers whose bread and butter are urban sprawl and the blight of McMansions on winding, cul-de-sac streets, with the only nod to density being the single apartment building at one corner of the development, and calling it a day. Provinces could play a more robust role in clearing these bottlenecks, but most have very little interest in doing so. Ontario recently tabled legislation that claims to speed up approvals for new housing, but blatantly ignored their own task force’s recommendations on affordability, particularly around forcing cities to accept more density.

And this is where I’m not sure what particularly the federal government proposes to do in order to “incentivize” municipalities to fix the problems sitting on their front lawns. The $4 billion pledged in the platform was billed at helping cities deal with their permitting problems, but in the budget, the fund is to be administered by the CMHC and doesn’t much sound like the kind of financial incentive to drive structural change that it did in the platform.

“The fund will be designed to be flexible to the needs and realities of cities and communities, and could include support such as an annual per-door incentive for municipalities, or up- front funding for investments in municipal housing planning and delivery processes that will speed up housing development,” the document reads. “Its focus will be on increasing supply, but government supports will be targeted to ensure a balanced supply that includes a needed increase to the supply of affordable housing.”

The target of said fund is 100,000 net new housing units, and proposes to include assurances for small towns and rural communities that they can access it. This does not sound like it’ll help municipalities make the kinds of changes that will help permanently clear the permitting and zoning logjams that are preventing denser, more sustainable neighbourhoods from being built, but rather it sounds more project-specific. I hope I’m wrong about that.

And then there are the first-time home buyer programmes, which frankly just pour gasoline on the fire. Their “Tax-Free First Home Savings Account” does precious little for actual affordability, and favours those who are higher income, particularly given the size of the deduction allowable. (As Jennifer Robson has pointed out, this replicates a government program from 1974 until the mid-eighties, that also skewed to being used by people in higher income brackets and it sounds like they didn’t learn a single lesson). This, along with the decision to double the First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit, merely juice demand when they just went on at length about inadequate supply, and will only serve to drive prices up. There is a fundamental incoherence here that sure looks like the government was far more concerned about the optics of being seen to “do something” rather than ensuring there was good policy.

Yet another example of simply looking like they are doing something is around “renovictions.” The platform had promised to crack down on them, which was constitutionally dubious considering that it’s provincial jurisdiction, and we can see in the budget that they have decided to get cute about it by tying the practice to corporations and investors who acquire large portfolios of residential housing using the disclaimer of “many believe.” Their solution? A federal review of housing as an asset class. I’m not sure this quite fulfils the bogus promise.

While I get the political imperative to do something about housing, and while it’s great to see that they acknowledge the jurisdictional tangle to the problems at hand, I’m not seeing how they are offering much in the way of solutions that will actually work. Talk about “incentivizing” municipalities, or the provinces to force the hands of those municipalities, needs some specifics, and that’s not what this budget offers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

“What fresh hell,” the PM said, channeling us all as we stare down the threat of this omicron variant interrupting another holiday season.

“What fresh hell,” say I, as I prepare to write my annual year-end “hot or not” and prediction columns.

Here’s the first: my little annual tradition (defined, from my collegiate days, as “anything two men of college recall happening more than twice”) of who’s up, who’s down, and who really bothered me this year.

Justin Trudeau: Hot

The PM’s act might be wearing thin on a significant segment of the population, but his gamble to call an unnecessary election paid off, giving him his third straight win, and second straight almost-a-majority-but-not-quite mandate. He seems a bit disengaged, but his handling of COVID-19 has been a solid “good enough”, and whether he tries to keep governing for the long term or is into legacy mode, no one can deny he might be a bit greyer, but it’s still working for him.

Erin O’Toole: Not

He lost, when his job was to win. He also seems blithely unaware that he lost. I heard him speak, introducing former PM Brian Mulroney at the Churchill Society. It was unfair — the Tory grandee outclassed him in a way that was almost, inadvertently, mean.

Chrystia Freeland: Not

Count me as one Liberal not sold on her as heir apparent. She is losing the opening round of her tussle with Conservative rabble rouser Pierre Polievre. He might be over the top, and generally wrong on the economics, but he has a message about the cost of living most normal people can relate to, and even cheer on. Freeland, meanwhile, seems kind of annoyed that she has to explain why she is right, and others are wrong. Lecturing isn’t leading.

Pierre Polievre: Hot

See above.

Doug Ford: Hot

Love him or hate him or really hate him, the vast majority of Ontarians think he’s done OK this past year. It’s been far from perfect, but his heart is seemingly in the right place, and he gets things right, even if it’s on the third try. He also has a real message about housing affordability and traffic congestion. If he could fix his government’s seeming disdain for kids’ education and future, he’d be cruising to reelection. As it stands, he likely will win reelection next June, thanks in no small part to the utter lack of any spark in his two main opposition parties (see below).

Andrea Horwath & Steven Del Duca: Not

The two opposition leaders in Ontario are either invisible and being outflanked by the Tories on labour rights and housing affordability, or unexciting and without a seat. Rather than taking the fight to the Tories, the NDP and Liberal leaders seem to be shadow boxing each other for who comes in second, fighting over a downtown progressive vote at the expense of the suburbs, and trailing a Premier they despise in all key leadership metrics, from caring to competence. It’s not good. Neither oppo leader seems to have a message other than reacting to what Ford does. If they split the vote, as seems likely today, Ford will run up the middle. His opponents may be the best assets he has.

Rachel Notley: Hot

Meanwhile, in Alberta, the former Premier shows all opposition leaders how it’s done. She’s kicking Jason Kenney’s butt, and has a clear contrast message, clear leadership qualities and seems ready to govern if given the chance. Her only problem? The election isn’t tomorrow.

The Curse of Politics: Hot

The best political podcast in Canada — David Herle, Jenni Byrne, Scott Reid and a lot of swearing, Marvel comics references and old war stories — continues to delight, inform and make jogging or car drives more enjoyable. If you’re not listening, you should be.

John Tory: Hot

Calm, competent, kind, shows up to everything, cheerleads the city — the guy has grown on me, and the majority of his voters. If he runs for a third term, he’d win, and cement a legacy as Toronto’s longest-serving mayor. If he doesn’t, there’s no real heir apparent to step into the big shoes he’d leave. I hope he runs again.

Anita Anand: Hot

She’s the cabinet MVP, and the woman who got us all vaxxed, and she’s already righting the ship at DND.

Agree, disagree? Let me know…after the holidays.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

According to its many proponents, the new international tax reform agreement, finalized Friday at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a “historic” achievement deserving of celebration.

OECD Secretary-General, Mathias Cormann called the new pact between world leaders “a major victory for effective and balanced multilateralism.” French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, echoed Cormann’s praise, saying that the agreement “opens the path to a true fiscal revolution”, ensuring “digital giants pay their fair share of taxes…”

Not to be outdone, Canada’s own Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland, gushed that the new deal “is a win for the Canadian middle class and Canadian businesses. It will end the race to the bottom in taxation and put Canadian businesses on a level playing field with our global competitors.”

It makes sense for these political leaders to sing the praises of the deal they themselves helped negotiate and ultimately agreed to. Almost all politicians want to crow about their successes. Its part of the job.

But is theirs a fair and accurate assessment? Or is it a thinly veiled attempt to deceive citizens into believing that their elected representatives are taking meaningful action to address corporate tax avoidance?

When taken at face value, the deal that 136 countries agreed to, what with its proposed new taxation rights on corporate profits and a new minimum global corporate tax rate, are indeed positive developments.

However, after closer inspection of its details, it becomes quite clear that the deal could not be further from the egalitarian and progressive feat its supporters would have you believe it is.

For starters, consider the minimum rate decided upon in the agreement.

At 15 percent, the minimum tax rate is simply far too low to do any substantive good. There are less than a handful of countries in the G7 and member state countries in the European Union that have corporate tax rates lower than 15 percent, leaving far too many jurisdictions minimally affected by this portion of the deal. Proposals for a 21 percent minimum tax, or, as the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation advocates for, a 25 percent minimum rate, would have to be agreed upon for the deal to have any real global benefit in curbing corporate greed.

Unfortunately, these bare minimum tax rates are the least of the deal’s problems.

Far worse is the fact that the agreement compels all signatory countries to eliminate the existing taxes they currently have on big tech. This will include Canada’s Digital Services Tax, which is due to come into effect this coming January. As a result of these changes, Toby Sanger, an economist from Canadians for Tax Fairness, predicts that in Canada, “big tech companies will get a massive tax break, and the federal government much lower tax revenues.”

Nor will Canadians be the only ones exploited. Citizens in the Global South will be even worse off than those of us in the Global North.

Under the current agreement, “countries in which the corporations are headquartered, rather than where they do their business, receive the lion’s share of the recouped revenue.” As Global South countries don’t tend to host major company headquarters, and as their government’s are even more reliant on corporate revenue than those in the Global North are, the agreement will be crippling to the developing world.

Add on the fact that the deal is extremely limited in scope, not to mention, rife with loopholes and exemptions, just waiting to be exploited, and you have what Oxfam’s Tax Policy Lead, Susana Ruiz, calls “an unacceptable injustice”; one that desperately “needs a complete overhaul.”

Sadly, that overhaul appears unlikely to occur anytime soon.

After four decades of short-sighted tax cuts, enabling outrageous of levels of wealth inequality together with diminished government revenue, political leaders still have not mustered the courage, let alone the intelligence, to band together to correct the wrongs of the neoliberal past and finally usher in a new era of cooperation on corporate taxation.

Instead, they brokered an agreement that will only increase corporate greed and exploitation, leaving ordinary citizens increasingly vulnerable to the financial encroachment of big tech.

For these injustices, our political leaders deserve no more praise than that they themselves have heaped upon one another.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Unless any of the mail-in ballots flip enough ridings, it looks like we are once again destined for a hung parliament with the Liberals continuing in government. While there appears to be only a small number of changed seats on the headline numbers, there were a lot of shuffled seats at the local level, which actually ensured a greater distribution of seats, such as Conservatives in Atlantic Canada, and Liberals in Alberta. Still, the evening was spent with the talking heads on TV declaring the election “useless,” sighing that it was a “$600 million Cabinet shuffle,” and wondering aloud if it was really all worth it if we wound up with seat math that largely resembles where we went into it. And while the exercise of democracy is never useless, I do think there were some important outcomes of this election.

In spite of all of the pundits declaring that this was an election about nothing, or at worst about Trudeau’s own ambition to regain his majority, there were some very big differences in party visions for the path forward out of the pandemic. If anything, those who proclaimed this was about nothing have had the least at stake over the course of the pandemic. To an extent, this election result becomes something of an inoculation around “mandate-talk” among the pundit class, many of whom would likely be spending the post-pandemic recovery period grousing about the government’s spending, and the direction that they have been taking, and plan to continue taking. This is in large part of what Trudeau was referring to when he said this election was about Canadians choosing a path forward – and what he called a “clear mandate” (in spite of the abuse of the term) in his victory speech.

To an extent, this also gives Trudeau some additional political pressure to apply to recalcitrant provinces to sign onto his national plans – universal childcare with Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick most especially, but possibly as well with the nine provinces who have not yet signed onto the pharmacare plan as PEI has, and his plans to implement national standards (with audits) around long-term care in exchange for federal dollars. He is promising to sit down with those premiers once the pandemic is officially over to discuss the shape of future healthcare transfers – again, with strings attached – and having this fresh electoral result will probably help the hand is able to play with them, because it will be at least another 18 months, maybe two years, before we go back to the polls and the premiers can pin their hopes on someone else who promises higher transfer with fewer strings. It’s the same with the even tougher environmental measures that the Liberals are promising – because much of that burden will fall on provinces, Trudeau may have some additional leverage now that he didn’t five weeks ago when it comes to getting cooperation.

More importantly, it is likely that this election will break the deadlock in the House of Commons that stymied progress on most bills for the bulk of the spring session. There is every chance that we can finally put the WE Imbroglio to bed for good, now that Bill Morneau has long-since retired from politics and Trudeau has been returned with this in voters’ minds. In the coming Cabinet shuffle, he also has the opportunity to finally move Harjit Sajjan out of the defence portfolio, and can put someone far more competent to manage the Canadian Forces’ transformation to dealing with its highly sexualized culture and toxic masculinity problem into the role. That will hopefully free up some of the committees to do actual legislative work as bills start to come down the pipeline. But as in any hung parliament, the fact that the opposition parties are depleted – the NDP most especially in a much more precarious financial situation after a high-spending national campaign – gives Trudeau more room to manoeuvre. Those parties are unlikely to be calling any bluffs for at least a year before they start huffing and puffing and making threatening noises about bringing Trudeau’s government down, so that he can make moves that they wouldn’t have allowed in the toxic spring.

This being said, Trudeau never made the case for this election around said parliamentary deadlock, which was a baffling choice that hampered his chances more than his “happy warrior” schtick helped him on the campaign trail. Credulous journalists and pundits who didn’t pay attention to what was going on in the House of Commons never brought it up on the campaign trail, and Trudeau didn’t volunteer it either, to his own detriment, and it all played into the “useless” election narrative, which Trudeau was ineffective in communicating around.

The one thing that I suspect more than anything, however, is that this result will hasten Trudeau’s departure. After a second hung parliament, it is increasingly unlikely that he will want to contest a third election as prime minister, where the chances are greater that he’ll be turfed. Rather than face defeat, it is far more probable that he will complete the child care agreements, and one or two more policy planks that are within reach, and then declare a job well done and that it’s time to pass the torch – and because we’re in a hung parliament, it will likely be within a year, rather than the two or three that he might have in a majority parliament. Chrystia Freeland is waiting in the wings, and while we’ll get a leadership contest between her, François-Philippe Champagne, and a couple of no-hope outsiders hoping to build their own profiles, that will last a couple of months rather than a full year, and she’ll have a few months to establish herself before the shelf-life of this parliament gets stale and they go back to the polls, but with a fresh face leading the charge.

This wasn’t an election over nothing, and with a little luck, it bought a reprieve from the poisonous atmosphere in the Commons from the spring.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.