Tag Archives: Ontario

Rust Belt revival: Lessons for southwest Ontario from America’s industrial heartland

What can Ontario learn from the rival happening in America’s rust belt

There has been less longing, in recent years, to be part of our own country’s version of a rust belt – the one that comprises such Southwestern Ontario cities as Windsor, London and St. Catharines, and patches of Eastern Ontario. Young people have fled in droves as the region’s employment numbers have tanked, seeing the loss of more than a quarter of manufacturing jobs in the last decade.

The plight of the region has been a driving force behind a provincial deficit that remains at over $10-billion, as well as a net loss for Ontario in the migration of people within Canada, and an alarmingly aging population.

Even with Alberta driving the national economy, the country could ill afford Ontario’s struggles; it’s hardly healthy for the largest province’s per-capita GDP to be lower than the rest of Canada’s, and it helps explain why the federal government has remained in the red.

With oil’s current slide, Canada really can’t afford for it to remain a drag – and in fact there is some expectation that Ontario will instead reclaim its old role as the leader of Canada’s economic growth. Its premier, Kathleen Wynne, recently expressed optimism that plummeting oil prices and a sinking dollar will prove a boon to manufacturing. “I don’t wish for low oil prices and a low dollar for Alberta,” she said earlier this month. “But at the same time, we want our manufacturing sector to rebound. So if that [low oil price] helps, then that’s a good thing.”

While they could indeed help in the short term, it’s difficult to imagine those volatile factors leading to the lasting revival of traditional sectors competing with consistently low-cost jurisdictions such as Mexico, China and even the American South.

For sustainable renewal, Ontario’s old industrial towns will have to work harder at reinvention – and they should be looking to some of their counterparts in the U.S. A two-week road trip through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan revealed in often surprising ways how our neighbours are much further along in reinventing their most hard-hit cities, and how much we have to learn.

“The wind is at the back of these cities in a way that it wasn’t before,” says Jennifer Vey, a fellow at the Brookings Institute who studies the revitalization of old industrial centres. And although many of them will remain smaller than in their industrial heyday, the numbers bear that sentiment out. When the Manhattan Institute ranked America’s 100 biggest U.S. metropolitan areas for their economic performance in the wake of the Great Recession, mid-size Northeastern and Midwestern cities accounted for nine of the top 20.

As Mr. Piiparinen and others are quick to stress, jobs will always be the cornerstone of any regeneration. But employers themselves can be drawn to a city by affordability and infrastructure, and like to set up shop where highly skilled people want to put down roots. The renaissance of former industrial powerhouses is fuelled by attracting and keeping well-educated, entrepreneurial citizens committed to community-building and capable of creating wealth and quality of life around them.

Of course, direct comparisons between the U.S. and Canadian experience is never exact: The places I visited tended to be larger than their Canadian counterparts; and although they may have such superior amenities as major-league sports teams and world-class museums, they also suffer from some entrenched disadvantages – notably an appalling history of race relations that has left a legacy of poverty, crime and troubled public schools.

So why is it that a younger generation is finding opportunity in these Rust Belt cities (or some of them, at least; nobody sees Flint, Mich., or Gary, Ind., as models) more than in places like London or Windsor, which have some decent bones themselves? As Ontario attempts to take back Canada’s economic reins, it would do well to learn from what’s worked, and know what it’s up against.

Queen’s Park, we have a problem

Ontario’s debt problem just got a whole lot larger

Few people talk about debt. It isn’t sexy, and it certainly won’t win votes. In a little over two decades, from 1990-1991 to today, Ontario’s debt-to-GDP ratio has tripled. If you believe the government’s projections in Thursday’s budget, between 2009-2010 and 2017-2018, the province will have added about $90-billion in debt. The total debt will be about $280-billion.

It doesn’t matter, under these circumstances, which party forms the next government. The debt will still be there, large and growing, and very vulnerable to a hike in interest rates. Ontario, like other governments, can pile up more debt and get financing at low rates. When, inevitably, those rates rise, the burden of financing the debt will jump.

Thursday’s budget, in this sense, was like the recent federal one. The media and opposition parties in Ottawa focused on all the changes. Fair enough, but the biggest, silent increase in the federal budget was money for seniors’ pensions. That didn’t get a whisper of attention, because the costs go up quietly.

So, too, the post-budget coverage and debate in Ontario swirled about new spending in some programs while restraint is exercised in others; whether the Liberals met the NDP’s bargaining positions to get the budget passed and so remain in office; and whether the deficit will be going slightly up or down. But beneath the radar screen will be the buildup of debt, and the very real question about whether the province can manage it.

Ontario could finance its debt more easily if economic growth and accompanying government revenues grew at least as fast as debt-servicing costs. But economic growth is going to be about half the increase in costs of servicing the debt.

As the budget itself notes, Ontario’s productivity lags behind that of the United States, as does business investment. The province’s cost competitiveness has eroded. What the budget didn’t mention is that energy costs are soaring. Programs also are rising for such items as seniors’ drugs (up 5.4 per cent) and public-sector pensions (most public-sector employees have defined benefit plans, whereas private-sector employees don’t). Then there are provincial arbitrators who pay no attention to a government’s ability to pay, thereby driving up costs (see police, for example) by looking only at other settlements.

Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government was in the tightest of spots, not a place from which to talk about difficult stuff such as the buildup of debt. Her Liberal government finds itself between Conservatives, who hound it with demands for an election, and New Democrats, who play an annual game of political extortion with their list of demands.

It’s a terrible way to run a legislature, let alone a government, but that’s the way the opposition parties wish to play their hands. So the Liberals seek what they call a “balanced approach” between Conservatives who want bigger cuts in public spending and New Democrats who instinctively want to spend lots more, with the money coming from the business sector and the better off.

With the size of the Ontario economy, when it either goes spiralling into a recession or the painful cuts are made, it is going to impact us all. 

The Premier’s Office Strikes Again (this time in Ontario)

So much for empowering your cabinet and MLAs

Ontario’s governing Liberals don’t just have a new leader, they’re also speaking a whole new language.

The cabinet office is circulating “style tips” to bureaucrats with “preferred” phrases and language the new government has been using since Premier Kathleen Wynne took office.

And by the way, it’s “the new Ontario government,” not “the Wynne government.”

The memo includes a litany of catch-phrases Wynne has used since she became Liberal leader, including her ubiquitous: “We must engage in a respectful dialogue/conversation.”

The premier’s proclivity for the word “conversation” has become so pervasive that NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s favourite comeback is “there needs to be a little less conversation and a little more action.”

The style and tone of the new government includes a “can-do attitude” and “rousing enthusiasm,” according to the memo obtained by The Canadian Press.

Speeches should incorporate about 10 per cent of French, “personal anecdotes/stories (i.e. family history)” and the use of “active language — bold and direct.”

The government “likes to wrap speeches with ‘thank you and meegwetch” — or “thank you” in Algonquin _ something Wynne has been doing since she became the Liberal leader.

Other recurring phrases include “I’d like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of xxxx (at the start of most speeches)” — another sentence the premier uses frequently.

Do not forget: the preferred style includes short sentences and “limited use of contractions.”

Some bureaucrats are asking their staff to incorporate the language in both internal and external communications, including emails and correspondence to ministers.

I miss governments with strong ministers and MLAs.  We elect them and not the Premier’s Office.  

More than a coincidence

Still no sign of the real Pierre Poutine

This story by Stephen Maher and Glen McGregor is unbelievable.  While Elections Canada says the evidence is inconclusive, the investigation has narrowed down the people involved as for some reason they drove across Guelph and used a random unlocked wifi spot address to access the Conservative database.  The wifi connection was the same that was used to access RackNine’ servers. 

Other records obtained by Elections Canada show that five members of the Burke campaign team used that same IP address in the final weeks of the campaign to access CIMS, the Conservative Party’s central database of voter information.

Campaign manager Ken Morgan, deputy campaign manager Andrew Prescott and volunteers John White, Trent Blanchette and Christopher Crawford all logged onto CIMS from the Rogers IP, according to the document. Through the Conservative Party’s lawyer, Arthur Hamilton, Crawford told investigators that he had always accessed CIMS from the Burke campaign office.

It seems unlikely anyone in the Burke campaign headquarters, which was located northeast of Guelph’s downtown, could have connected to a Wi-Fi signal on the opposite side of the city.

But in court documents, Mathews offers no possible explanation for how or why five campaign workers all signed on from the same IP address used by Poutine — and over a Wi-Fi signal nowhere close to their office.

Indeed, Mathews suggests that the subscriber information behind IP address looks to be a dead lead, calling it “so far inconclusive.”

Instead, his latest request for court orders focuses on the relationship between the IP address and log-ins to RackNine, the Edmonton-based call company used to transmit the robocalls.

RackNine’s owner, Matt Meier, has found the robocalls were sent using his servers by a customer known to the firm as “Client 93”, who logged on with the Rogers IP. Elections Canada has already tied this account to a disposable Virgin Mobile cellphone registered by the suspect using the bogus name Pierre Poutine.

Prescott, a RackNine subscriber known as “Client 45”, used the company to send out legitimate robocalls about campaign events. Records produced by the company show that Prescott and Poutine accessed the company’s servers from the same IP address, sometimes within a few minutes.

Can anyone give me a reason why the campaign manager and deputy campaign manager, and three volunteers  would be accessing a restricted Conservative Party database from a random open wifi port across town from the campaign office and then you add on the little fact that it was the same IP address used to access the Racknine account.

The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald



I started reading about the IPO of Manchester United and I ended up reading about the Edmund Fitzgerald.  While there are a lot of theories about why the great ship went down, the best one I have read is that it was just not structurally sound.

When Bethlehem Steel Corporation permanently laid up the Fitzgerald’s sister ship, SS Arthur B. Homer, just five years after going to considerable expense to lengthen her, questions were raised as to whether both ships had the same structural problems. The two vessels were built in the same shipyard using welded joints instead of the riveted joints used in older ore freighters. Riveted joints allow a ship to flex and work in heavy seas, while welded joints are more likely to break.  Reports indicate that repairs to the Fitzgerald’s hull were delayed in 1975 due to plans to lengthen the ship during the upcoming winter layup. The Homer was lengthened to 825 feet (251 m) and placed back in service by December 1975, not long after the Fitzgerald foundered. In 1978, without explanation, Bethlehem Steel Corporation denied permission for the chairman of the NTSB to travel on the Homer. The Homer was permanently laid up in 1980 and broken for scrap in 1987.

Retired GLEW naval architect Raymond Ramsey, one of the design team on the hull of the Fitzgerald,  reviewed her increased load lines, maintenance history, along with the history of long ship hull failure and concluded that the Fitzgerald was not seaworthy on November 10, 1975. He stated that planning the Fitzgerald to be compatible with the constraints of the St. Lawrence Seaway had placed her hull design in a “straight jacket”.  The Fitzgerald’s long ship design was developed without the benefit of research, development, test, and evaluation principles while computerized analytical technology was not available at the time she was built. Ramsey noted that the Fitzgerald’s hull was built with an all-welded (instead of riveted) modular fabrication method, which was used for the first time in the GLEW shipyard. Ramsey concluded that increasing the hull length to 729 feet (222 m) resulted in a L/D slenderness ratio (the ratio of the length of the ship to the depth of her structure)  that caused excessive multi-axial bending and springing of the hull, and that the hull should have been structurally reinforced to cope with her increased length.

Former crew statements seem to back this theory up.

The stress fracture theory was supported by the testimony of former crewmen. Former Second Mate Richard Orgel, who served on the Fitzgerald in 1972 and 1973, testified that “the ship had a tendency to bend and spring during storms ‘like a diving board after somebody has jumped off.'” Orgel was quoted as saying that the loss of the Fitzgerald was caused by hull failure, “pure and simple. I detected undue stress in the side tunnels by examining the white enamel paint, which will crack and splinter when submitted to severe stress.” George H. “Red” Burgner, the Fitzgerald‘s Steward for ten seasons and winter ship-keeper for seven years, testified in a deposition that a “loose keel” contributed to the vessel’s loss. Burgner further testified that “the keel and sister kelsons were only ‘tack welded'” and that he had personally observed that many of the welds were broken.

And then there is this picture of another Great Lakes freighter Algoport breaking up while being towed to China for conversion.  High seas just bent the freighter in half.

Great Lakes freighter Algoport sinkingGreat Lakes freighter Algoport sinking

It’s amazing reading through all of the theories how much contradictory information there is.  Rouge waves, clamps not holding, bad seamanship, hitting a shoal, structural failure.  All are possibilities and we still don’t know what really happened.

Ontario police to receive training in response to calls that involve suffers of mental illness

Saskatoon Police would benefit from this as well

Standards enforced by the province are minimal and in many cases individual forces have bolstered their training and response methods related to mental illness only after coroner’s inquests have made recommendations following tragic deaths.

A Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year found that the amount of training and how police approach people in psychiatric crises varies widely.

Ontario’s review will attempt to find best practices by consulting experts, including the province’s chief coroner and forensic pathologist, Ms. Meilleur said.

“We read too often in the paper that there’s an unfortunate incident that occurs,” she said. “I’m not attributing blame here because … the police officers arrive on the scene, they don’t know … the individual they face is someone with mental illness.”

The closing of beds and the move away from institutionalized mental-health care in Canada has put the responsibility of responding to people in crisis more and more in the hands of the police, who have limited access to health-care experts in these crucial moments.

“Health issues and health problems are always on my mind,” said Ms. Meilleur, a former nurse, who was appointed to her portfolio last October.

John Pare, the deputy police chief in London, Ont., who sits on the justice committee of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said he welcomes recommendations from the province. Police are looking to improve their response to people in crisis, he said, but health care needs to improve so police aren’t the default responders.

While officers are instructed to use lethal force when someone poses an imminent threat to a person’s life, advocates say officers could be better equipped to de-escalate crisis situations before they reach that point.

A fine job by the CAW

As most of you know, the Canadian Auto Workers union were negotiating to save the jobs at the Caterpillar plant in London, Ontario.  Negotiations went so well that Caterpillar shut down the plant and moved the production to Indiana where workers were willing for work for 50% less.  Say whatever you want to say about how cruel Caterpillar is, $16.00/hour is a lot better than nothing and that is what those workers are left with in London.  700 jobs lost, a contentious severance package and Caterpillar becomes even more profitable. 

Believe it or not, the problem isn’t Caterpillar.  Are they evil? Yes.  Are profit hungry? Yes.  The problem was that only a couple hundred miles away were educated and trained American workers willing to work for half of what workers in London, Ontario are willing to work for and the CAW ignored that fact.  Both Obama and Romney are trying to revitalize the American manufacturing sector and this is how it is going to happen.  With a decline in demand in many sectors, it means that Ontario is going to be pitted against Indiana and Saskatchewan against Wisconsin.  The manufacturing jobs in China aren’t coming back for a very long time if ever and we are going to have to get used to the realities that it is going to come down to jurisdiction against jurisdiction and union local against union local.  Those that won’t make concessions or offer subsidies will lose jobs and even if you do, once the subsidies stop, the jobs will move to whoever will give them.

While $16/hour looked repulsive to the local union in London, it looked like a good paying job in Indiana and I have a feeling that is a story we will hear again and again until unions like the CAW understand that no matter how intense their strike, a 50% in wages will attract a lot of companies.  It’s the new normal and it is going to happen again and again.

Where have I seen this advertisement before?

I would have liked this NDP ad a lot better…

…if I hadn’t seen it somewhere before.

You know, considering that most of us have cable which means that we get Ontario television stations and probably saw the McGuinty ad, it seems to be a dumb decision to rip off the ad only weeks after it was on the air down east.   Plus, the white balance (or lighting) on the NDP ad is off which drives me crazy in more ways than you can imagine.

Have the Liberals Passed the Point of No Return

Chantal Hebert asks some hard questions about the future of the Liberal Party

Moving from east to west the NDP has pushed back the frontiers of its territory in every region of the country over the past decade. More often than not it has done so at Liberal expense.

In the early 90s, the NDP had little presence in Atlantic Canada. But today the New Democrats are well on the way to become a force to contend with in every province of the region except P.E.I.

They make up the government in Nova Scotia. On Tuesday they came within one seat of beating the Liberals to the title of official opposition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Quebec, the federal NDP has gone from one seat to 59 over the span of a single decade.

The Liberals under Jean Chrétien used to sweep Ontario throughout the ’90s. Last May, the NDP elected twice as many MPs as the Liberals in Canada’s largest province.

In the Prairies, the Liberal party is virtually extinct.

Out of 254 federal and provincial seats in the three provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Liberals currently hold 12.

Only two of those are federal seats and personal popularity has more to do with the survival of a lone federal Liberal flag-bearer in Saskatchewan and Manitoba last May than party brand.

The same is true in Quebec where most of the seven Liberal survivors of the federal election — MPs like Marc Garneau, Stéphane Dion, Denis Coderre, Irwin Cotler and Justin Trudeau — owe their survival to who they are (or who they have been).

Watching the receding Liberal tide, one can reasonably wonder whether the party as a major national presence has reached the point of no return.

The current Liberal establishment — rooted as it is in Ontario and somewhat blinded by its proximity to Queen’s Park — will swear that it is not so.

To shore up their faith in a brighter future for their party, diehard federal Liberals point to the leadership travails of the NDP and the resilience of their provincial cousins in Ontario.

There was a time not so long ago when the federal Tories drank the same bathwater.

They too clung to their party’s hold on provincial capitals such as Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto as proof positive of their own inevitable triumph over the Reform/Alliance.

Not to shine on Hebert’s rainy parade but the federal Tories changes, adapted, and merged and became… the federal Tories and the last time I checked, were in power nationally.  The Liberals may or may not do the same thing but they are not in the same boat as the Progressive Conservatives, even if they are in a rut right now.  Will they survive?  Not sure but did anyone see Peter McKay and Stephen Harper in power after the disastrous 1993 campaign? 

The Regina of Ontario

I’m in Mississauga for a couple of days near the airport for a Social Services conference and am staying at the Delta Airport West hotel.  The hotel is nice and the staff was great.  I was about to rave about the hotel until I found some boogers in my coffee cup as I finished taking a drink from it.  I fully expect to be dead by morning. 

I had plans to take the Go Train into Toronto tonight but I haven’t been feeling well and am just tired.  I am rooming with our Corrections Coordinator and after getting into the room, grabbing a bite to eat, I lost my motivation to head out and we watched a wide variety of YouTube clips while listening to the party next door get rowdier and rowdier (I can’t hear them right now.  They may have quieted down).  While the posting here won’t interest many of you over the next couple of days, I will be posting notes and thoughts to both Twitter and here.

Poverty Is…

  • Not being able to go to McDonald’s
  • Getting a basket from the Santa Fund
  • Feeling ashamed when my dad can’t get a job
  • Not buying books at the book fair
  • Not getting to go to birthday parties
  • Hearing my mom and dad fight over money
  • Not ever getting a pet because it costs too much
  • Wishing you had a nice house
  • Not being able to go camping
  • Not getting a hot dog on hot dog day
  • Not getting pizza on pizza day
  • Not being able to have your friends sleep over
  • Pretending that you forgot your lunch
  • Being afraid to tell your mom that you need gym shoes
  • Not having breakfast sometimes
  • Not being able to play hockey
  • Sometimes really hard because my mom gets scared and she cries
  • Not being able to go to Cubs or play soccer
  • Not being able to take swimming lessons
  • Not being able to afford a holiday
  • Not having pretty barrettes for your hair
  • Not having your own private backyard
  • Being teased for the way you are dressed
  • Not getting to go on school trips.

Responses from Grade 4 & 5 students in North Bay, Ontario, quoted in Our Neighbours’ Voices: Will We Listen?, The Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, 1998, James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. Toronto, p. 107.

What does it mean to be “working poor”?

From an editorial in the Guelph Mercury

Consider the case of a Guelph-area single parent of two children, working a minimum wage job. If this parents works 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, their annual salary (before tax) works out to be $21,320. This falls below Canada’s low-income cut-off, the income threshold below which a family will likely devote a larger share of its income to the necessities of food, shelter and clothing than the average family.

Based on their salary, this family receives $1, 777 (before tax) a month. The average rental cost for a two-bedroom apartment in Guelph is $878 per month and a nutritious food basket for a family of three in this area is around $400 a month. If the parent takes the bus to and from work then they need to tack on another $72 for a monthly public transportation pass. This leaves the family just over $400 per month for taxes, clothing, recreation, childcare and other expenses.

Regardless of how hard this single parent works, $10.25 is clearly an inadequate wage. There is no flexibility in their budget for unexpected costs and they must make daily sacrifices that have long-term effects on their overall quality of life.

Of course, this family could try to get subsidized housing, but the current wait list in Guelph is 3.5 years. They could access the local food bank, as well as neighbourhood and church food pantries, to cut down on their food budget. They could apply for recreation subsidies and buy used clothing. They might even receive child-care subsidies and the GST/HST rebate. All of these supports are meant to help people who are struggling to get by, yet they have little impact on improving their overall quality of life.

We’re #2

According to the Star Phoenix

Saskatchewan will surpass Ontario this year as Canada’s second-wealthiest province as measured by living standards, the result of a recession that has shown no mercy on the country’s industrial heartland, according to an independent analysis issued Tuesday.

So how is it happening?

For its part, Saskatchewan’s ascent is attributed to its natural resources, from oil and natural gas, to potash and wheat. “They have been riding some really winning horses and they have had a good open-for-business climate as well,” Mr. Orr said.

However, he warned commodity prices remain volatile and a sharp pullback could hit Saskatchewan’s living standards.

Basically the Ontario economy continues to struggle while the Saskatchewan economy rides a wave of high commodity prices that we have seen can be kind of volatile.