Tag Archives: Alison Redford

Don’t pinch the public’s pennies for affordable daycare

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For a study in contrasting world views, look no further than the federal Conservatives’ and New Democrats’ respective plans for daycare in Canada.

As the former ramped up its campaign rhetoric this week, promising tax cuts, credits and kiddie benefits for all – in effect, telling Canadians to take their own money and run – the latter unveiled a promising, though lightly coloured, early childhood education initiative that could find government-subsidized spots for up to one million pre-schoolers.

Of the two approaches, the NDP’s – which would charge parents a not unreasonable daily fee of $15 per child – is clearly the more thoughtful.

But the Tory scheme benefits both from its simplicity and its coarse, yet effective, appeal to base emotion: It doesn’t pick your pocket; rather, it appears to line your palm.

Try making the same argument about a multi-billion-dollar child-care program.

Right-wing politicos and their table-banging confederates in the chambers of public policy love to poke the mama bears of this country.

What right, they ponder provocatively, does the state reserve for itself – on the citizen’s dime, no less – when it interferes with a kid’s natural development in the home?

What’s wrong with babysitters, nannies, au pairs, or, for that matter, good, old mum and dad?

Stephen Harper’s “reformers” knew exactly what they were doing back in 2005 (before their ascent to power and prestige) when they promised to axe the Grits’ hard-won national daycare program and replace it with the Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB), which would dispense monthly cheques (each with a minimum value of $100) to families with kids under the age of six.

At the time, Mr. Harper said, “The only people who should be making these choices (about pre-school) are parents, not politicians, not the government.”

In effect, though, the future prime minister was signaling his intention to wield whatever authority he would soon possess to limit, not expand, options for working mothers and fathers. And recent reports from Ottawa indicate that he hasn’t changed his mind in the run-up to next fall’s general election.

According to National Post columnist John Ivison, writing on Saturday, “The Conservatives are planning to enhance the universal child-care benefit in the upcoming fiscal update, so that parents with children older than six will also receive $100 cheques, multiple sources suggest.”

All of which merely adds insult to the injury inflicted years ago when the Tories first propagated the absurd notion that $100 per child per month was a perfectly adequate, no-strings-attached alternative to universally accessible, publicly subsidized child care for kids aged 2 to four.

Still, many parents will prefer to embrace the Harper approach (and the money it provides) and dismiss the evidence, which is, frankly, overwhelming.

A report last year by Queen’s and McMaster Universities concluded that children who tend full-day kindergarten (FDK) are “better prepared to enter Grade 1 and to be more successful in school” than those who don’t.

A compendium of expert research and opinion on the subject, The Early Years Study 3, published in 2011, also states: “Researchers have found that parents whose children attend programs that are integrated into their school are much less anxious than their neighbours whose kids are in the regular jumbled system. Direct gains have also been documented for children. Evaluations of Sure Start in the UK, Communities for Children in Australia and Toronto First Duty found children in neighbourhoods with integrated children’s services showed better social development, more positive social behaviour and greater independence/self-regulation compared with children living in similar areas without an integrated program.”

Yes, establishing and operating an effective system will cost billions of dollars. And yes, overcoming the inevitable problems, both large and small, won’t be easy.

But, as the The Early Years Study 3 points out, “Investing $1 million in child care would create at least 40 jobs, 43 per cent more jobs than the next highest industry and four times the number of jobs generated by $1 million in construction spending. Every dollar invested in child care increases the economy’s output (GDP) by $2.30.”

With such facts staring us in the face, how can we take the money and run?

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Redford to the masses: Let ‘em eat cake!

When the rock is a hard place, it's usually government thinking it's a friggin' balloon

When the rock is a hard place, it’s usually government thinking it’s a friggin’ balloon

There is something decidedly Bev Oda about Alison Redford. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the two of them share a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain let ‘em eat cake mentality, a certain – how shall I put this? – aura of power.

Actually, that’s not my phrase. It belongs to Merwan Saher, Alberta’s Auditor-General. Speaking to reporters last week about his report on Ms. Redford’s financial dalliances whilst serving as premier of that province (she’s since left both the job and her position as Progressive Conservative MLA), Mr. Saher said, “This is the sense we had  – that this working around rules, this tendency even to ignore rules, is to fulfill requests coming from the premier’s office in ways that avoided leaving the premier with personal responsibility for those decisions.”

Of course, compared with Ms. Redford, Bev Oda, former federal minister for International Cooperation, is a lightweight in the entitlement department. Before Prime Minister Stephen Harper “retired” her in 2012, she was justly famous for charging a $16 glass of orange juice in a London hotel back to Canadian taxpayers.

Ms. Redford, on the other hand, once spent $825 on a single hotel room (according to the Globe and Mail), had her staff block-book seats on airplanes for people who didn’t exist just so she could get a little more legroom, and spent nearly half-a-million bucks on a trip to Switzerland.

Specifically, Mr. Saher’s report bluntly states: “Premier Redford and her office used public resources inappropriately. They consistently failed to demonstrate in the documents we examined that their travel expenses were necessary and a reasonable and appropriate use of public resources – in other words, economical and in support of a government business objective.”

What’s more, says the report, “Premier Redford used public assets (aircraft) for personal and partisan purposes. And Premier Redford was involved in a plan to convert public space in a public building into personal living space.”

Finally, comes this stinging rebuke: “No public servant, not even a premier, should be excused from vigilant oversight of their compliance with policies and processes designed both to protect the public interest and themselves from bad judgement.

And what does the former Princess of the Oil Patch have to say for herself? 

“I had hoped to have more time to do more of what I promised Albertans,” she wrote recently in the Edmonton Journal. “There were many issues we could tackle quickly – a new social policy framework, equality rights, better funding for mental health, disaster responses in the north and south, funding for teachers, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, a single regulator and sustainable energy development, a more rational royalty framework, and opening new trade offices. I am proud of the Safe Communities Agenda for Alberta, and the Social Policy Framework that helped to prevent vulnerable youth from following the path of addiction, crime and homelessness. I truly believe we made a difference.”

At the same time, she conceded, “There were also many issues that we needed to deal with that were always going to take longer to fix, for two reasons. First, they were complicated, and second, many had been neglected for too long and there was entrenched resistance to new approaches. That is a reality and a dilemma in public life. It is necessary to be bold and confident, but there is always reluctance to look ahead and to face challenges as well as opportunities. It is easier to look back, to what we know and understand. Moving forward is more difficult, particularly in a province as blessed as Alberta.”

I’ll say it’s blessed. Ask any Maritimer who can’t afford bus fare, let alone plane tickets and hotel rooms. That’s what you get when you have more money than God. In fact, if you’re Alison Redford, you don’t actually need His blessing at all.

Just a little of what Mr. Saher calls “bad judgement” and an “aura of power.”

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Where’s Rob Ford when you need him?

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Time was when a good, old-fashioned political scandal in this country involved equal measures of illicit drugs and public inebriation.

Now, according to the Globe and Mail this week, the mayor of Brampton, Ontario, Susan Fennell, has been accused of improperly charging $172,608 to the municipal credit card, which she used to pay for “hotel upgrades, flight passes and even IQ quizzes. . .on her cell phone.”

One wonders how that last one worked out for her. The auditors, in any case, aren’t waiting around to find out; they are less interested in the details of her preoccupations than in the scope of her alleged public pinching.

Says the Globe piece: “An expense scandal has been simmering since last fall, but it wasn’t until a four-month audit was completed this week by Deloitte Canada that the extent of the mayor’s breaches of the city’s spending policy were revealed, highlighting and high level of dysfunction in Canada’s ninth-largest city.”

Specifically, Deloitte found that the burgermeister of this burb of 600,000 souls had violated the codebook 266 times and possibly more, since Ms. Fennell couldn’t provide details about 72 other spending excursions.

Naturally, her fellow councillors are livid. “We certainly didn’t sit around this table and approve first-class travel and luxury hotel rooms,” said Elaine Moore, who is no fan of the mayor on a good day. “I think what we have is an attitude of compete disregard for taxpayers’ dollars.”

What irks and astonishes others who are not privy to the traditional perks of municipal office is the lack of procedures in place to enforce spending policy. Says the Globe: “In February, 2011, councillors voted 7-2 to. . .allow members to approve their own claims. . .It’s a move that;s baffled observers.”

Indeed, exclaimed Susan Crawford of the city’s Board of Trade, “There’s no corporation in our country that doesn’t have an oversight function in terms of expenses – recording them, reviewing them and approving them,”

Still, is Ms. Fennell worried? Commenting on her colleagues‘ demand for a criminal investigation into her activities, she smirked, “Do you want to stick to the (Ontario Provincial Police or do you want to double-check the proper protocol with Peel, OPP, RCMP, CSIS, the army?”

Elsewhere in Public Service Land, where the roads are paved with gold and no one need ever check his bank account, scandal-plagued former Alberta Premier Alison Redford penned her goodbyes to the citizens of the Wild Rose province.

“I am stepping down immediately as MLA for Calgary-Elbow to start the next chapter of my life, teaching and resuming work in international development and public policy,” she wrote in the Edmonton Journal this week. “I recognize that mistakes were made along the way. In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently. That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made.”

Oh really? According to the CBC, which obtained an advance copy of Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher’s report on the former premier’s spending habits, “false passengers” appeared on several government flights. Ms. Redford’s staff would routinely ‘cancel’ the manifest at the last minute, thus “making it possible for (her) to fly alone with her entourage.”

The CBC report continued: “(The A-G) also concluded Redford derived a “personal benefit” by taking her daughter on dozens of government flights. Saher raises the question of whether Redford’s desire to take her daughter on out-of-province trips may have influenced the decision to use government aircraft rather than commercial carriers.”

Again, just as in Brampton, the peasants are revolting. Jim Lightbody, a University of Alberta political scientist can scarcely believe his eyes. “It reveals a scarcely disguised contempt for taxpayers’ money,” he told the CBC.

Indeed, it does. But that also seems to be the way the circus is heading these days. 

Earlier this summer, Joe Fontana – the former mayor of London, Ontario, having been convicted of fraud and breach of trust (charges that stemmed from his time serving as  federal Liberal cabinet minister) – was sentenced to four months of house detention and several more of probation.

Former Conservative senator Mike Duffy faces 31 charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Who knows what’s happening in the Pamela Wallin case, as the RCMP continues its investigation into her expenses?

It all makes one yearn for a little illicit-drug and public-inebriation action.

Dear Rob Ford: Won’t you come out and play?

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