Progressive changes to post-secondary admission and judicial monetary penalties

Significant work and billions of dollars have been invested in reducing poverty in Canada. In Ontario, all three major political parties (prior to Mr. Ford) have made poverty reduction a significant investment in their platforms. Yet, there are opportunities to increase the capacity of individuals and reduce the criminalization of impoverished individuals without substantial expenses. In some instances, there may be an opportunity to save money in these ministries. Some of the changes have been and are implemented in different progressive and developed countries around the world. Most of these ideas would come from the socialist democratic style of countries but are amongst the peers of Canada. The first idea is tailoring post-secondary tuition to your income levels and second is again attributing monetary fines to your income.

Post-secondary education is incredibly relevant in today’s economy. It is seen as a minimum standard for many positions whether it be college or university. Yet, thousands of low-income individuals either cannot afford to attend or struggle with massive amounts of debt to attend. This is because there is a standard cost associated with attending a university in the form of flat-rate tuition. This tuition is subsidized by the government to allow for Canadian students to attend at a cheaper rate (international students are not included in this. Hence they pay the “full amount” of tuition). While this subsidized rate does efficiently create ‘equal’ access for thousands of students it does this unequally. If tuition stands at $7,000 annually for a Canadian student, this is the standard no matter the income. A student whose family makes $32,000 annually or $250,000 annually pays the same amount. Yet, this dramatic income differential has a drastically different effect on both individuals. That student whose family makes $32,000 must set aside almost 22% of their annual earnings to just pay the entrance fee. Whereas the student whose family earns $250,000 only has to set aside 2.8%. This places that student whose family earns significantly less annually in a drastically more difficult situation. To be able to pay tuition let alone the other necessities associated with education and living and continuing with getting an education over 4+ years. The flat rate program leaves that student in a situation where the only viable option is a drastically large student debt allotment which causes future financial difficulties. While our system is set out to be equal and fair; it, in fact, is not. Both students share the same opportunity to attend by the governments flat rate but both students do not have the equal genuine opportunity due to large upfront and long-term fixed costs. While the family that earns $250,000 will see more deductions from their income through income taxes and that student may not qualify for additional supports once a student; the upfront cost and long-term costs are not significant barriers or as significant.

Visible minorities, Indigenous peoples, and new Canadians are often the ones that struggle with low income, poverty, and education is supposed to be an opportunity to provide these individuals with current and future changes. This flat rate system means more often then not we end up subsidizing higher income families who ability to pay is apparent; while only assisting those few lower-income individuals once they have made it past the gatekeeper. Changing the way we charge tuition and provide assistance to those with lower income would provide more accessibility and opportunity to these individuals while also being fiscally responsible. A tiered system would be necessary to provide these opportunities to those individuals who met the standards. The subsidy would be based on the earned income of the individual/family. The family who makes $32,000 a year may see their costs go from the flat rate of $7,000 to $2,500 annually. An annual reduction from 22% annual income to 7.8% or a -14.2% reduction for that student to attend university. This increased subsidy could be offset by increasing the amount for that student whose family earns more. The student whose family earns $250,000 could be asked to pay $11,500 annually in tuition to cover the reduction for low-income students. This increase in cost still is below what that low-income student would have to save annually. The amount based on the income would increase from 2.8% annual savings to 4.6% which is less than a +2% increase. This change would allow a significant improvement in the livelihoods of students who struggle with costs associated with post-secondary and the related debt. The difference of $4,500 for that low-income student pays for 9 out of 12 months of rent (Room rent of $500), or it pays for 15 months worth of food ($300 monthly) reducing both student homelessness and student hunger.

This would also not be detrimental to either party minus the small increase in monetary costs to the higher earners. Universities love international students because they pay up front and they pay the full amount. They don’t have to fight with governments over ratios or numbers, and they set the amount charged. These higher tuition costs mean those post secondary institutions would be challenging to attract more senior income students because they would pay more up front. As such it would allow for more lower-income students to attend that institution and get the same education. In other areas; where there are low mobility rates and depressed income levels generally, there is an opportunity to subsidize those areas with income from richer communities to allow for a diversification of the workforce in the depressed areas.

Germany has a system implemented for monetary penalties given by the judicial system where it too is associated with your income. An individual was found driving egregiously on the Autobahn and was caught speeding; based on his income his fine was $22,000. Whereas someone with a lower income bracket would pay must less but both serve these individuals as effective deterrents because they are proportional to their income. Our system as we have it currently presents everyone as equals. Whether you have $1 to your name or billions both are considered equal. This system while ‘income blind’ doesn’t effectively create the proper outcomes or equal ones. People struggling with low income or people who are impoverished face much larger proportional penalties than someone with a large income and wealth even though the fines are the same. Much like the university tuition system in Canada, it is a flat rate system. This costs us the taxpayer millions of dollars annually as well because the system is not representative of the individual’s situation. For example, a public intoxication ticket is relatively minor and cheap. In Ontario, the cost is $65, but depending on your situation the outcomes could be completely different. A homeless individual whose home is ‘the environment in which he /she lives’ can often rack up a large number of these within short order. Whereas, a college student drunk walking down the street and being a danger to himself may only get one in his/her lifetime. The student ends up paying the ticket, and it costs him a weekend of partying or a week of ramen noodles. For that homeless individual; with no adequate income or a limited income, it can result in jail time. Enough tickets associated with an individual will lead to his arrest through a bench warrant. Often this leads to jail time for the individual and thousands of dollars in costs to taxpayers. To keep an individual in jail per day costs on average $116,000 a year to keep someone in jail. If an individual gets sent to jail for a 3 month period because of intox. Tickets; as taxpayers, we spend $28,600. Editors note: Police officers are often aware that people cannot pay; sometimes tickets are given with the knowledge that these individuals will go to jail eventually (Yes, they are legitimate tickets). Winter is a tough time for homeless individuals, and with enough tickets, the individual may spend the time inside (jail) with a warm environment, food, and access to medical help. It’s an unfortunate workaround to make sure people don’t freeze to death or suffer unnecessarily. Associating tickets to individuals incomes would be more effective in deterring individuals but also understanding their realities. That ticket tied to the homeless person’s income may be better given as community service without the monetary penalty. If we could reduce the number of people spending time in prisons because they are homeless or lack the ability to pay then we could save millions annually.

Speeding is another example of an area where a flexible system would be better served then the flat rate system. A flat rate of $500 would have significantly more detrimental effects on the individual whose car is falling apart than the individual whose Maserati is sitting in the lockup. A monetary fine that is too large for an individual to pay may also have external but related negative impacts. That suspended license for not paying the penalty could lead to a no insurance ticket which if caught is a $5,000 fine or higher insurance premiums from canceling and reopening policies. It could also be the only means for an individual to get to and from work which could cause job loss and potentially both confidence and mental health issues. While it is important to have a fine that is effective at deterring individuals from committing these acts it is also important to understand the realities of the human situation. Set the fine at a flat rate of income; 2% as an example would mean an individual earning $32,000 would pay $640 but an individual earning $250,000 would be $5,000. While neither fine may break the bank for either person it provides a useful deterrent to people; it also takes into account the human element of the situation. It is more equitable than the flat rate system and it gives additional flexibility to justices when making decisions on fines. Both individuals are harmed, but neither is hampered to the point where it unequally impacts one person because of their income levels.

Our idea of a flat fee for everyone is noble and comes with good intentions. It removes the human element of the situation and we lose sight of the purpose. We want to punish people enough to deter them from conducting themselves in certain ways. We do not want to hamper them so much we effectively kill all hope for progress. Our society is considered to be fair and provide the necessary helping hand when needed. Yet, we are subsidzing the education of the rich while effectively denying it to the poor or indebting them so much that they continue to stay poor while profiting off them.

What do you think of the situation?

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How the Ontario Liberals could re-brand to win the 2018 election.

After the claims of sexual misconduct against then, Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Patrick Brown turned the Ontario political landscape upside down; we finally have clarity. As hasty and contentious as the determination of the new PC leader was; the party has a new head. Doug Ford appears to have won the social conservative vote in order to take over the party election from his rivals. We now have Premier Kathleen Wynne, Opposition leader Doug Ford, and NDP leader Andrea Horwath as the main three parties leaders.

The polls currently show that Ontario is set to turn back to a conservative government after 14 years under the Ontario Liberal platform. Part of this reason is due to the poor polling performance and likeability of Kathleen Wynne as a leader but also due to general sluggishness associated with the current status quo. Yet; the conservatives are also in a bind with low ratings for their new leader Doug Ford and the self-destruction of the conservative platform. The previous party platform built under Patrick Brown has been tossed by the wayside in order to allow Ford’s visions for Ontario come to light. Party platforms typically are a very challenging document because you need to accommodate the general ideology of the party but also pander to individual groups and the public as a whole. If I were to be in the liberal war room I would think that there is a good opportunity here to re-brand the party in order to shift where it sits on the political spectrum. In recent years, Wynne has taken the party hard left in order to take votes away from the NDP to much success. Yet, I think that this has disillusioned many right of center liberals and soft conservatives.

The reset; I believe is required by the Ontario Liberals to win the next election or at least effectively challenge the PC party is to shift back to the center/center-right in order to win those votes back. This would require that the Ontario liberals present a plan that is fiscally responsible and more in line with traditional economics (aka. a budget surplus in good economic times).  I think there are three steps that the Liberals need to take in order to win this election.

Ford = Canadian Trump

The Ontario Liberals were likely going to take this route with Ford anyways but I think it could play off well. Ford and Trump share some similar characteristics in their chaotic businessman style and their desire to connect with the ‘common person’. The downside for Ford is that we have seen what a year of Trump has done to America on the international stage and voters may be careful to not want to subject Ontario to the same fate. A poll post-Ontario PC election showed that soft conservatives were 27% less likely to vote for Ford then they were to vote for Elliot or Mulroney. That should be the target audience of the Ontario liberals when they re-brand to try and take away from the conservative party. Policies that focus on debt reduction, budgetary balance and future provisioning (reserves) as their core. The Liberals also need to avoid the mistakes of the Hilary Clinton campaign where she called the Trump voters deplorable; that became a rallying cry for a lot of people to get out and vote. The Liberals should not use the past personal mistakes of Doug Ford or his deceased brother Rob Ford as leverage. They need to keep it strictly to the policy spectrum because of how well Doug Ford connects with this ‘common man’ mentality. If you start to act in such a factor he will turn it over as an elitist vs average Joe mentality such as Trump did and you will lose voters along with embolden the conservative base. Conservative voters tend to be older, wealthier and most importantly are much more likely to get out and vote then other groups of voters can be. That 27% of wavering soft conservative would play a very important role in the victory if the Ontario Liberals were able to convince them that Ford would be dangerous for Ontario and the conservative brand.

Ontario Liberals = Economic stewards

I think that this stage would not only be the hardest part but be the most important. Whether you like the Ontario liberals or not there has been a vast improvement in the economic conditions since the start of the economic recession in 2008. A vast majority can be attributed to the global recovery as a whole and the return of the United States to health. Yet, the liberals were the ones in charge of the recovery and they need to show how their economic policies and practices helped to allow Ontario to recover. The Liberals also need to bring out a plan that will show these soft conservatives and right leaning liberals that they mean business in terms of fiscal responsibility. That means A) bringing in balanced budgets that are supported by more then the budget document. This needs to be supported by the auditor general who has been highly critical of their budgeting. B) Running a surplus and being responsible with it by putting money away to reduce the debt and provide future reserves. Ontario has the highest individual soverign debt in North America and pays billions in interest rates alone. C) Producing a plan that is viable and aggressive to pay down Ontario’s debt. Conservative groups such as Ontario Proud show off the growth in debt under the Liberals as a means to show their economic inability. The federal liberals have the ability to run deficits and push cash out to everyone; the Ontario liberals do not. Economic policy and policy aimed at conservatives will be an important factor in willing those voters who are not sold on Ford’s policies and personal conduct. A large part of the voting population is in the large geographic areas surrounding the GTHA. These areas have been traditionally liberal strongholds but with a new Conservative leader coming from this area it can undermine their hold. It will be vastly important for the Liberals to show how they have improved transit within this region; how they intend to continue this and the process forward. Commuting is a huge deal for many within this region and it will be important to win these people over or hold on to established areas. Taking one from the now dead Conservative playbook would be adding in transit operational costing to the Ontario budget. Covering 5% of the budget for organizations like the TTC/ GRTS etc could be a huge boon to the Liberals.

NDP voters = Strategic voting

Ontario’s Liberals under Wynne have been good to those traditional voters to the NDP. That’s a big part of how they have won their last couple victories to keep themselves in office. This time they need to present themselves as the only real opportunity to stop a Ford run Ontario. They need to promote how they can win over that 27% of voters from the conservatives but they need the help of the right leaning NDP and moderate NDP voters to stop Ford’s Ontario vision. Talking about splitting the left vote to allow for a conservative victory will be important to the potential win for the Liberals. If the Liberals can win over a large amount of NDP voters they can keep themselves in power likely in a minority position. They can also use the lack of ability of Andrea Horwath as a springboard for winning the voters from the NDP. Horwath has let a couple elections or second place finishes split from her grasps and if they don’t want a Ford nation they need to vote Liberal. Given the past history of progressive policies within the party, they can also promote how they will continue to push responsible policies to keep improving the lives of Ontarians. 9% of workers in the workforce make minimum wage; the boost to $14 and the upcoming boost to $15 along with workplace changes are important policies that they can promote to these voters.

 

Either way; I think that its going to be an interesting election and the outcome will be an important timeframe to how Ontario moves forward. It’s possible that the Ontario Liberals could win even without the plan mentioned above; although a tired party with an unliked leader would be a stretch. As a right of center leaning individual myself my vote is not currently attached to a single party. Had the conservatives stayed with the ‘people’s choice platform’ of Patrick Brown that likely would have gotten my vote. It will be interested to see the ways in which each party tries to cannibalize each other and out maneuver one another. If the Ontario liberal’s lose this election I believe that it will be important for Kathleen Wynne to step down as the leader and to have a party reset. There needs to be new policies and direction brought in because the party itself does seem tired and out of ideas. While taking the best ideas of other parties isn’t a bad idea it also isn’t viable long term.

 

Alternative to incarceration of some impaired drivers

The holidays always bring some reoccurring themes: family connection, gifting to one another and a message from law enforcement on not drinking and driving. This messaging comes in the form of Reducing Impaired Drivers Everywhere (RIDE) here in Ontario. Law enforcement is given extra funding from the Government of Ontario to focus on this specific issue heading into December and the holidays. Unfortunately, every year people drive under the influence and end up killing or injuring thousands of people a year. While there has been a significant decline in impaired driving since this first became a societal issue; there is still more work to do.

In Canada, 2,430 people were involved in motor vehicle collisions that result in their death (driver, passenger, pedestrian, etc.) of which 1,451 were influenced by alcohol, narcotics or both [2013 statistics] (1).

The traditional thought processes of political activists; support groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and politicians have been to strengthen the existing laws to reduce the allowable limit of alcohol in a person’s body. Changing rules regarding operating and handling of vehicles among other pushes in the criminalization realm. Individuals face jail time and other monetary fines for impaired operation of a motor vehicle. In my perception, we are going to eventually get to a point where we can no longer reduce impaired operation of a motor vehicle (barring technological changes like autonomous vehicles) because people will fall into two groups. Group A will be people who went out for a night and felt that they were okay to operate their vehicle. Group B is the ones who simply do not care; and will drive their vehicle repeatedly under the influence. Group A is individuals who can be influenced to make changes and made an error in judgment. This article is targeted at Group B; because the current system of deterrence does not effectively change their minds from the act.

My proposal to reduce individuals inside of Group B would be free taxi service paid for by the government to eliminate the need for these people to need to drive. It can be cost-effective to government coffers and more importantly socially responsible to the rest of the public. Essentially; the government would provide habitual offenders with a debit card that could only be used for transportation purchases to get people from point A to point B within the province of Ontario. It would have the goal of eliminating impaired driving by these individuals by eliminating their need to drive. Reduce the negative societal impacts associated with impaired driving; such as fatalities, injuries and emotional trauma. A secondary impact of this program would be the reduction in costs to emergency services, healthcare, and reduced insurance claims. A reduction in impaired driving by alcohol (potentially marihuana) will be an incredibly important investment and long-term save lives and money.

(Example) If in Ontario we have 1000 people a week that drive impaired; this program would be targeted at the minority who have previous impaired charges on their record. The program would be tailored to the 50 or 100 people who are habitual offenders. A program client would be permitted to $150 a day maximum of taxi rides within the Province of Ontario. This number could be adapted to rural settings where rides may be longer or the costs in these areas are higher. The costing for the program clientele would mean a daily cost of $7,500 to $15,000 if fully charged by the users. An annual cost of $2,520,000 to $5,040,000 plus the associated costs associated with running the program (overhead, management, logistics, etc.). While these numbers seem high, there are costs associated with the criminalization of these individuals as well. In 1994, the Government of Ontario determined the costs associated with a motor vehicle fatality was $5.3 million dollars for emergency services, healthcare, and other costs factored in. This does not include the costs of the emotional trauma that people are required to go through when dealing with these incidents. Emotional trauma for individuals injured; emergency services and families all of which currently cause tremendous issues for our society as a whole. The cost determined by the government in 1994 works out to just north of $8 million dollars (2017). Providing this program to repeat offenders alone allows for a savings of $3 to 6 million dollars per accident. Correctional Service Canada pegs the cost of holding an offender for a year at $116,000; which is significantly more than running the program.  One of the known downsides associated with criminalization and incarceration is that individuals tend to become better criminals. They learn from the processes how they were caught and from other inmates how to avoid their downfalls. The last thing we want is people who are driving impaired becoming better at beating the system and avoiding getting caught.

A program like this would likely be initially plagued by the determining factors for categorizing these individuals as habitual or not. There are medical decisions which can be determined by extensive medical research and policy decisions. This program could be fraught with the thought of pandering to individuals when hardcore criminalization is thought to be the answer. One has to simply attend provincial offenses court to see how many individuals have been charged with highway traffic act offenses; such as operating a motor vehicle with no insurance and suspended license caused by previous impaired operation charges to see that the deterrence factor does not work on certain people. These people are the ones maiming and killing people on the roads which is why we need a second diversion to stop impaired driving before it happens. As I said before, I do not believe that impaired operation of a motor vehicle (barring technological changes) will ever end. Even then it will still likely occur as we can never eliminate something entirely from society. Humans are notorious for errors and misjudging their abilities, and this is worse under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, but these people can be deterred from future issues. There is a group of habitual offenders that disregard all forms of deterrence and conduct themselves as they please. These are the ones who are the focus of this piece and the policy changes to medicalizing the issue.

While not perfect; we need to look at other means of making our communities and roads safe. This is just one option for consideration.

 

 

 

 

References:

http://madd.ca/pages/impaired-driving/overview/statistics/ (1)
R. vs. Badesha (2008)
https://www.bankofcanada.ca/rates/related/inflation-calculator/

 

 

Collaboration Between Lakehead University and other Government Agencies

The Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital board of directors announced that they are starting a process to redevelop the hospital and plan for the future of the facility. They are looking at the potential options to meet the current demands of the community and into the future. A requirement of this planning by the Government of Ontario is that one of the options considered is a complete redevelopment on ‘green space’. Typically; I view this to be the least effective and least productive method for moving forward as green space is often away from established areas and can promote urban sprawl. In this instance I believe that there is an opportunity here to establish a new facility while creating new and exciting partnerships between other governments and governmental organizations. One of the options that the hospital should consider is a partnership with Lakehead University to create a university hospital much like those seen at larger campuses in the United States. This facility could provide a partnership that creates the future model for intergovernmental cooperation and the training pipelines necessary to provide the educational and real world experiences for future professionals. This collaboration provides benefits to Lakehead University; the Ontario Government; the City of Orillia and Georgian College. Below is a presentation of what each group has to gain and offer to this option.

Lakehead University

The campus was established in Orillia in 2006 and later established a permanent campus into a large green space in West Orillia shortly after. It currently serves approximately 1,500 students and is the only university in Simcoe County. Laurentian University was set to establish their satellite campus in the City of Barrie in 2015 which would have served 3,000 students but this was not picked by the Ontario government for funding. The Government of Ontario is currently looking to establish new campuses further into the GTHA region and much of the financing is being focused there.  The Lakehead Orillia campus is set for growth as both the City of Barrie and Orillia are expecting their population to grow significantly in the next 10 to 15 years. It is well positioned for growth as the campus has significant space requirements to expand their facility. The current issues pertaining to growth at this campus is the lack of available financing to continue expanding facilities and lack of space for new programs. The negatives for the campus can be used as collaboration pieces for the new hospital campus. The abundance of space means that the university can offer cheap land to the hospital in return for shared space in the new facilities. These shared spaces can be used in conjunction with one another to offer state of the art training facilities for university students and hospital patients. A practice like this is already in place at the Georgian College Barrie campus; if an accident were to damage the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) they could transfer patients to the training facility on campus and still have the same quality of care. The difference for this campus would be the buildings would be shared instead of stand alone buildings. Students in these facilities would get the opportunity to interact and observe the real world operation of a hospital. These shared learning facilities also provide the university with the opportunity to add additional degrees to attract students to the facility. Courses like Nursing, Business administration, Information technology are all some of the potential options to attract students to the campus. Lakehead University also has its own medical school which produces doctors at the Thunder Bay campus; were they to provide an additional satellite facility on the campus they could provide the same mandate of improving medical care to rural areas to Simcoe County. A collaboration between the hospital and the university opens up research opportunities for the academics within the facility and commercial opportunities for developing medical technology. In short; Lakehead’s current issues of lack of funding for expansion and the resulting issue of lack of space could be mitigated by this cooperation.

Orillia Solders Memorial Hospital

The current hospital is running into the issue of lack of space and existing facilities that are aging and not meeting the demand of the citizens. Some of the buildings are from its original construction and there have been additions on the building as its grown. The benefit of the expansion into the Lakehead space is twofold. One; they get a new facility which will be designed to meet the demands of the community and designed for future growth. This facility will be able to meet the requirements for accessibility purposes; the planners will have the reduced stigma associated with mental health hence providing more space for staff to reduce stress and more room for addressing mental health within the community. Secondly; they get a partner in the cooperation with Lakehead which provides them with the next generation of nurses, business administrators among other important roles. This means that when they need to expand they don’t look purely at the Ministry of Health for funding they can also look for the Ministry of Universities and Colleges. This additional funding opportunity allows them to get new technology faster and better meet the needs of the community. Leveraging the knowledge at Lakehead University could also allow them to attract research investment into the hospital. A smaller version of university avenue in Toronto, ON could be an example of collaboration between universities, research companies and hospitals leveraging each others strengths to further one another. In short; the OSMH gains a new facility where they meet the demands of a growing community for the next 25-30 years and gains access to new funding/research opportunities.

City of Orillia

The City of Orillia has done a lot of work to better support the expansion in West Orillia with the development initially of a single bus line serving Lakehead University to the expansion of a second one. They have also invested in a multipurpose sports facility which gets extensive use and an industrial park which is set to be home to the new OPP detachment and Hydro One research/service facility. The collaboration between these Lakehead University and the OSMH does provide some initial issues but I feel provides long term benefits to the community and the city. Short term the city has to deal with a large parcel of land in an established part of the community moving out to the fringes. This would likely cause a depreciation of land values of those homes and businesses close by to the hospital. Long term the city would gain a large parcel of land that it could influence the redevelopment of that part of town with. That could be the catalyst for new multi use developments which brings commercial and residential to that area including new tax income. There is a lot of opportunity for the community to reuse this land to provide benefits for the long term of the community. The continued development of Lakehead University also has important benefits to the community. Housing development in this area of town has expanded significantly in a short period of time providing employment and income to city coffers. With a community population of 31,000; 1,500 students annually attend the Lakehead campus on September 1st of every year which means the community grows by almost 5% overnight which has a significant impact on the businesses within the community. The City of Orillia has invested a lot of time and money into this part of the community to address its growth and expansion. The collaboration between Lakehead and OSMH would provide significant benefits to the community as a whole but could have some detrimental short term effects.

Georgian College – Lakehead Collaboration

Lakehead University and Georgian College have come together to provide additional programs that “offer the benefits of a college diploma and an university degree”. While this is beneficial to both campuses it is currently focused more on the Barrie campus then Orillia as Georgian has more space to offer these programs. Furthering the collaboration between these two groups could again provide fruits in the Orillia campus. Georgian college has a number of programs pertaining to health which would be beneficial to the new collaboration. Students at the Georgian Barrie campus have access to very high tech and realistic technology which makes them attractive candidates for future employment. Programs such as nursing could take advantage of the investment Georgian College has made into these facilities and complete a diploma there; then complete their degree at the university campus which would have ample workplace opportunities for training with the merged facilities. Nurses could have the opportunity to do two years in Barrie in those facilities and then come to Orillia to attend the theory part of nursing and the hands on experience of being in a shared learning space. This would provide students with the hands on experience they need to be highly sought after candidates and provide work spaces with employees who have real world experience coming into the work site. This makes it highly valuable for all parties to work together on providing the opportunities that students need to make something like this work. Continuing the collaboration provides highly sought after students and makes these two campuses attractive to applicants as they offer the best job prospects.

 

Thunder Bay Development Charge Proposal

The City of Thunder Bay is currently in a position where it is struggling to generate enough revenue and provide the services that the residents desire from it. As with many other Canadian cities; Thunder Bay is currently struggling with a significant infrastructure deficit; which compounds the backlog of projects annually. The heavy industrial industrial tax base has been reassessed to much lower levels and significant strain is being placed on the residences to make up the difference. These challenges are made worse by poor urban planning in the past which promoted urban sprawl; the de-urbanization of the core and the belief that the car/cheap gas would power society through the next 100 years. Merriam-Webster calls urban sprawl: “the spreading of urban developments (such as houses and shopping centers) on undeveloped land near a city.” The financial mistake we now call urban sprawl was covered by growing industrial and commercial taxes which allowed for residential taxes to be artificially kept low. As these have tax pillars slowly have been eroded we have seen this burden placed on residential housing to cover the cost. In conjunction with an aging and declining population the City of Thunder Bay faces a significant revenue issue; it simply does not pull in enough money in order to fully fund its costs. Projects, programs and debt are deferred to further years which increases the costs and adds to the backlog of items needing work. One area in which traditionally the residential tax base has seen growth is to allow for single detached homes to be built in the undeveloped areas as a means of bringing in additional money. Areas such as Neebing, McIntrye and Northwood (all 3 in certain instances) are a semi-rural where large numbers of city services are provided with little substance to add to the tax base. Every resident in Thunder Bay can attest to how certain areas have been built for new housing on what was once swamp, forest and bush; all natural remedies for storm protection and animal habitat. This development has been promoted because often the repair costs for the roads, sewage, etc come up at a 20-25 year period. Long after the presiding council is gone and passed onto a younger generation of resident. Unfortunately we see that this though process is actually a drain on city coffers as the farther the development is allowed to go the more costly services like fire, EMS, garbage become.

As seen in this photo there is significant cost associated with building and providing homes on the edge of our communities. The only people who get rich off of homes in the suburbs are the developers who push these developments and promote their ‘positives’. As the City of Thunder Bay looks to find ways to bring in new income I propose a development tax on the construction of new homes and buildings within the community. This development tax would not apply to additions to buildings or repairs/renovations of existing units. The City of Toronto is one example of a community that uses a blanket development tax and uses that income for programs including the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), Public Libraries, food programs, etc. In 2013, Toronto considered raising their development charges which they expected would bring in an addition $3 billion dollars in 10 years. This would be in addition to the existing income that the city receives from the development tax. These taxes have been used by communities such as Mississauga to artificially keep taxes low or in Toronto’s case help to shift the load off tax payers for these projects. The issue I have with this program is that it provides the same blanket to the downtown cores as it does the suburban areas which does not help to continue the process of infill and density growth. Had Toronto not had areas like the Financial district to draw people to live in downtown Toronto they may have had issues of making a program like this work. In my mind for Thunder Bay I would like to see a development charge based on distance which would help to actually cover the costs of building on the fringe for the city but also make it more challenging for companies to continue the urban sprawl.

Please forgive the poor paint job but this would be a representative idea of what the plan would look like. Based on the two cores the city would be broken into rings where the farther from the core the more it costs you to build. This fee would be a percentage of the cost of the construction and would also result in lower scores for staff members time meaning it would take you longer to get an inspection done and approvals. In order to further promote development in the established areas the city would provide a subsidy in the red areas which would reduce the cost of building in these areas which would lead to urban renewal and density. This plan would be directed to low level residential and commercial spaces but with medium to higher density the rings would be further out. More dense construction or mixed-unit construction would receive top priority from the city and be in line for higher percentages off which would allow for this type of development to be promoted.

The red ring in this instance would lead to a 5% off the cost of building a unit; priority sequence for staff attention and approvals. For a developer working on a unit that costs $100,000 this works out to a rebate of $5,000. These costs would be covered by the fees paid by developers in other areas; as to avoid further challenges to the city’s coffers. If a program like this only bring in a small amount of money or is cost neutral how is it beneficial to the city? In discussions with a developer looking to build a 8 unit home by the Safeway on Dawson road; Councilor Shelby Ch’ng asked the taxation income of this unit compared to a single unit residential on the property. Administration representatives told her that the new home would bring in approx. $16,000 annually compared to the current $2,500 being brought in. If this program can lead to density growth for the city that means large income for the cities coffers. Increased levels of density also helps to benefit other systems and programs as well. Transit ridership increases; use of services like libraries, schools etc increases and these areas become hotbed for development of private industry.

The orange ring would have no development fee associated with the area and would have a regular priority for the city’s departments. Green would have a 5% fee associated with the charge meaning a $100,000 development now brings in the city $5,000 for the unit; it would also have a regular priority for city department needs. The further away would lead to increased cost for any developer with blue being 10%, purple 15% both of these would have a lower priority for city staff and could be jumped by developments closer to the core even if they were submitted later. The areas not surrounded by a ring which would affect mainly the McIntrye Ward and Needing would face a 25% fee and the lowest level of support from the city. These wards continue to cost the city thousands of dollars which are not recouped even with lower levels of services and higher tax rates. The promotion of a semi-rural lifestyle with the amenities of the city but away from the city itself is unsustainable. Even if services like sewers or water aren’t provided we see increased costs in these areas especially from services like emergency services which are required to provide 24/7 coverage. In certain instances it also requires additional infrastructure to protect these areas; once such area is Fire. The Fire department has a fire hall specifically for Neebing because it typically lies outside of its 6 minute target radius. A fire unit alone can cost up to one million dollars and the cost of staffing outweigh almost all income form this area.

Another example: The city is spending $250,000 a year to chip seal dirt roads in McIntyre due to complaints about dust from residents. Council approved in 2015 an addition to a residential development in Neebing. The addition if taxed at $7,000 a year was only expected to bring in $125,000 annually which means that urban areas are now forced to subsidize the rural areas because they are not self-supportive. Another example: The City of Thunder Bay is expected to spend $5 million dollars on phase 3 of the Golf Links expansion much of which is to support growth in suburban areas and flow in and out of the city. This cost is born by the city to help support suburban desires which rotting out the core of the community.

Thunder Bay has this negative idea that density and high rises are means of poverty and lower income. That only the white picket fence can show the true income of the homeowner and those who live there. This connotation is coming from the American dream and the community wanting to relive the glory days. Without significant change in the way the city does business it will build itself so far out that it cannot afford even the basic services. It will take political will but I hope that the people who are running in 2018 see the danger that a city the same size of Montreal with a declining and aging population is facing.

References:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/urban%20sprawl

Why LUSU’s plan to ‘Fight the Fees’ actually costs students.

Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU) and the Canadian Federation of Students have announced a new plan to ‘fight the fees’. Essentially, they are rebranding their annual proposal to vote no to tuition increases or to abstain from the vote at the board of governors meeting by participating in protests or sit ins. Annually, they lose these votes because they are outvoted by the rest of the board of governors and current/future students lose twice because they lose their voice and receive the tuition increases anyways.

The reason I am writing this blog is to show the folly of their plans and to provide a constructive criticism along with contempt as a student who suffers due to their actions. The board of governors typically votes during the summer at their general meeting on the amount of increase they will pass into tuition to help cover the expanded costs of operating the university. These costs are maxed out by the government and for many years it was 8% which is 2.5x times general inflation, currently it is 3%. Tuition rates have increased well beyond inflation and have caused severe strain for students and their financial supporters. I truly believe that the Ontario government and the Federal government need to look for new ways to prepare significant and stable funding increases for universities to cover costs. I would also like to see the Board of Governors move their meeting to during the school year so more students can be present and participate in the processes to which they are subject.

Yet, at the local level there are a number of things that could have been done to reduce the costs associated with the operation of the university and the services it provides to its students if LUSU was able to look beyond their own term in office. When LUSU votes ‘No’ or abstains from the vote at the board of governors they are effectively giving away any and all influence in the decisions on how that money is spent and what mandates we want it to go towards. This voice that students give the individual is wasted and thrown away and does nothing to benefit the university, students or future students.

Looking to the university campus there are a significant number of buildings that were designed, built and continue to operate in a pre-environmental concern mindset. Imagine if LUSU had voted for these fee increases and used that influence to change the landscape of the campus, reducing the number of buildings by combining them into larger structures which not only reduces the environmental impact, it reduces costs in taxes, heating, electricity, maintenance among many more. New facilities are also a huge draw for students and a larger student base spreads that cost over a much larger number of people meaning the individual cost is less. These new buildings influenced by LUSU and the students as to the needs and desires of students with an environmentally friendly and technology conscious mindset could help guide Lakehead for the next 50 years.

A reduction of current facilities into an amalgamated facility also allows for certain other things if the buildings are removed. Increased greenspace, opportunities for future facilities, expansion of facilities. As Lakehead is a school of the north and focuses heavily on the environment and forestry there could be community gardens, traditional aboriginal services or even cultural spaces from the many different communities and countries the international students come from. A modern campus would allow for a multitude of things to happen that could be increasingly beneficial for the student population, Thunder Bay and more.

Working with the university rather then fighting them also brings in a number of other impacts that could benefit student life and reduce the cost to students. Imagine in that new building (s) that LUSU worked with the university to build; it has a grocery store, cafe, among other privately run businesses that increase the offering of services on the campus and reduce the cost. It reduces the cost because now it is not only being shared by government/university and students it is being shared by government/university/students and private enterprise. It also provides employment for students to gain some much needed workplace experience, income and social connection that our university campus desperately lacks. We have 1,200 students on campus that live, study and socialize here. Its a captive audience for businesses lost by poor planning. Foresight, would reduce the cost of operating the university and the cost of university for the students.

As a student I have to question some of the auxiliary fees that I pay that go directly to support LUSU related activities or projects. I pay almost $17 for computer upgrade fees of which I use everyday through the wifi provided by Lakehead, school computers etc and yet I pay $6.66 for LUSU radio that I have never listened to. No private business operates with a subsidy so why is it that LUSU radio can not operate without a student subsidy; is the business plan so ineffective that it simply can not and as a student do I really want to pay for that failed business plan. Answer for me at least is NO. LUSU recently posed the question to students (couple years ago) about rebuilding the pool and the cost associated with that; they posed to students the question if they would be willing to pay for it. As a student who does not use the facility I see no personal benefit but others likely do and as a democratic organization if the student group said yes then that is fine to me. What I do question is: had LUSU considered working with the City of Thunder Bay in finding an operating agreement to use the complex as a facility for gym and pool. Other then a membership there is no cost to LUSU or the students. Whereas now we pay operating, staffing and maintenance costs. Had LUSU worked with the Board of Governors could that building could had been redone on Lakehead’s dollar and influenced other levels of government to reduce the costs. Could students have shouldered 15% of the rebuild cost rather then 100%.

Someone will probably try and say that it is impossible for students and the organization to work together since their goals and aspirations are so different. I would say to that person that they are wrong since Georgian College Student Association did just that. They put their money where their mouth is and put up cash to get a real voice in how it is spent within the organization. Their cash multiplies because they are working with other levels of government to fund the things that they want. They do not get to fund one project on their own they fund four because they are stretching their dollars. They do not get everything they want just as LUSU would not if they decided to go down this road. The influence would be much greater and we would see more student oriented items within campus.

Until LUSU and the Canadian Federation of Students get their heads out of the sand their doing more harm then good for students.

Thunder Bay’s Planning Problems

Last night at the 2017 Pre-budget consultation I had the opportunity to meet and talk to a number of different members of the City of Thunder Bay’s administration broken up into their respective divisions. One of these individuals I talked to was the planning department head Mark Smith. I felt that the conversation between myself and Mr. Smith was productive and felt that there was a lot of ideas from outside of the community that we have but are not being effectively implemented. The best way to summarize the building regulations and planning in Thunder Bay was ‘Loose’. I am going to try and paraphrase this conversation as best as I can without putting words in Mr. Smith’s mouth.

One of the items I brought up was intensification corridors; which are used by many other cities to increase the density of specific areas in their town to create rich, multi-use areas. Thunder Bay has some plans around intensification corridors but they are not well implemented and they run into significant challenges when it comes to actually implementing them. Thunder Bay has an perception issue with density and the ideas of smaller homes and apartment buildings. These types of developments are associated with lower income and criminality. There is also significant push back when a developer tried to bring multi-unit housing into an established area. Personally, I think that it time we challenge these assumptions and start to implement intensification corridors specifically around the areas of transit as a means to push transit use and bring density to the city.

One area I was impressed with is that Thunder Bay doesn’t really have any requirements for parking, height and other items in the downtown cores. They are pushing for development so desperately in these areas that they are willing to accommodate almost anyone. As we see more development in these areas it will be important to develop guidelines that bring in mutli-use land development practices.

The next question was about population density targets and its implementation within Thunder Bay. In reality, Thunder Bay has a very low density which is incredibly detrimental to its growth and success as a city. Stats Canada shows it around 330 people per square kilometre which is mentioned in my comparison blog between us and Barrie. Thunder Bay does not have density targets (to the best of my memory) which I believe is a direction that needs to change especially when it comes to additional developments in the city. Our urban sprawl is the biggest cause of city service costs and the biggest driver of tax increases. Looking to the Ontario plan for population density in Southern and Central Ontario I think its high time that we look to developing our own plan for modern, smart urban growth.

Finally, we talked about the idea of a development tax in Thunder Bay and the possibility of it being a factor in the city. Mr. Smith talked about a number of different potential revenue generators associated with the costs of developing in Thunder Bay that could change. As of now “We want people to put nails into boards and we make it very easy to build which is a significant difference then communities like Barrie who struggle on where to put things”. Thunder Bay’s practices on building and its continued allowance of urban sprawl is killing the city and will be the cause of service collapse. Frank Pullia in his explanation of the costs of the city said it himself “The size of the City of Thunder Bay is the same as the City of Montreal but we do not have the population they do”. Its time that the developers who come to our community pay to build here and for the infrastructure they leave behind for the city to pick up. If the demand is there people will pay to have their dream home.

Changes:

  • Introduce Intensification corridors to Thunder Bay in order to increase the density of the community and its self-supporting tax base. Looking to transit routes as potential areas for growth to help support the additional people. Attached is Barrie’s Intensification plan which is helping to support one of the fastest growing communities in Ontario http://www.barrie.ca/Doing%20Business/PlanningandDevelopment/Policies-Strategies/Pages/Intensification.aspx
  • Introduce a density target for the city. Require new developments to facilitate these density targets in order to help facilitate the future repair and maintenance of city services. Minister Mauro from Thunder Bay – Atikokan is the minister in charge of the Ontario Places to Grow Plan that introduces these targets we can use his expertise to do it here. https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=420&Itemid=12
  • Introduce a modern development tax: A tax associated on distance from anchor points (Downtown) where the further from that point the more the tax is. Downtown development could potentially be given a rebate of 5% in order to facilitate development. Whereas a home in Neebing or McIntrye could see a 25% tax in order to pay for the future maintenance and rehabilitation costs. While Thunder Bay would be on a much smaller scale this is a potential major source of income “Toronto made about $150-million from development charges in 2012. (National Post)” http://news.nationalpost.com/toronto/toronto-to-consider-almost-doubling-development-charges-levied-on-construction-projects