Twelve false or misleading claims by government MPPs over the past week

Twelve false or misleading claims by government MPPs over the past week

A lot gets said in the legislature and in post-question period scrums to keep reporters and Hansard heroes busy. But what is said isn't always true, or is sometimes missing some important context.

At QP Briefing, we reviewed a handful of government claims over the past week to correct the record on some items that are being hotly debated at the Pink Palace.

Premier Doug Ford on what the NDP believes:

Asked about social assistance and the guaranteed basic income pilot project in question period on Wednesday, the premier deflected by attacking the Opposition.

"It’s funny how the leader of the Opposition has come down here, day after day after day, talking about the Wynne Liberal legacy that she propped up for 15 years. That put us in debt $340 billion – the highest taxes in Canada, the highest hydro rates anywhere in North America. The leader of the Opposition continues, day after day, telling the people of Ontario how she wants to have the highest carbon taxes anywhere in Canada, the highest gas prices anywhere in Canada."

There are a few errors in this passage:

  • The NDP did not prop up the Liberals for 15 years; the Grits had a majority government for 12.5 of those years.
  • Ontario does not have the highest tax rate in Canada; it has the second-lowest corporate tax rate and is among the lowest on personal income taxes for various brackets.
  • Ontario does not have "the highest hydro rates anywhere in North America," although the phrase could be modified to say that it is "among the highest" or "in the top third." The Ontario Energy Board provided a comparison in November 2017, and Ontario's hydro rates also weren't the highest before the Fair Hydro Plan was introduced.
  • NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has not said "day after day" or otherwise, that she wants the "highest carbon taxes anywhere." This could be an allusion to NDP MPP Joel Harden's past statements, but they were not part of the 2018 NDP campaign platform, and Horwath in particular has not expressed the views ascribed to her by Ford.

Ford, on gun violence in Chicago:

At a Thursday presser, Ford said he would not support a request from the City of Toronto for a handgun ban in the city.

"There's lots of legal, responsible handgun owners," he said. "Look at Chicago, you all know that I spend a ton of time in Chicago, and they have a ban and, guess what? Last week, they had 72 shootings. Seventy-two or 76 shootings. Just imagine that."

However, Chicago does not have a handgun ban.

Chicago’s reputation for violent crime and relatively tough gun laws has made it a talking point for U.S. Republicans, but fact-checkers have pointed out before that Chicago doesn’t have the toughest gun laws in the country – as is often claimed – and hasn’t had a gun ban since 2010, when it was overturned by the court.

Chicago police statistics show 70 shooting incidents in the week of July 30 to Aug. 5, 2018.

Government house leader Todd Smith, on the price of electricity: 

In question period, Smith touted the government's accomplishments so far and singled out its efforts on lowering the cost of hydro.

"We’ve accomplished a lot already. Again, we’ve lowered the price of electricity."

The government does not set electricity rates – that's the role of the independent Ontario Energy Board. Additionally, the government has not yet lowered the price of electricity, although it has repeatedly promised to decrease rates by 12 per cent, in large part by shifting costs from the rate base to the tax base.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, on subsidizing buck-a-beer: 

"First of all, there is no financial subsidy. I don’t understand why the member doesn’t take yes for an answer. We have told them that buck-a-beer is a simple change of the Liberal law that increased the floor price to $1.25. We are reducing the floor price and allowing the beer companies to simply sell beer for a buck. There is no financial subsidy for these companies."

This depends on what you mean by "financial subsidies." While the government is not directly giving companies who participate in its buck-a-beer challenge cash, it is providing in-kind support in the form of promotional materials and prime placement in LCBO stores. Those incentives have a tangible financial value, and in a post-question period scrum, Fedeli declined to say the LCBO would not miss out on any revenue owing to the buck-a-beer challenge. QP Briefing asked the LCBO to provide the financial value of the buck-a-beer incentives and for other details of the province, and the Crown corporation declined to share any information.

Will Bouma, on cutting Toronto city council in half: 

"In short, all I can say is that we’re doing this for the people, most people are in favour of it, and I look forward to passing this legislation."

Raymond Cho, on cutting Toronto city council in half:

"Today, according to the Toronto Star opinion poll, 71 per cent of Torontonians are in support of reducing the number of councillors from 47 to 25."

According to a scientific poll conducted by Forum Research, 47 per cent of Torontonians oppose cutting council in half and 35 per cent support the idea.

The poll Cho is referring to was an online Toronto Star reader survey. However, these daily polls by publications are not scientific nor statistically valid – they don't weight for demographics to seek a representative population, for instance. And the Star did five similar reader surveys with similar questions. In aggregate, more readers opposed the cut to council than supported it.

David Piccini, on cutting council in half: 

The Northumberland–Peterborough South MPP criticized the process by which Toronto increased its number of wards from 44 to 47.

"When Toronto city council expanded to 47 wards, it was a deeply, deeply flawed process. OMB hearings show that options to prioritize voter parity were dismissed to most benefit incumbent councillor members and that fewer than 2,000 people were consulted on this."

The City of Toronto engaged in an extensive process to redraw its ward boundaries, beginning in 2014 and ending in 2018 after winning an OMB challenge and a court challenge.

The OMB ruling stated that the results weren't "perfect" as the wards didn't achieve parity for each of the next four election cycles, but that "Effective representation is the primary goal and the board finds that the 47-ward structure, reflected in the bylaws, does achieve that goal."

This ruling was appealed to the Superior Court, where the challenge was dismissed. Justice Katherine Swinton wrote that there was "no good reason to doubt the correctness of the board's decision."

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, alleging that the previous government "meddled" in Toronto's election

In question period on Thursday, Clark claimed the plan for a 47-member Toronto city council was a "Liberal mess" and the Liberals had “meddled” in the city’s election.

“Speaker, I want to set the record straight. The former government meddled in this year’s Toronto election,” Clark said. “They did it quietly, without consultation, by slipping Schedule 2 into this year’s budget bill. It amended the City of Toronto Act, allowing council to pass a bylaw adding three councillors for this year’s vote. Previously, to change the council composition, the deadline was Dec. 31 of the previous year.”

However, “meddled” just isn’t accurate.

To explain: The City of Toronto launched a multi-year consultation on redrawing its ward boundaries, led by an independent body, to make the wards more equal in terms of population, something the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld as an important democratic principle. The resulting recommendation – with 47 wards – was approved by a city council vote.

The city had the power to do that, given to it under the City of Toronto Act. However, that legislation had a timeline attached to it that was disrupted by an unsuccessful court challenge of the result and another unsuccessful challenge at the Ontario Municipal Board.

The legislation referenced by Clark concerned a technicality about the timing of the city bylaw, allowing the city to implement its chosen ward boundaries in time for the next election.

Jeremy Roberts, on the cost of a carbon tax:

"Time and time again, studies are showing that carbon pricing will not actually impact emissions anywhere near enough to make an actual marked impact. In fact, some studies have suggested that here in Canada, we would need a carbon price north of $160 per metric ton. For reference, BC currently prices it at $30 per metric ton; $160 would represent a 450 per cent increase to even come close to meeting some of the internationally desired levels. Ontarians can’t afford this kind of policy."

Roberts seems to be referencing analysis conducted by Simon Fraser University economist Mark Jaccard, who came up with the $160 number for British Columbia. However, this distracts from the thrust of Jaccard's argument. The $160 number that he came up with in 2016 is in the absence of any additional industry or environmental regulations. The SFU prof was trying to underline the fact that carbon pricing isn't the sole solution to effectively lowering greenhouse gas emissions, but it doesn't mean it's an ineffective component of a plan either. Using carbon pricing and "flexible regulations" together can be more politically effective, he argued.

"As an economist, I have to be honest: That (flexible regulations) will be slightly more expensive,” Jaccard told Business In Vancouver in 2016. “The carbon tax is always the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions," he added.

Roman Baber, on cutting Toronto city council in half:

In the afternoon debate on Wednesday, Baber made a variety of observations when arguing to cut city council in half. Not all of them were true.

"When was the last time Toronto agreed and proceeded on a transit project? I don’t think that any of our researchers would know that, because it was probably before the days of the Internet. When was the last time council made a transit decision that did not go back on itself or let us put a shovel in the ground? I can’t really recall."

The Toronto Transit Commission opened the York-University-Spadina subway extension in 2017. Metrolinx built the Union-Pearson Express, which opened in 2015. The TTC also built a new subway line along Sheppard (Line 3), which opened in 2002. The city is also has the largest under-construction transit project in Canada, the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line.

There is also a $3.35-billion one-stop subway extension in the planning stages in Scarborough. There are also plans to build six additional GO/RER stations under the SmartTrack banner, although the provincial government recently said it would not support the $3 GO fares that may be necessary to make the service viable.

Toronto did have plans to build transit in the 1990s, but the Eglinton subway project that was under construction at the time was cancelled in 1995 by the Mike Harris government, and the partly built tunnel was filled in.

Baber would later mention that the "only serious transit" Toronto has built in the past two decades was the York-University-Spadina line.

Baber, on the PC mandate in Toronto:

"First of all, the government received a colossal mandate in Toronto – 11 government MPPs from the city of Toronto. Count them."

This depends what one means by "colossal mandate," but the Tories won the same number of Toronto seats as the NDP. However, the NDP won more total votes in the city, garnering 400,443 to 359,909 for the PCs, according to an analysis by the Toronto Star.

Baber, on the King Street pilot project and suburban representation:

Baber used the example of the King Street pilot project to argue that downtown Toronto has too much influence on council and suburban voices don't get heard. The King Street pilot project limited car access on the major downtown Toronto street for one year to see if it would improve transit times on the city's busiest streetcar route. Baber said this pilot project only passed because of the outsized influence of downtown councillors.

"The few on council imposed their will on the collective. Toronto suburbs are underrepresented. This bill, Bill 5, will put an end to that."

City council overwhelmingly voted to back the King Street pilot project, by a count of 35–4. It is inaccurate to characterize this result as "the few on council [imposing] their will on the collective."

Baber, on the Scarborough Subway Extension:

"In 2011, the city voted for the Scarborough subway. Since then, every year or so, council calls on a new vote on the same project. Ten times now they’ve voted to try and kill the Scarborough subway, and seven years later, not a shovel in the ground."

Council approved the three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension plan in 2013, not 2011. It is true that they have had many votes on the subject, but not because of opposition on council. Complex infrastructure projects require council approval at many stages, in part to review the latest planning and funding updates for the $3.35-billion project. The project has not been delayed because of dissenting voices on council, although the project is a contentious issue when it gets discussed.

-with files from Jessica Smith Cross

David Hains

QP Briefing Reporter

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