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Between a Hard Rock and a Lucky Place


Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa Unsettles City Council

The Ottawa Citizen reports that a proposal to update and upgrade the old Rideau Carleton Raceway horse track and betting parlour has city council running in different directions. Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has signed a deal with Hard Rock International to run the new gambling den in south Ottawa.

Ordinarily, announcing $320 million in investment dollars has elected sock puppets fighting over the ribbon-cutting scissors. In this case, the moral taint of gambling seems to have shaken some councillors like a pair of aces on the river.

Of course Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is still fuming over the curt dismissal of his $500M proposal to put a casino on the outskirts of nowhere, (aka Kanata ON). Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans has a different complaint: “I think it’s a problem that the government is addicted to gambling money”.

Her objections are partly the classic “NIMBY” complaints about traffic but she adds a moral twist: people suffer from gambling addiction. Why add to their woes by providing them with a slick palace of music and food to go with it? In 2013 city council considered an Ottawa Public Health report urging gambling be restricted. The report recommended there be no ATM’s on the gambling floor or booze service. The casino should restrict maximum bet sizes and limit daily losses. Troubled punters would have to self-exclude and have personal monthly statements issued. There should be no casino loyalty programs.

The issue of not having gambling never came up. It was only a question of how much.

OLG, Ontario’s lottery “watchdog” and, of course, government corporation in charge of raking in the dough, claimed to share the city’s concern about problem gambling. So concerned in fact that they included none of these recommendations in the 20 year contract with Hard Rock International. I don’t blame HRI of course, they are in the business of creating entertainment destinations. Can’t even blame OLG really. Elected politicians mandate the organization to bring home the bacon and it does. Are thousands of lives ruined in the process? So? Didn’t OLG tell you gambling is just for “fun”?

Councillor Dean didn’t specify which government is addicted to gambling money but she didn’t have to. They all are. Originally, city council got OLG to agree to a limit of 1,251 slot machines and 21 gaming tables at Rideau Carleton. Perhaps they felt limiting supply would keep the weak-willed from putting their families in hock. However, OLG is not the only game in town.

Across the Ottawa River is the Casino Lac Leamy gambling den hosted by Government monopoly Loto-Quebec. It has 1,800 slots machines and 65 tables and no doubt pulls hundreds of millions of dollars that can otherwise be sucked up in Ottawa.

River Councillor Riley Brockington apparently believes the OLG “should blow it wide open.” He expressed concern for dollars leaving Ottawa for Quebec. (I’m guessing he’s not counting “equalization payments” that flow to La Belle Province in prodigious amounts!). According to the Ottawa Citizen this was “his main motivation when considering the casino, not the financial benefit for city coffers”.

But why not? Ottawa stands to gain millions of dollars while a multi-national corporation takes all the risks. Why not roll the dice? After all, some of the broken homes will be in other cities!

Easy Money’s Hard Trail

I’m a conservative by nature and see free enterprise conferring great benefits on humankind. Hard Rock is free enterprise at it’s best: food, drink, entertainment. Glitzy ballrooms and shiny baubles are what the rubes demand and what HRI supplies. Grow your company from an idea to a shiny steel and glass palace and bring jobs to your town and wealth to your investors. It’s just as much a North American dream as…well, winning a lottery.

Of course, money isn’t everything and ill-gotten gains, though welcomed at any bank, have unintended consequences. Problem gambling is defined as an activity that destroys one’s credit, causes one’s family to suffer and undermines one’s fiscal and mental health. But are the signs always so visible? Are not all gamblers touched by the same disease? No matter how innocently we portray our weekly ticket or two, or occasional trip to a casino, are we not all infected with the idea of easy money?

Our politicians and bureaucrats cast about for ways to feed insatiable Leviathan (i.e. Big Government), while citizens struggle to keep some income for themselves. In Ontario a hated government raises utility bills, employment fees, excises and income taxes while dispensing billions of dollars to hide their abject incompetence, (e.g. “green energy”). Can we afford to give these people access to easy money? Oh yeah. That’s right, they just take it.

But I can’t be the only one who buys lottery tickets with similar motivation. I have bills to pay and desires to fulfill. I want to make my family happier. If only there was a way to pocket some extra bucks that didn’t require any effort.

Sorry, there isn’t one. Gambling takes now or later but the house always wins.

So would it be easier to fold our cards and all agree that gambling should go back under the rock from whence it came? Let’s drop the nagging urgency of easy money and go back to working for a living and balancing our budgets. Of course we don’t all agree gambling hurts us in particular. Five bucks per week isn’t exactly “reefer madness”. As for politicians living within their (our) means….

The horsemen who ply their trade on the track at Rideau-Carleton are familiar with an old saying: “closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”

Good luck to Diane Deans trying to rein in this galloping horse. Good luck to Riley Brockington trying to bring benefits to Ottawa. Finally, good luck Hard Rock. After all, Ottawa is known as “the town that fun forgot”.


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‘Electricity in the Air’: Bad News for Wynne


Wynne’s Liberal Government Begs to be Turfed.

In the past year or so politics has become a desert of shifting sands for established parties. President Trump has knocked the bottom out of his own Republican Party as much as the shattered Democrats. Marine Le Pen seems poised to lead her National Front somewhere; perhaps into government. In the Netherlands Geert Wilders had hopes but despite gains has to negotiate to see if he can push his agenda further. Other countries have seen populist parties gain in, well, popularity, while their media establishments reel from a flight of revenues and readers to innumerable new opinion platforms.

We live in an age of instant reaction to questionable information. You have ten seconds to not sound like a freak before the digital mob comes screaming with pitchforks. Good luck explaining what you really have in mind after the label is slapped on. Twenty per cent of the population may cheer you on against twenty per cent who are already burning your effigy. The other 60%? Please don’t call during the Stanley Cup play-offs!

Politicians have always known they need to stir that 60% every four years or so. Million-dollar spin doctors try to ensure their clients have their hand on the spoon but too many other players are splashing out money too. Advocacy groups with harmless sounding names form parades that turn into riots. Students marching in favour of “free speech” shout down any who disagree. Public sector unions put up bus ads during elections to promote their own self-interest. If that gibes with the party in power, then no-one points out the hypocrisy.

Ever since Dalton McGuinty fled to escape blame for the hideously expensive gas plant cancellation, his fall-girl Kathleen Wynne has clung to the remnants of Liberal hegemony in Ontario. Despite a falling popular vote, the Liberals have managed to fashion majorities in the previous four elections, (2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014). No wonder PM Trudeau in Ottawa has dropped his election “promise” to change Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system. When your party can claim majorities with a shrinking popular vote, why fix it?

When the Worm Turns

Unfortunately Ontario has been here before. Liberals investigated for corruptionLiberals perpetrate massive financial stupidity. Liberals fight with doctors or teachers who threaten job action. So how are they still in power? They use our money to pay off unions and pretend to fix their mistakes by pushing costs past the next election cycle. Bribed with their own moneyThe Sleepy Sixty % believe the Liberals have hearts of gold. Conversely, even when Conservatives pander to the same policy, they are portrayed as heartless. Lacking a charismatic leader, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives fail to catch fire when it counts.

Ditto the NDP with their nice leader Andrea Horwath. In any case Ontario mistakenly tried a NDP government in 1990 and won’t go back. It remains up to PC leader Patrick Brown to tear down the wall of lies surrounding this province’s administration. Previous attempts by the unloved Tim Hudak foundered on his murky messaging, (e.g. cut 100,000 public servants and create a million new jobs. Huh?). Mr. Brown has already been sideswiped by a typical Liberal ploy. Copying their cynical colleagues in Ottawa, Ontario Libs introduced a motion against religious intolerance. Problem is, it panders to only one religion and includes the nonsense term “islamaphobia”. Like M-103 in Ottawa, the only purpose is to accuse your opponent of having some kind of mental defect, unless of course they fall to their knees and confess their ‘white guilt’ for everything that has befallen Planet Earth since the dinosaurs.

Say what you will about President Trump but so far he has taken this politically correct nonsense and shrugged it off. His opponents aren’t just the usual Democrat rabble, but all the entrenched, corrupt self-servers who line their pockets at taxpayer’s expense. They will not roll over when their entitlements are at risk. Neither will they openly explain why they deserve to lie cheat and steal while everyone else works for a living. Count on elections in Ontario, and elsewhere, to feature vapid ‘feelings’ and fear messages. Expect murky advocacy groups to march and riot. Rely on Liberals to spit out more nonsense terms and imaginary accusations. Hope that we have a political leader that can explain how we can fix this province, even as K. Wynne drags us further into the mire.




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Big Government Sucks– And Blows


Government Nanny-ism Marches On

There they go again. No sooner do I post an article pointing out government duplicity on alcohol than Health Canada decides to attack cigarette smokers. I’m not a smoker and not in favour of it, but there is a lot wrong with what this Liberal government is up to next. I realise it’s only a government discussion paper. Bureaucrats can spend entire careers doing nothing with them. But when governments put ideas on paper they have a nasty way of creeping into law. Health Canada is proposing to raise the “legal” age of smoking to 21 and outlaw smoking in more places than people can think to hide in.

Tobacco is an addictive substance that, when smoked, injects the body with innumerable harmful chemicals. Given this knowledge, millions of people have nonetheless decided to take up the habit. Millions never do and some smokers do manage to quit. Others smoke till they die; an eventuality they hasten by their habit. Of course governments concerned with public welfare discourage the activity in the only way they know how: they tax the crap out of them.

One thing they don’t do is outlaw them which is not surprising given the examples of Prohibition and The [Failed] War on DrugsOn the contrary revenue-starved politicians gouged Canadian smokers for over $8.3 billion in 2015-16 alone. The federal government orders legal manufacturers of cigarettes to mangle their labelling with pictures of diseased individuals. Not satisfied with that provinces order retailers to hide these abominations behind plastic screens. Citizens are warned that unless they “look” 25 or older they will be carded by hapless store owners. Contrast this with Marxist nut-jobs on various city councils who want to create “sanctuary cities”. Sneak into Canada and get on welfare if you must, but don’t buy cigarettes! We have laws about that sort of thing you know.

Four days after the original article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Deputy Editor Tyler Dawson wrote a column ridiculing most of the measures. He pointed to statistics indicating smoking in Canada has declined from 50% of adults to 13% since 1965. Youth smoking is even lower at 9.7%.  What would otherwise indicate we’re on the right track instead becomes a phony ‘crisis’ requiring more intervention in adult lives. Dawson relates that there are in fact two groups where intervention could help: aboriginals on reserve and people with mental health issues. Here’s a policy suggestion: go bug them and leave the grown-ups in peace!

Government Giveth and Taketh Away

Governments monopolise the sales of cigarettes, alcohol and gambling and collect tens of billions in revenue. They pretend to care what these activities might do, to some people, by throttling the choices of all citizens. I understand the impulse to monitor and restrict for the seeming protection of the vulnerable, but it never stops there. Bureaucrats are well practiced in the art of crisis inflation. Using any worst-case scenario as a baseline, policies are ratcheted up to bestow perfect protection on helpless taxpayers. Since the attentions of Nanny State always fail someone, their hard luck is used to compel more interventions.

Pity the case of John Marando. Mr. Marando was happily playing slots at Ontario’s Mohawk Racetrack and casino recently when a machine paid off over $10,000. Problem was Mr. Marando had thrown himself on the tender mercies of Nanny State seventeen years ago. Disturbed by his losses at the time, he signed a “self-exclusion” declaration with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. This useless piece of paper suggested that OLG would prohibit Marando from gambling at its facilities. Fast forward to 2016 when Marando’s lucky night came to a crashing halt. OLG denied the 82-year-old pensioner his winnings and escorted him from the casino as if he were a criminal.

The government thought they were “protecting” Mr. Marando from his personal choices in 1999. Somehow, their protections did not prevent him from entering a casino and playing slots. They did however kick in when he won, and suddenly his personal choices were the business of Nanny State. Mr. Marando said: ” They didn’t mind taking my money all those years.” Helpfully, OLG officials pointed out that Marando can still buy lottery tickets. Huh?

It’s no surprise to grown-ups, (well conservatives anyway), that people do stupid things. Tobacco is harmful. Gambling can be disruptive to families. Alcohol can be abused. People who need help should have it available to them. Private companies aren’t going to step up, but there’s still charities. If not them, then fine, waste some of the revenue from vices on helping the vulnerable. Unfortunately, we have arrived at a time in history where self-serving bureaucrats have convinced far too many people that only the government can help…even as it hurts.



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The Constitution, Prohibition and Greed


Constitutions are Written for Posterity, Not Perversion

In President Trump’s America, the U.S. Constitution is frequently referred to and often misinterpreted. President Trump’s select ban on travel from seven failed states has been deemed ‘unconstitutional’ by a lower court judge. The judiciary was strangely silent when previous presidents did the exact same thing.

Following the British tradition, Canadians don’t pay much attention to written constitutions. We prefer to let politicians screw us over one stupid piece of legislation at a time. However, we do have one, and politicians pay it lip service on occasion. Unfortunately, most of those occasions involve giving unfair consideration to their pet projects.

Our Constitution Act 1982 includes the original British North America Act 1867 (BNA) and updates it to include ten provinces and various modern tropes. Originally, the federal government was given jurisdiction over interprovincial and international trade at a time when excise tax provided the vast bulk of a government’s revenue. However, during the 1920’s with Prohibition raging in the U.S. and vast fortunes being made by criminal enterprises, provincial governments applied to take over the cross border trade in booze. No matter that the BNA said that all products of “the Growth, Produce Manufacture of any of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, shall be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.” Judges decided border controls would be in effect for alcohol. Typically, future politicians were loath to give up the cash cow after Prohibition came to a bloody end.

Over decades, various provincial regulations put the squeeze on drinkers, smokers and gamblers. Not only do they tax heavily but they suppress employment and freedom in the name of ‘doing what’s best for us.’ Ontario is notorious for treating it’s adult citizens like potential criminals but changes may be coming.

Citizens Must Rise Up to Protect the Constitution

In 2012 retiree Gerard Comeau of Tracadia-Sheila, New Brunswick was fined for buying cheap beverages in Quebec. In April 2016 Judge Ronald Leblanc dismissed the charges based on, surprise, the Constitution. The New Brunswick Court of Appeals refused to hear a government intervention. The province wants the Supreme Court of Canada to pronounce definitively on the ability of provinces to screw over citizens. Mr. Comeau, backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation agrees, though obviously for the opposite reason. CCF Executive Director Howard Anglin wrote “…is it too much to ask that our own provinces drop their parochial concerns and unleash tens of billions of dollars of prosperity that the Fathers of Confederation intended we enjoy?”

Recently, the Conservative Party Canada launched a “Free the Beer” campaign. Fans of beer ask why the CPC didn’t do this while in office (2006-15) but they are obviously ignorant of how convoluted our “Deranged Dominion” (Mark Steyn) is. In fact, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Conservatives did “free my grapes” and remove federal restrictions on personal sales. Some provinces opened their borders. Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne made sympathetic noises for a while but in true Liberal fashion accomplished very little. If my local LCBO is any indication, we’re a long way from free trade. Wines from British Columbia occupy a few feet of unidentified shelf space beside racks of New Zealand plonk.

In spite of government interference, thousands of Canadians are opening micro-breweries and small distilleries. Ironically, these efforts hearken back to the days of Confederation when every town bustled with trade in goods and services between free citizens. Unfortunately, in recent years success and prosperity are misidentified as greed and selfishness. We live in sad times indeed when creating jobs is seen as self-serving, and creating useless bureaucracy is seen as “progress”.

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Playing in the Age of Mistrust


“Fake News” and Gambling on Cynicism.

In my last post I reported on a class action lawsuit against the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. Punters in Newfoundland mistrust ALC’s video lottery terminals believing  they are rigged to lose. Lottery games are, of course, designed to do this very thing. You have to be aware that any number or symbol will only pop up randomly, and matching any three is three orders of magnitude more random. You can dream about getting lucky, but you can’t plan on it.

Apparently the locals have lost faith in their friendly neighbourhood government monopoly. The judge surely understands the odds against winning but believes there is merit in the case. Players aren’t looking for a needle in a haystack; they are looking for a haystack, on a comet, circling another star!

I have to believe there is something more at work here. It’s frustrating when the river card turns against you  in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em but the cards are physical. We believe though in digital malfeasance when a video screen spins up a useless fruit salad of unrelated symbols. It just seems more infuriating when a machine refuses to offer at least some solace after producing an endless string of losses.

I’ve explained previously, (“Winning the Lottery: Luck of the Draw”, June 29th, 2016), how draw lotteries like Canada’s 6/49 or US Powerball draws work. Carefully balanced balls careen inside a drum until the required number tumble down a chute. It’s random, unpredictable but it’s tactile and visible. Even computer scientists don’t know exactly what’s going on inside a computer and the public is growing leery of all the ways computers can be hacked and manipulated. This unease can be forgiven if it involves an unco-operative slot machine, but an epidemic of mistrust is breaking out over something we rely on daily: being informed.

The World’s Most Mistrusted Media Source.

There are many institutions that are suffering from steady declines in trust. Election polls have taken a beating, not least because pollsters have suffered a stream of spectacular failures. Public opinion of government waxes and wanes but has declined fairly steadily since the 1950’s. The news media, which once meant your local newspaper, now encompasses streaming, broadcasting and a wild west of digital vulgarity blasting 24/7. We have the most sources of information in 5,000 years and we hate it. To be more accurate: you hate the person I like and I hate the person you like.

The recent US election made a cottage industry of ‘fake news’. Web sites world wide published the most heinous accusations against all candidates. Fans of one side would gleefully re-tweet their favourite “news” about the other side and then engage in ferocious invective against what the other side claimed to be true. Apparently, teens in Macedonia made great money pumping out colourful material for US consumption. Of course, Russia had some sort of influence; hacking sites or, in some obscure way, “influencing” the election result.

If you’re on the losing side, your belief in magical intervention comforts you. If you backed the winner, you discount every suggestion that victory wasn’t inevitable from the beginning. We are at the dawn of the age of mistrust and the twilight of nuance.

Maybe something even more insidious than hacked emails and broadcast rumours has been at work on our society. Perhaps a foreign agency has been trying to convince us for decades that free market capitalism is somehow a failure. By feeding disinformation, misinformation, or just a flood of too much information, the foes of Western civilisation have taken us all for a horrible ride.

Or maybe the CIA planted the whole story.

The Oxford English Dictionary announced “post-truth” as their word for 2016. The OED folks pick words for the frequency of use as well as utility. Post -truth is defined as a state when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.” Political careers rise or fall based on how blocs of voters feel. A blizzard of “sunny ways” buries successful policies like low taxes, restricted government and individual freedom with responsible citizenship. Secret funds pay advocacy groups to hold angry marches. Self-interest is raised above public interest as a political goal.

With the verbal temperature turned up on even the most inconsequential issue, debate is cancelled prior to discussion. It has reached a point that holding an accepted opinion isn’t enough. You have to believe in all the same facts with fervor equal to the looniest adherent.

I hope that enough people will step back and give due respect to their fellow citizens. However, if one of your tactics to “win” arguments is using excessive volume rather than reasoned information…you’re on your own.


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