Fiscal favours are eroding our tax system, says Osgoode prof

With Tuesday’s budget, the federal government continued its love affair with tax expenditures, those special breaks that target tax relief to select causes or groups, wrote Lisa Philipps, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the Toronto Star March 23.

Like many Liberal budgets before them, every one of the Conservative budgets since 2006 has announced an array of new subsidies to be delivered through the tax system. Though their individual price tags may seem modest, they add up to a major drain on revenues. This budget alone would reduce federal revenues by almost $300 million per year once the new personal tax credits are fully phased in.

Who will evaluate the impact of these new tax expenditures to see if they are encouraging more Canadians to pursue postsecondary education or volunteer firefighting, or have other salutary effects that help to justify their costs? Most likely no one, ever. Once enacted into law, these special rules will sit in the tax code indefinitely with no need to be examined or reapproved the way a direct spending program would be.

It is easy to add tax expenditures and almost impossible to remove them. This is why many tax policy experts call for “sunsetting” these rules, which gives them a limited lifespan subject to evaluation and reapproval.

It’s time for Canadian politicians and voters alike to grow up about tax expenditures. Little breaks may seem nice if you happen to be part of a favoured group, but ultimately they destroy simplicity and fairness for all of us.

A look inside Toronto’s Trump Hotel

At the age of 42, Alex Shnaider [BA ’92] has built the tallest residential tower in Canada, wrote the Toronto Star March 24, in a story about the new Trump International Hotel & Tower in Toronto being developed by the York grad.

It is a noteworthy accomplishment, wrote the Star. But perhaps it’s even more so for a rookie developer who acquired the land in 2002, when he was just 34, and already the country’s youngest self-made billionaire.

“It is a landmark building. Something that the city can be proud of,” says Shnaider. “This is now part of the landscape of the city, a vital part of the skyline, a building that you will see on postcards.”

Getting this far has already been an accomplishment. The Trump Hotel has been the subject of skepticism from some people in the real estate community, who thought it would never get built. “If someone had told me it would take this long to build, I would never have believed them,” says Shnaider.

The Russian-born Shnaider immigrated to Canada at the age of 13; he attended high school in Toronto, then went on to York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

Osgoode grad operates a booming online service for would-be adulterers

There’s a lone genius – possibly evil and certainly entrepreneurial – behind Ashley Madison, wrote Bloomberg Businessweek March 23, in a story about the website dedicated to aspiring adulterers. His name is Noel Biderman [LLB ’96], and he’s the chief executive officer of Avid Life Media, based in Toronto. "Monogamy, in my opinion, is a failed experiment," he declares. It’s unclear if Biderman actually believes this – he’s married and has two young kids – but like Hugh Hefner before him, the business he has created pretty much requires that he say it.

Adultery has been good to Biderman, but defending his product is a full-time job.

After spending several years as a sports agent at Chicago’s Interperformances, Biderman founded Ashley Madison in 2002, naming the company after the two most popular names for baby girls that year. A large chunk of his work as an agent involved helping professional basketball players juggle their wives and mistresses, so when he read somewhere that 30 per cent of users of Internet dating services were pretending to be single when they weren’t, a light went on, pointing the way to an underserved online niche market. What would happen, Biderman thought, if cheaters had a website all their own?

Promoting adultery and creating a market for it has made Biderman rich. It has not made him popular.

Biderman was sitting in his office, waiting for an interviewer to arrive from his alma mater, York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. The conversation had turned, once again, to the subject of how unfairly he is treated in the marketplace.

Justice system ‘falling apart’, says lawyer

A prominent Canadian lawyer says this country’s broken justice system needs to undergo radical reform to regain the public’s respect, wrote Moncton, NB’s Times & Transcript March 24.

"The administration of justice is falling apart," says Toronto lawyer Alan Lenczner. "We’re running an antiquated system and people are fleeing it. People don’t trust the system because they find it too expensive, too slow and it doesn’t deliver justice."

Lenczner…has appeared before courts all over Canada and in England and has taught trial advocacy at [York University’s] Osgoode Hall Law School.

Readying for federal election call

Although it was "very much an election budget," it’s not a given the Liberals and NDP will force an election, said the founding dean and professor emeritus of York University’s Schulich School of Business, wrote March 23.

"The government said it was going to do what it said it would do," James Gillies said. "It’s a budget anyone in the Conservative Party could easily defend in his or her riding. Now the question is, will there be an election on the budget? I’m not sure. The NDP and Liberals may be having second thoughts. The Liberals are not ready to go to the people. They say they are, but there is still a lot of money that needs to be raised, and they still have to sell their leader. I don’t think the Liberals can win with (Michael) Ignatieff, yet they have to give him a chance."

Even though NDP Leader Jack Layton stated his party would not support the budget delivered Tuesday, March 22, by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Gillies wasn’t satisfied this signalled a spring election.

"I’m not sure if they want an election," he said of the NDP. "In the House of Commons, no one really wants an election. It’s a lot of work and a lot of money. I’m not suggesting Jack wasn’t saying what he feels, but on budget night, you always attack because that’s what you’re expected to do. You’re never going to hear the leader say ‘boy, that’s a pretty good budget.’ It would come back to haunt them."

Schulich student looking to become Canada’s next top ad exec

Deven Dionisi is driven to prove he’s got what it takes to help sell the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, wrote the Stoney Creek News March 23. The 20-year-old Stoney Creek native and second-year student at the Schulich School of Business at York University is [one of] the Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec Top 10.

The competition challenges Canada’s business students to create innovative advertising and marketing strategies for the release of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic.

“I’m pretty excited, although I’m getting a little bit stressed out,” said the Cardinal Newman Catholic Secondary School graduate, who’s working in partnership with Ancaster native and fellow Schulich School of Business second-year student Cathryn Savoie. “There’s just so much that we have to do still, but I’m pretty happy, I’m proud.”

Two teams from Schulich School of Business were among Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec Top 10 finalists last year.

One of the teams’ members, a close friend of Dionisi’s, worked as a Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec campus liaison this year and encouraged Dionisi and Savoie to enter the competition.

“Generating ideas is easy. Thinking about how you’re realistically going to pay for them is the hardest part,” said Dionisi. The pair will pitch their proposed campaign for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic in front of Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec’s judging panel on March 29. “We kind of want to win this. Having made it to the Top 25 and Top 10, I feel like we actually have a shot now,” said Dionisi.

Meet and greet: bridging the academic/cultural divide

At a time when both cultural institutions and the study of the humanities and social sciences face an uncertain future in the wake of government funding cuts, there is much to be gained from dialogue between academics, artists and curators, wrote Times Higher Education March 24.

That is the central premise of "New Perspectives on Education and Culture", a seminar series funded by the [U.K’.s] Economic and Social Research Council. The series was launched last week at an event at London’s Whitechapel Gallery that brought together sociologists, philosophers and artists, as well as gallery professionals.

Feminist philosopher Lorraine Code, professor emerita at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], examined the difficulties of understanding the particularities of lives in different cultural settings and of "claiming to know people across difference."

Such stereotyping, or what one researcher called "ignorance/knowledge", often has significant consequences in the real world.

Former teen dropout returned to school to pursue love of teaching

Every day, elementary teacher Stephanie Martin [BA ’05] leaves her Sutton home and either hops on a ferry or drives across an ice road to Georgina Island, wrote the Toronto Star March 24. There, she teaches Grades 3 to 5 at Waabgon Gamig First Nation School (the name means Blossoming Flower School House), which has two classrooms and about 20 students.

For Martin, a 49-year-old mother of two and high school dropout, the daily trip across the waters of Lake Simcoe is the triumphant end of a challenging six-year journey to reinvent herself.

After graduating from Seneca College, Martin went on to earn a BA at York University [Faculty of Health]…. She entered York as third-year student and completed her degree in psychology over two years.

On air

  • Leo Panitch, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the federal budget on AM640 radio, March 23.
  • Ian Greene, political science professor in York’s School of Public Policy & Administration in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about how much information voters should have before they cast a ballot, after queries about Jack Layton’s health begged the question, on CBC TV’s “The National” March 23.