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The most baffling miscalculations made by each of Ontario’s parties

Political parties invest great amounts of time and energy into preparing for election campaigns – far more, generally, than the media covering them. For all that we’re constantly questioning their strategic decisions, an awful lot of thought and research goes into most of them, and even if they don’t pan out there’s usually a good explanation behind them.

Still, this election has contained its share of mysteries when it comes to what the parties were thinking. Here’s a quick look at what was, to these eyes, the most baffling miscalculation by each party.

The Liberals’ debate prep

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne takes part in the Ontario provincial leaders debate in Toronto, Tuesday June 3, 2014. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne takes part in the Ontario provincial leaders debate in Toronto, Tuesday June 3, 2014. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Yes, it was bad luck for Kathleen Wynne that the very first topic in her first leaders’ debate – before she’d had a chance to let her nerves settle – was the gas-plants scandal. But that still doesn’t explain why she didn’t have a better plan for the inevitable questions on that subject than to repeatedly apologize while uncomfortably staring straight ahead as the other leaders berated her, then make an awkward and unsuccessful attempt to change the channel to Tim Hudak’s math problems.

Ms. Wynne was being prepped for the debate dating back to last year, so it’s not as though no thought went into this. One theory offered by some Liberal insiders is that, somewhat in keeping with the way their party has made both political and policy decisions since Ms. Wynne took over, there were a lot of people in the room during those sessions – and enough conflicting advice that she didn’t have a clear idea of what she was supposed to do.

Another explanation also floating around is that while they expected Mr. Hudak to be tough on her, the Liberals failed to adjust to the aggressive persona Andrea Horwath had taken on by the time the debate happened. Instead, by this account, Ms. Wynne was prepared for the folksier version of the NDP Leader from the 2011 campaign, and left flummoxed by the attack from both sides.

Or maybe the prep just didn’t take as it should have, with Ms. Wynne’s nervousness getting the better of her. Whatever happened, if the Liberals lose on Thursday, they’ll have cause to look back on the debate with some regret.

The Tories’ hard sell of 100,000 job cuts

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.  (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The more obvious choice for a Progressive Conservative mystery in this campaign might be how Mr. Hudak’s policy advisers managed to badly botch the math behind his pledge to create a million new jobs, causing him no shortage of embarrassment. Chalk that one up to sloppiness, albeit of the fairly remarkable variety. What’s even more confusing is how the Tories rolled out their plan to cut 100,000 jobs from the broader public sector.

When they announced that pledge, a few days in, it seemed obviously intended as something to seize the electorate’s attention and become the talk of the campaign. If it wasn’t, then surely Mr. Hudak would have soft-sold it as relying largely on attrition rather than giving the impression that it involved firing a lot of people.

But by the accounts of many within their party, the Tories were genuinely caught off guard by how much the proposed cuts overshadowed other policies they rolled out in the days that followed, and the extent to which it gave their opponents something to rally against. So in subsequent the weeks, Mr. Hudak did start talking more about attrition – but only after the other parties had reasonably been able to characterize his proposal as mass layoffs.

Prior to the debate, several PC sources have said, there was starting to be a degree of finger-pointing within their party about both the million-jobs math and the jobs-cuts roll-out. A better mood set in because of the perceived momentum swing in their favour, which seemingly had much to do with the focus shifting to Liberal scandals. But there will again be plenty of second-guessing if the motivated centre-left keeps them from office.

The NDP’s slow start

Andrea Horwath speaks at a campaign stop in Toronto on May 7. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Andrea Horwath speaks at a campaign stop in Toronto on May 7. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Frankly, almost the entire NDP campaign has been baffling. While there have been occasional signs of what could have worked – Ms. Horwath is a more confident performer than she was in 2011, and when anyone has actually seen them their ads have been pretty good – it remains unclear why the New Democrats forced an election for which they lacked both a policy agenda and enough money to compete with the other parties.

What is especially confusing, though, is why Ms. Horwath was so unprepared for the campaign’s first week. In the run-up to the May 2 provincial budget, neither of the other parties could be certain how the New Democrats would respond. But in retrospect, considering that their rejection of that left-leaning budget clearly had little to do with its contents, the New Democrats should have known well before it was presented what they were going to do. And if they had bluffed publicly about weighing their options while making preparations behind the scenes, they might have run the smoothest campaign out of the gate.

Instead, the New Democrats looked more surprised than anyone by the government falling. It took them the longest to get their logistics sorted out, and more important they lacked a compelling explanation for why they had decided to bring the Liberals down. This was probably the time to make the strongest possible argument about Liberal corruption, as Ms. Horwath tried to do much later; instead she stumbled through a less-than-compelling case about liking Ms. Wynne’s promises but not trusting her to deliver on them.

As a result, Ms. Horwath squandered the spotlight that was on her in those first days. Before long, with the other leaders campaigning more strongly, the narrative of a two-way race had taken hold – one the New Democrats were never able to shake in the weeks that followed.

analysisandrea horwathkathleen wynnetim hudak
Filed under: Ontario Election

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Hong Kong’s refusal on political concessions sets stage for more unrest

Hong Kong’s leadership offered no concessions to student activists and democracy protesters as it unveiled a final political reform package that threatens to rekindle the anger that brought hundreds of thousands to city streets last fall.

The package holds fast to the most controversial elements of earlier Chinese-backed proposals, which employ a secretive 1,200-person committee to nominate candidates for chief executive, the powerful top office in the Asian financial centre.

The committee has been slammed as beholden to Beijing’s will – thereby ensuring only staunchly pro-China candidates can seek election – and unrepresentative of the modern city.

A pro-Beijing protester tries to punch a pro-democracy demonstrator after a heated argument outside the government building in Hong Kong on April 22, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

A pro-Beijing protester tries to punch a pro-democracy demonstrator after a heated argument outside the government building in Hong Kong on April 22, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images)

But the city’s Beijing-backed leadership called it a take-it-or-leave-it deal.

“As of now, we see no room for any compromise,” Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said Wednesday. “To initiate any political reform process is not easy. If this proposal is vetoed, it could be several years before the next opportunity.”

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said the package fulfills “the ultimate goal” of achieving the universal suffrage China has promised, a statement observers understood to mean that, if it is passed, future changes to the package are unlikely.

But lawmaker Alan Leong vowed that the pro-democracy camp would reject it.

“The proposal allows a ‘small circle’ to control the election result by controlling the nomination process. Hong Kong will become an election machine,” he said.

He was one of about two dozen opposition lawmakers, most wearing yellow Xs on black shirts and some holding yellow umbrellas – a symbol of the pro-democracy protest movement – who walked out of the legislative chamber after Ms. Lam’s speech.

There were some minor scuffles outside the legislature as pro-democracy protesters faced off against pro-Beijing demonstrators waving Chinese flags.

Joshua Wong, the teenage student leader who became the protest movement’s most famous face, dismissed the reform package.

“Those minor adjustments raised by the government are totally useless,” said Mr. Wong, 18. “We hope to have the freedom to choose rather than just get the right to elect some of the candidates.”

He said that he and other members of his Scholarism group would protest on Saturday in neighbourhoods where Ms. Lam and other government officials are expected to canvas for support from residents.

The woman who is sometimes called Hong Kong’s “Iron Lady” also dimissed the reform package.

“Today’s very explicit statement dashes any hopes for further reforms beyond 2017,” said Anson Chan, a former chief secretary turned democracy activist.

“This whole thing from start to finish has been a farce.”

A group of pro-democracy lawmakers has vowed to veto the legislation, raising the prospect that the pitched rhetoric and lengthy protests of the past year will achieve precisely nothing.

In past conflicts with Hong Kong, however, Beijing has offered concessions at the last minute, so it remains possible the package will be passed in some form.

But Chan Kin-man, one of the main organizers of the Occupy movement that laid the foundations for street protests, feels Hong Kong is better to wait for China itself to become a different place than to accept an imperfect electoral system.

“You have to wait until China has to face its own social or political reform – then it might give Hong Kong people another chance of reform,” he said.

Michael DeGolyer, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University, worries people won’t be that patient. A veto will leave the city “stuck with the current system, which is about as bad as it gets. It’s almost a guarantee that there will be upheavals that will make Occupy Central look like a kindergarten picnic. There will be real violence, not just controlled violence.”

Though police cleared the last remnants of the Occupy movement off Hong Kong streets last December, the protest continues even today, with some 140 tents arranged on sidewalks around the city’s legislature.

Every night, 50 to 60 people still bed down here. Once or twice a week, Thomas Hong joins them. A 57-year-old Canadian passport holder who exports ladies handbags to Europe, he spent Wednesday evening chatting inside a tent under a “Freedom Corner” sign.

“This government is rubbish,” he said.

Avery Ng, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats party, which holds a single seat in the legislature, walked past the signs of simmering discontent.

“This shows hope. More people are awakening,” he said. “People finally know that they can do something rather than giving up.”

With a report from Associated Press

Senators avoid elimination with shutout win over Habs in Game 4

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (41) makes a save against Montreal Canadiens right wing Brandon Prust (8) during the second period in game four of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Ottawa Senators goalie Craig Anderson (41) makes a save against Montreal Canadiens right wing Brandon Prust (8) during the second period in game four of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Scoresheets are inherently unsatisfying, not everything about a hockey game can be rendered into columns of numbers.

The official record will show one goal was scored between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, the Sens’ Mike Hoffman scored it, assisted by defenceman Cody Ceci.

The document won’t note a pair subtle, yet crucial, little plays from Ottawa centre Mika Zibanejad. He appears nowhere, yet in every real sense he created the decisive goal.

The 22-year-old Swede forechecked deep in the Montreal zone to hound defenceman Tom Gilbert – playing on his off-side this night – and his attempted clear off the glass was instead stopped on a clever play by Ceci.

Not content to have forced a turnover, Zibanejad headed directly for the net. Once there, he shielded all-world goalie Carey Price’s view of Hoffman’s shot.

“We needed to get bodies in the way . . . Mika did a great job screening him there and made it easy on me,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t (see an opening), no. I was just trying to shoot it along one of the sides and it just managed to find its way in.”

Zibanejad’s doggedness can be seen as a metaphor for the broader effort by Ottawa, who in the words of teammate Mark Stone “will play hard right to the end.”

Small things can make big differences in a close series – and despite Montreal’s commanding 3-1 lead in games, it has been closely contested.

There’s no stat for determination. Or pride – a factor centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau cited in explaining why the Senators weren’t about to allow themselves to be swept away on home ice.

And no game summary or highlight will fully capture the latest moves in the ongoing chess game between coaches Dave Cameron and Michel Therrien.

Indeed, the seeds of game four were planted in game three and germinated during the pair of off-days between games.

Cameron said he saw enough defensively from Hoffman, a rookie who has been inconsistent over the past weeks (and found himself on the fourth line to start the series), to move him into a top-six role.

“I thought he was very responsible,” he said.

As a result, Hoffman skated with Zibanejad and Bobby Ryan and given a chance to strut his stuff. It paid off early with a couple of scoring chances.

“You want to really take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you, I was going to go out there – and I felt good tonight, we were skating well and there was a few chances early in the game that could have went in but didn’t. We just stayed patient, and it happened in the third period,” Hoffman said.

Coaches play hunches all the time – Therrien has become justly famous for it – and Cameron saw that his club’s all-hitting-all-the-time approach in game three was creating room for the Habs to exploit.

In his post-game news conference Cameron said he made a tactical decision concerning his forward assignments on the forecheck.

“We toned down the gamble on the second guy jumping,” he said.

As a result, the Sens managed to create more neutral zone turnovers and forced the Canadiens into skating down blind alleys.

Cameron’s decision to replace goaltender Andrew Hammond with veteran Craig Anderson has also paid dividends; though Anderson yielded a soft goal in losing game three in overtime, he was impeccable in this one, stopping all 28 shots he faced.

Dripping with sweat in the Ottawa dressing room, the shaven-headed Anderson refused to read too much in to the result.

“We can celebrate for about 15 minutes then come back ready to work tomorrow and focus on the next one because it’s only going to get harder,” he said.

The Habs also made some adjustments, one of them enforced by an injury to defenceman Nathan Beaulieu – caught flush in the head by Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson’s thunderous check in game three.

Rookie Greg Pateryn subbed in and played with Gilbert. Both are right-handed shots, but Gilbert has had success playing on the left side and found himself there.

There are risks to playing defencemen out of position however, whereas Gilbert handled the puck on his back-hand just before the clinching goal, a lefty would have had a straightforward forehand clearance opportunity.

By then Pateryn had left the game with an injury – he appeared to hurt himself in a collision with Erik Condra and skated to the dressing room after a punishing hit on Jean-Gabriel Pageau that negated a scoring opportunity.

Should Pateryn miss out on Friday – Beaulieu has been ruled out for the balance of the series and is likely suffering from a concussion – more lineup changes will be needed.

Therrien will hope his club won’t waste another performance like the one Price provided – he stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced, many of them tricky.

Afterward he blamed himself for the one that got past.

“I didn’t get a good look at it but I’ve got to try and fight to see it,” Price said. “It’s a tough break, nobody was expecting the puck to bounce out to the middle of the ice and Hoffman was patient with it and picked a side.”

The Habs will also need to be better on the power-play, having recorded an 0-for-3 evening. They are now 1-for-16 in the series, this team doesn’t score enough goals to forego so many opportunities at five-on-four.

They will also hope that the injuries don’t keep mounting – as Ottawa’s main injury concern, Stone, says he is beginning to feel like his regular self as the soreness dissipates in his damaged right wrist.

At the same time, there is no panic in the Montreal room, just annoyance.

“I think we had opportunities to win but we didn’t make the right decision when we had the puck, for whatever reason, I don’t know,” said Habs defenceman P.K. Subban, who along with Karlsson had a comparatively subdued game.

The Habs will now concentrate on focusing the will to stamp out the comeback at the Bell Centre.

Failing to do so carries risks.

Ottawa, meanwhile, is simply focused on winning a second game and bringing the series back home for a sixth game on Sunday.

“We really want to play one more in front of them,” Pageau said.

Wildrose Leader spurred by son’s tragic medical experience

Brian Jean

Brian Jean tries to talk about his leadership of Alberta’s Wildrose Party but he’s overcome by tears.


Brian Jean tries to talk about his leadership of Alberta’s Wildrose Party but he’s overcome by tears.

“It’s hard,” he says, dabbing his eyes with a tissue. “I’m sorry.”

In the throes of a surprisingly competitive provincial election campaign, Mr. Jean’s decision to enter provincial politics remains a difficult conversation point. It forces the former Conservative MP to draw on fresh and painful memories of the nearly four months he spent at the hospital bedside of his 24-year-old son, Michael, as doctors tried to diagnose his illness. By the time they identified the problem – lymphoma – it was too late. Michael died on March 20, and his father’s experience with the health-care system spurred him to seek the Wildrose leadership.

His son will likely not be far from Mr. Jean’s thoughts Thursday night as he faces off against his political rivals in the first televised leaders’ debate of the campaign. There is much riding on the event for all four leaders involved, but perhaps more so for Mr. Jean, 52, who is the least known of the group – a fact that defies his party’s consistent lead in the polls. If he’s asked why he wants to become premier, he will have to recall the heartbreaking loss of someone he calls “my best friend.”

“My son’s illness was my first real occasion dealing with the health-care system in Alberta and I was utterly shocked and disgusted,” Mr. Jean says through more tears. “The system is horribly broken. It’s focused on treatment and not focused on actually healing people. We need to put our resources where they matter – on the front line, to serve people. Michael is why I decided to run.”

In talking about his son, the Wildrose Leader chronicles a nightmarish medical experience. He says Michael was misdiagnosed seven times and was given the wrong medicine on at least two occasions, once creating serious liver problems. He also had nine biopsies. Shortly after the proper diagnosis was reached, Michael had a related brain hemorrhage and died.

“It was tragic,” Mr. Jean says. “There is no other word for it. Just an awful thing to go through for everyone.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Jean has made health care a major component of his campaign. This week, the party vowed to address waiting times for critical procedures such as hip replacements and radiation therapy. In some instances, the delays are exceeding established benchmarks by as much as 23 weeks, according to Wildrose. Mr. Jean says his party would expand private clinics and ship people out of the province and even the country if that is necessary for them to get access to treatment in reasonable time.

If recent polls are to be believed, Mr. Jean could soon be in a position to carry through on his promise. Almost from the beginning of the campaign, Wildrose has been at the top of virtually every opinion survey taken. Many people, however, remain skeptical about the numbers – including Mr. Jean. “I don’t trust them,” he says with a smile.

Still, he does believe there is a strong undercurrent of anger among the Alberta public. He believes people are mad about the early election call by the Progressive Conservatives, about tax increases in the recent provincial budget, about the governing party’s perceived role in the mass defection of Wildrosers to the government benches late last year.

Sitting in a modest motor home (his own) that serves as his campaign bus, Mr. Jean recalls one of his father’s favourite sayings. “My dad would tell us politicians are a lot like fish left on the counter. After a while they start to smell bad and need to be thrown out. I think that’s what we’re seeing in this election. There’s a strong feeling it’s time to throw these guys out.”

While new to provincial politics, Mr. Jean is by no means a political newbie. He represented his home riding of Fort McMurray as a Conservative Party MP between 2004 and 2014. When he resigned, the lawyer thought he was leaving politics for good. But when Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and 10 of her MLAs crossed the floor to sit with the government, he was urged by many people to consider running for the party’s top job. Eventually, he did, and won, leaving the leadership race in the final days to be with his dying son.

Mr. Jean fashions himself as a fiscal hawk. The record debt the province is amassing is anathema to everything he stands for, he insists. He came by his penny-pinching ways honestly, he says. Growing up in Fort McMurray as one of 11 kids, he had little. Food was often whatever his dad and brothers could shoot, he says – there was a lot of moose on the table. He didn’t taste store-bought bread until he was 12 or 13. He never went to a restaurant in the town until he was 18. He didn’t get his first pair of new pants until he was 14.

“I wore hand-me-downs,” he says. “My brothers went to high school in the 60s, so let’s just say that when I wore their clothes in the 70s they were a little bright for my tastes. … But I wouldn’t change any of it. I had a wonderful upbringing. I had great parents.”

The family eventually opened a convenience store that grew to become the City Centre Group, which owns a number of small businesses in the Fort McMurray region and beyond. Mr. Jean attended a Christian university in Portland and independent Bond University in Australia, where he received an MBA and completed a law degree. He had three children by a first marriage, which ended a number of years ago.

Since winning his party’s leadership last month, Mr. Jean has maintained a hectic pace. The party was forced to rush candidates into battle because of the early election call. Many were not properly vetted until after the campaign began. He had to ask one to step aside recently when blog posts he authored were discovered and deemed bigoted against gay people. That was on top of his firing of Bill Jarvis, the party’s candidate for Calgary-Southeast. Organizing a photo on stage after Mr. Jean’s leadership victory, Mr. Jarvis was picked up by a mic saying: “We need lots of brown people in the front.” Mr. Jean turfed him the next day.

Both incidents revived memories of the 2012 election, when it appeared Wildrose would cruise to victory until the last week of the campaign. That’s when an old blog post written by a candidate was unearthed. In it, Allan Hunsperger suggested gay people would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire.” When then-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith refused to condemn the remark, it gave the Progressive Conservatives an opening to suggest Wildrose was too extreme to govern the province. It worked.

Last week Mr. Jean had to talk to another candidate, MLA Russ Kuykendall, who caused a stir when he sent out an invitation to a riding meet-and-greet and pie auction. It urged those attending to “BYWP: Bring Your Wife’s Pie.” The brochure was denounced as sexist and Mr. Kuykendall apologized. But not before The Calgary Sun crafted the best headline of the campaign, one harking back to Wildrose’s 2012 campaign disaster. “Bake of Fire,” it read.

Mr. Jean’s swift response to these campaign imbroglios illustrates his desire not to see the party framed as extremist.

“I know for certain that I’m not interested in any social agenda,” he says, sitting in his motor home, which is driven by a son. “I will not legislate on social agenda. I don’t think that’s what governments are for. Governments are for making a better quality of life for people, and I think I should stay out of their personal business and that’s exactly what I intend to do. That sort of thing only splits Albertans, splits Canadians, and there’s no benefit in it.”

Barb Schlaht, a Wildrose supporter from Airdrie, has been impressed with the job Mr. Jean has done since taking over the party. “That man buried his son on a Thursday and won the leadership that Sunday. I’m in awe of his ability to put his grief behind him to work on behalf of all Albertans.”

Ms. Schlaht says she was “shocked,” “heart-broken” and “gob-smacked up the side of the head” when former party leader Ms. Smith led a mass defection of Wildrose MLAs to the government benches last fall. The new leader, says the RV park employee, has “taken a ship that was kind of like floating loose in the ocean and tied it down and pulled us all together. A lot of the anxiety in the party ended the night he became leader.”

Morgan Nagel, a 24-year-old councillor from the town of Cochrane, says he has memberships in both Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives. Initially, he said he was supporting Premier Jim Prentice but that has changed in recent weeks.

“His messaging and his actions aren’t consistent,” Mr. Nagel says about the Alberta Premier. “I think right now Wildrose offers a much more clear vision of what they would do. Also, speaking as a municipal politician, Wildrose would put a more reliable funding structure in place from what I can see.”

With the campaign more than halfway over, Mr. Jean enters a critical stretch. Increasingly, Wildrose has come under attack from the Conservatives, evidence of the governing party’s internal polling which shows them in serious trouble. Before the election was called, Mr. Jean spoke about being happy if his party emerged as the official Opposition again. He doesn’t talk in those terms any longer.

He won’t dare to imagine how this is all going to end up, mind you. But regardless of the outcome, Mr. Jean will certainly take time to reflect on the person who gave him the strength to wage this fight in the first place. And he’ll miss him more than ever.

Increase to TFSA limit has some rethinking RRSPs, retirement savings


The near doubling of annual contribution limits for the tax-free savings account has prompted a rethink of how Canadians should invest for their retirement.

Many in the investment community are now seeing the TFSA as an attractive supplement, if not even alternative, to the traditional registered retired savings plan. It also makes the savings vehicle more attractive for holding riskier investments, such as equities, that can produce larger returns over the long haul.

The federal budget this week called for the annual TFSA contribution limit to rise to $10,000 from $5,500. A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Joe Oliver said Wednesday that Canadians can start contributing the extra amount “immediately.”

For those investors who have never contributed to a TFSA, they have now accumulated $41,000 in contribution room – and that will continue to grow at $10,000 a year. Investment income earned in a TFSA, and withdrawals when they are made, are tax free.

For investment advisers, the announcement is opening a window of opportunity for more efficient financial planning for clients, particularly seniors.

Gregor McDonald, a financial planner with Vision Financial Planning, would like to see more of his clients taking advantage of the tax withdrawal benefits. Up until now, most people use the TFSA as a savings vehicle for near-term expenditures, such as a new car or home renovation. The increased limit could change that.

“With the increased limit I recommend using it for longer-term purposes like retirement, especially for those in their 50’s and preparing for retirement,” Mr. McDonald says. “That will mean using investment vehicles that are longer term in nature. I see people steering away from using balanced funds or fixed income products and increasing the equity content in their TFSA when portfolios start getting larger.”

Over a 25-year span, and assuming a modest 4 per cent annual return, investors could still accumulate approximately $416,500. Not quite the chump change investors originally thought of when the TFSA was first announced with contribution room of $5,000 a year, says Adrian Mastracci, a portfolio manager at KCM Wealth Management Inc.

“Going from $5,500 to $10,000 really boosts this investment vehicle into the big leagues,” Mr. Mastracci says.

As the TFSA becomes a larger part of people’s planning and thus holds a larger share of their portfolio, clients should use a well-balanced approach to investing in their TFSA, says Darren Coleman, an investment adviser and portfolio manager with Raymond James Ltd.

“Rather than seeing the TFSA as a small account that was secondary to, say, their RRSP, which had the bulk of their savings, they should view the TFSA as a central and core part of the portfolio and manage it accordingly,” says Mr. Coleman, who manages $115-million in assets under management.

As investors start to reconsider the TFSA, they should also reconsider the investments held within the account. A high percentage of investment dollars being contributed to TFSAs continue to sit in low interest rate products such as guaranteed investment certificates or high-interest savings accounts.

At the same time, investors should be careful about generating capital losses inside a TFSA, as it cannot be used to offset gains, as they can in a non-registered account.

Mr. Coleman suggests most clients should use the TFSA for holding investments that normally attract a high level of tax, such as fixed income and foreign dividends.

For retirees, the increased limit has placed a greater light on TFSAs being efficient tools to use in tax planning. When the TFSA was first introduced, Mr. Coleman started to work on investment projections for clients using a TFSA.

These projections looked at shifting RRSP withdrawal timelines. But it was a strategy Mr. Coleman couldn’t implement fully until there was significant room available in the TFSA.

“With the higher TFSA limit, a lot of traditional planning with respect to RRSPs is being turned on its head,” Mr. Coleman says. Historically, clients were advised to wait to draw from their RRSPs and RRIFs (registered retirement income funds) for as long as possible so they continue to have tax-sheltered compounded growth. But with an investment vehicle that can offer great tax planning, that isn’t necessarily the case any more.

“We have another vehicle that is becoming much more useful with tax-free growth, and we are running the math and seeing that instead of waiting until someone is in their 70’s, we should be drawing out smaller amounts of money earlier than we historically would’ve but at a lower rate of tax over all and then shift it into the TFSA,” Mr. Coleman says.

The new $10,000 limit could also provide an alternative for clients looking to save for a down payment on the purchase of a home. Many younger clients currently benefit from the first time home buyers’ plan, which allows a percentage of RRSP funds to be used towards a purchase of a home.

“For young people buying their first house or condo in their 20s or early 30s, the advice we have been giving if you are in a lower tax bracket is don’t even contribute to an RRSP because chances are you will be in a higher bracket when you have to take it out,” says Jamie Golombek, managing director, tax and estate planning at CIBC Wealth Advisory Services.

Clients also have the added benefit of having a flexible repayment plan, says Mr. Golombek, as anything taken out of the TFSA will be added to your contribution room for the following year (unlike the home buyers plan, which requires investors to start repaying the fund two years after the withdrawal).

Vancouver to become first city to regulate medical pot dispensaries

Vancouver’s relaxed approach to marijuana allowed medical cannabis dispensaries such as The Dispensary to flourish. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver’s relaxed approach to marijuana allowed medical cannabis dispensaries such as The Dispensary to flourish. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver is about to become the first city in Canada to regulate medical-marijuana dispensaries, setting up strict conditions that will include obtaining a special business licence, paying a $30,000 permit fee and not operating close to a school or community centre.

The changes will likely further entrench Vancouver’s famously relaxed approach to marijuana, legitimizing dispensaries that have flourished in all corners of the city despite the federal government’s insistence that they are illegal.

The number of dispensaries has skyrocketed in the city in the past couple of years from less than a dozen to 80.

“We’ve got more shops than Tim Hortons,” said Kerry Jang, the Vision Vancouver councillor and psychiatry professor who has taken the lead on the contentious issue. “We can’t regulate a product. But we can regulate a business.”

Vancouver is now home to about half of the dispensaries in Canada, say marijuana activists, with the rest scattered across various towns and cities, including half a dozen in Toronto.

For the past year, amid rising public complaints, Dr. Jang had said repeatedly there was little the city could do about the shops because only the federal government could regulate the sale of drugs and the city couldn’t create a business category just for marijuana.

But Wednesday, Dr. Jang said the city, after staff looked for a solution, will now be “creating something called the marijuana-uses business licence.”

He said that stores starting to set up near schools propelled council to take action.

After looking at the way the states of Washington and Colorado, which both legalized marijuana outright, regulated their retail outlets, Vancouver city staff proposed the hefty fee and rules that prohibit dispensaries within 300 metres of schools and community centres, as well as within that distance of another dispensary.

Dr. Jang said he estimated that about two-thirds of the stores would have to close or move. But, he said, the number remaining would be enough to serve the market in the city.

“We will try to make sure the good ones stay,” he said. “We have legitimate medical-marijuana users. There’s no way we want to deny legitimate users.”

And it’s better to have regulated dispensaries than a big underground market, he said.

“For us, it’s like the sex trade. We’ve always taken the approach of keeping it above ground so we can watch it.”

But the city’s planned new law, which will have to go through a public hearing, has marijuana sellers and activists concerned.

Dana Larsen, founder of marijuana activist group Sensible BC, said the sector did need regulation, but he’s concerned that the city created new regulations without a single phone call to local operators.

“Nobody knows more about selling medical marijuana than we do,” said Mr. Larsen, who is also the owner of two shops. One of them, on Hastings Street, is 120 metres from the nearest community centre and will not be allowed under the new bylaw.

However, Vancouver’s move is being welcomed by the city’s business associations, which were so alarmed by the trend that they had a meeting two months ago with city officials and Vancouver police to talk about the need to do something.

“It’s a good first step,” said Claudia Laroye, the executive director of the Marpole Business Improvement Association. Her group has seen three shops open in a single block near the area’s library at the south end of Granville Street.

Mr. Larsen said he coached many people on setting up new dispensaries to serve the growing market. Most of the dispensaries didn’t bother getting a business licence. Since the city wasn’t shutting them down and police weren’t charging them, the numbers soared.

But Ms. Laroye, echoing others, said part of the issue was the Vision council’s tolerance for the businesses.

“That the city is one of the few that has allowed the proliferation is indicative of their feelings.”

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