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Doug Ford’s spending cuts are not as deep as many feared, or hoped

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Ontarians who were bracing for slashing and burning by the Doug Ford government may be relieved that no huge program cuts were unveiled in Thursday’s mini-budget. 

At the same time, Ontarians who voted for Ford on his promise to reduce the size and cost of government may be disappointed that the province is still swimming neck-deep in red ink.

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli is now pegging the deficit at $14.5 billion, down $500 million from what he says was the true deficit in the budget the previous Liberal government tabled in March. Put in context: the $500 million haircut amounts to a 0.3 per cent trim from the province’s annual spending tab. 

There are several reasons the deficit reduction is so relatively small. 

  • About half of the $3.2 billion in « expense savings » the government is crediting itself with finding came from cancelling programs that were funded by revenue from the cancelled cap and trade program, so when it comes to deficit reduction, that’s a wash. 
  • While the headline cuts in the mini-budget involve scrapping the offices of the Ontario Child Advocate and the Environmental Commissioner, as revealed first by CBC News, Fedeli couldn’t say how much money the moves will save. Nor would he put a dollar figure on the savings by eliminating the French-Language Services Commissioner’s post. 
  • The government is handing out income tax breaks, and not just to low-income earners. People in the highest tax brackets are getting an income tax break worth $275 million a year.

I asked Fedeli three times in his news conference to explain why he’s giving the wealthiest Ontarians a tax cut when the province is in such a deep fiscal hole. Each time, he refused to answer the question directly.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath speaks to reporters at the provincial legislature. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

The single biggest reason the deficit is trimmed so little: Ford’s Progressive-Conservatives do not have the knives out for health care or education spending (at least, not for now).

Fedeli’s fiscal documents show the government is projecting to spend $61.7 billion on the Ministry of Health this fiscal year. The Liberal government’s health budget for 2018-19 was $61.3 billion.

The Ministry of Education budget is $29 billion, the same amount as the Kathleen Wynne’s government was planning to spend this year. 

So why no noticeable cuts to the two biggest-spending ministries in the province? In part, because there are simply no quick ways to cut costs in health and education without laying off a whole bunch of people. If there were, they would have been done by now. Ford’s PCs insist they do not want to simply shut down hospitals and close schools, or fire nurses and teachers.

If it is actually possible to save money in health and education without cutting services (and without cutting jobs as Ford has promised), it will not be easy and it will take time.  

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath believes the numbers indicate that a big cut is coming to welfare spending. That’s because the $17 billion budget for the newly merged Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services is about $900 million less than what the Wynne government budgeted for the two separate ministries back in March. Minister Lisa MacLeod is promising to reveal her social assistance reforms next Thursday, after previously saying they would be announced on Nov 8.

Fedeli takes questions in a news conference after tabling the fall economic statement. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The 156-page fall economic statement tabled by Fedeli on Thursday contains some strong hints of things likely on the way from the government, perhaps as early as the full budget in the spring.  

The mini-budget devotes three pages to a discussion of business tax competitiveness, with details of how Donald Trump’s recent tax reform in the U.S. eliminated the corporate tax advantage that Ontario long had over such states as New York, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. It clearly sets the stage for a cut to the corporate tax rate, something Ford promised during the election campaign. 

The document re-states the promise made during the campaign and in the throne speech to « further reduce electricity rates by 12 per cent. » But there is no timeline for when it will happen, nor any indication of how it will happen. The PCs had suggested they would fund the rate cut in part by sharing the government’s Hydro One stock dividend with electricity customers. But the $65 million quarterly dividend the government got in September went straight into provincial coffers. 

Fedeli did not lay out a « path to balance » in the document, so we have no idea when he intends to get rid of the deficit. He has declined to describe the timeline in any terms more specific than prudent and reasonable. Under provincial law, he must put a back-to-balance schedule in the budget next spring. 

« Everyone across the province will be required to make sacrifices, without exception, » Fedeli said in his speech to the legislature Thursday. This mini-budget does not make it clear exactly what those sacrifices are going to be. 

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Anglais

Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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