The losers are lurking.

October 28th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

It must be Halloween in the air. Losers from the last federal election are gathering. There will be a provincial election in 2018 and the Conservative losers from the last federal election are jockeying for nominations in provincial electoral districts.

The first of these Conservative nominations was for the upcoming bye-election in Niagara West-Glanbrook and former St. Catharines MP, as well as current provincial party president, Rick Dykstra lost to a young Brock University student running on a social conservative platform. While that electoral district might not be a Liberal stronghold, any campaign manager who cannot figure out how to defeat a home-schooled 19-year old social conservative should not be involved in politics.

In another age-related skirmish, defeated Conservative finance minister Joe Oliver, in the blue trunks and 76-years old, who lost in Eglinton-Lawrence last year, wants the Conservative nomination in York Centre where incumbent Liberal MPP Monte Kwinter, in the red trunks, is 85-years old. They should both do quite well in the riding’s retirement residences.

Another comer for Conservative party leader Patrick Brown is the famous former MP Paul Calandra. Many Canadians will remember his distress on crying in the House of Commons over his failed attempts to mislead the House when answering questions for his leader, Stephen Harper. He is from Markham but we are unsure where he might find a provincial electoral district suitable for his dramatic talents.

Even more interesting as a provincial possibility is the right-wing Bob Dechert from Mississauga. Dechert was the chap who, when serving as foreign affairs minister John Baird’s parliamentary secretary, was exchanging flirtatious e-mails with a lady who worked for the People’s Republic of China as a foreign correspondent (nobody admitted she was a spy). It was reported that it was the correspondent’s husband who broke into her e-mails and published them on the Internet to the considerable embarrassment of all concerned.

There are more hopefuls in the offing. One of the best bets is MP Tony Clement. He is a bit miffed with the federal scene since he found that nobody wanted to fund his run for the federal leadership. He has to be considering heading back to his halcyon days on the Mike Harris team at Queen’s Park. Not that working for Patrick Brown would be all that much fun but he is no heavy hitter in Ottawa.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Rethinking political communication.

October 27th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Read something the other day that said young people ignore political pamphlets. What was new about this puzzled us. If it looks like a political pamphlet, it deserves to be ignored. We have been redesigning and creating new forms of communication for politicians for many years. Communications have to be written for the audience, not the subject.

Brochures are the fun and creative side of politics. Once many years ago a friend was studying a new brochure we had created and he said, “This looks like it is selling hamburgers.” Everyone loved that brochure, but the hamburger lost.

It was about the same time as another designer friend put together a brochure for a chap who was running in Toronto’s Greenwood riding. The obvious occurred to him and he portrayed the candidate as a modern Robin Hood. The candidate was offended by the suggestion and killed the idea. He lost the election so there was no way to tell if Robin Hood would have won.

But these two examples are probably what give political pamphlets a bad name. Too many of them do look alike and most are very badly written—not because of the inept writer but because of the candidate’s interference. The other problem is that the central campaign always provides cheap formats with the leader already in it. Not much thought is wasted in adding in the local candidate.

The best advice we can give anyone writing a political brochure is to get the campaign manager to give you a couple poll lists that will give you a balanced sample of the riding. Now take something to hand out, even just the candidate’s card, go knock on some of those doors and listen carefully. When you are ready to write the brochure a few days later, you will have a much better idea of what people want to know about the candidate.

One time we found out that nobody trusted the various candidates but the voters liked our candidate’s dog. We featured the dog on all the literature and the dog won handily.

And it has been a very, very long time since we last designed a two-fold, two-sided eight-and-a-half by eleven sheet that would fit in a business envelope. Sure it is cheap, but what is the point if nobody opens it?

You have to catch the attention, you have to have it relate to the familiar, you have to make a statement and if you do not, nobody is interested.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Enquiring Canadian minds want to know.

October 26th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

As a youngster in public relations, we used to reassure clients that people would read anything by pointing out that a million Americans bought the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer each week. Today that trashy publication is down to about half that circulation but it is finding a new digital life under the management of American Media Inc. (AMI). It was hard to know whether to laugh or cry when learning that an AMI executive responsible for the National Enquirer is now coming onto the board of Canada’s largest print media organization Postmedia.

The American is going to have to be a wonder worker to help stem the red ink in Paul Godfrey’s media empire. It seems that about once a week, we get a telemarketer calling to plead with us to subscribe to the National Post. Nobody appears to care though if we read the local Sun Media paper, also owned by Postmedia.

It seems that the American hedge funds that really own Postmedia are starting to realize that Paul Godfrey is not a miracle worker and they will never get all their money back. New Jersey-based Chatham Asset Management and fellow hedge fund Goldentree Asset Management have gone their separate ways in making anything out of Postmedia. Goldentree has put its larger share up for sale.

This is counter to Chatham’s converting about half its outstanding debt to about one-third of the equity in the Canadian media company. Since they are also major equity owners in AMI, they have put AMI executive David Pecker on the Postmedia board.

Pecker has been with AMI for a reported 17 years. During that time, he has been chairman, president and CEO. By taking the National Enquirer into the digital world, he has turned the company around and opened substantial new revenue streams for the tabloid.

The only evidence of his appointment to Postmedia’s board so far is the further decimation of Postmedia staff with an announcement by Postmedia that remaining staff are being offered buyouts to reduce staff by another 20 per cent. After the layoffs of earlier this year and the consolidation of news rooms, it is a wonder that there are staff left to lose.

But the good news for Paul Godfrey is that he gave himself a raise of some $400,000 to an annual salary of $1,700,000. Have you seen the new National Post Enquirer yet?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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What goes around, comes around Mr. Brown.

October 25th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

The social conservatives in the Niagara Peninsula had a surprise the other day for Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown. It was not the surprise he wanted. He expected his pal party president Rick Dykstra to easily win the nomination in the provincial electoral district of Niagara West-Glanbrook. Dykstra was defeated.

The local party’s selection of a 19-year old Brock University student will add some interest to an otherwise dull bye-election set for November 17 to replace former Tory leader Tim Hudak. Sam Oosterhoff, the surprise Conservative candidate, ran on a platform of being against Brown’s newly found resolve to support the Ontario sex education curriculum. It seems the young candidate believes in parents having the final word on sex education. Mind you, it is reported that he did not agree with the pro-life stance of some of his young supporters.

It ends up with the young candidate learning what it is like to be half pregnant. Since that is impossible, he—like Brown before him—needs to make a clear choice. If he wants the social conservative vote, he has to say “I believe.” That will cost him votes among the fiscally conservative. Winning the votes of both sides of the coin might be beyond his young experience.

Even Patrick Brown in his years in Ottawa never found that balance. On the only two free votes that pitted social conservatives against fiscal conservatives in Ottawa, Patrick Brown came down fully on the side of the anti-abortion, anti- rights social conservatives. These were not issues he ever brought to his electoral district in Barrie.

Brown’s advice to his young candidate should be that politics is nothing like the political science he is studying at Brock. Real politics is adversarial. It is hardly theoretical, nor is it philosophically based. It is cronyism and an old-boys’ network. It is a world of privilege and entitlement for the select few. And like in federal foreign affairs, it is all about business. The real decisions for Queen’s Park are made by lawyers and bankers working on Bay Street.

It was Bay Street that said sell off some of Hydro One. It was Bay Street that said let Loblaw sell some beer and wine. It was Bay Street that said let Woodbine Entertainment have a full casino and entertainment centre. The politicians at Queen’s Park are just a side show.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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CETA: The devil is in the details.

October 24th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Tried the other day to reread the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and finally gave up in disgust. Maybe this deal between Canada and the European Union is just too comprehensive for this non-trade expert to comprehend. And when you find the mainly French-speaking Wallonia area of Belgium is the last hold-out on the deal, you know the deal will happen sooner than later.

It is not that we are sceptical of free trade, but we intensely dislike the idea of industry tribunals ruling over our elected government and allowing willful industry associations to hamstring our exports. It smacks too much of Italian fascism. And besides, anything that elicits the ready acceptance by both Conservative and Liberal politicians is cause for concern.

You can expect the Walloons will be bought off their high horse. It seems routine in Belgium that the different language groups are less than civil to each other. We once made the mistake of hiring a French-speaking taxi driver in Brussels to take us to a friend’s place in a Flemish enclave. The driver listened to our version of Canadian French, thought of the fat fare and agreed but got hopelessly lost. It took our bad French to get us out of trouble and to get directions for our driver.

There seem to be different versions of this trade agreement because you will hear on one side that it can mean as much as C$2 billion to Canada from this new agreement. That is not such a big deal when you consider that Canada already exports more than C$52 billion per year to Europe and Europe sends us about $62 billion. The import duties on both sides are already not all that significant.

But it is the exchange of professionals between Canada and Europe that will also be a factor. Accepting the qualifications of accountants, engineers and other professionals opens stronger bonds between the member countries of the EU and this country.

At least with this European trade agreement, Canadians have access to the details. We were often of the impression that the average citizen in any of the countries needed an unbiased plain language version of the deals.

American Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been providing his own comic book version of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Few Canadians know or would trust him, but, in some ways, it is too bad his suggestion of tearing up the agreement will not happen. Canada needs a better deal than the existing one with the U.S.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Trudeau tests veto on vote reform.

October 23rd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

This scenario has taken place before. He does it in Quebec thinking nobody in the rest of Canada is going to hear about it. Justin Trudeau is hardly the first politician to test the waters before diving into the deep end of the pool. In this case the prime minister gave an interview to Quebec’s Le Devoir and suggested that the enthusiasm for vote reform was less now that the Liberals are in power.

Someone must have woken up the lame-duck leader of the New Democrats. Thomas Mulcair was on his feet in the House of Commons accusing the Prime Minister of going back on his promise that the 2015 election would be the last using first-past-the-post.

It has the MPs on the special commons committee on voting reform telling their friends how they wasted their summer. Mind you, as one academic suggested, if they have really been paying attention over the summer, they might now be qualified to present post-graduate university courses on democratic voting systems.

But what most academics and others eager for change could not tell the committee was how changes in voting systems will impact our political parties and how we conduct elections. We need to be very, very careful with these people so eager for change that they do not see the devastation that they can cause.

Prime Minister Trudeau has been so busy crippling the formerly strong and democratic Liberal Party of Canada to prevent revolt on a change in voting systems, you would think he was more committed. He seems to equate the leadership of the Liberal Party as similar to the task of herding cats. Liberals are much too independent in his opinion.

Trudeau’s father understood that independence of liberals and was always amused by the evidence of it. He also respected it on an intellectual level and could enjoy a laugh about it. His son has a different sense of humour.

It was the senior Trudeau who understood the failures and wrong directions of the Charlottetown Accord and told liberals in his maison du egg roll speech in October 1992 that it was alright to say ‘no.’ And they did.

It is too bad that the elder Trudeau tried to protect his sons from politics. No doubt there are many times these days that Justin Trudeau wishes he had his father’s advice on the questions he faces.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Go figure new municipal voting.

October 22nd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

It has been so much fun observing the current political zoo in the United States that we tend to forget what is going on in our own backyard. Sure, we knew about the move by the Ontario government to allow municipalities in the province to move to ranked balloting but we were not aware that Bill 181 included transferable voting. It is typical of the Wynne Liberals that when they open a can of worms, they dump it on someone else.

To-date, cursory research has turned up no municipality boasting that it will be the first to choose ranked balloting in the province. Not even Toronto is partaking in the opportunity—and that was the city that asked for it. Toronto councillors changed their minds.

And here is the province looking silly because nobody wants the change.

But with more than 400 different municipalities in the province, surely there are at least a few who want to do something different. They can hardly all be too conservative to try a different system? And there are a few organizations such as Fair Vote that want to push them into change.

These organizations think that ranked voting is fair. They think we should only elect the blandest of candidates—or at least the ones voters know the least about. In a single-member ward for example, people are expected to number their choices one, two and three (or more if there are more candidates). Since most voters know at least one candidate, they can be vague about who should be numbers two, three, etc.

But the problem is how these votes are counted. If nobody gets a majority, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is dropped and their second choice votes are added to the other candidates. This process can continue until one candidate wins a majority of the votes. And that is why we refer to it as a method where the losers are the choosers. It only works in situations where every voter knows all the candidates—such as a party leadership vote.

The transferable voting that was also approved applies in multi-member wards where you have to select two or more people to elect. In this system, the votes remain on the table as you transfer the excess votes from the winning candidate to the second, third or fourth candidate as required. It can be more than a little complicated.

What really amuses us is that what the Ontario government has approved is old and outmoded systems that are easily manipulated. We stopped using them because it was too easy to cheat.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Donald Trump in the Twitterverse.

October 21st, 2016 by Peter Lowry

If you follow business news, you know this is the year of Twitter. It might be its last. Thanks to Donald Trump and his millions of Twitter followers, this has been a banner year. And thanks to Donald Trump this might be the year of Twitter’s disgrace.

Twitter co-founder and chief executive Jack Dorsey explained on Twitter’s tenth anniversary earlier this year that Twitter allows people to see what is happening in the world. They can see what is happening about any event.

Twitter is what keeps Donald Trump awake nights twitting rants about his opponents (in both political parties). There is no fact check on Twitter and he can lie, defame and corrupt his gullible followers as he wishes. He relishes in dispensing falsehoods to polish his ego. He denies his transgressions.

There is little need for truth on Twitter. There is no room for proof.

And Twitter barely needs content. CEO Jack Dorsey is very proud of one English Twitter user who set his camera to see a puddle outside his window. The puddle ended up with some 650,000 viewers. We wonder how many advertisers are interested in people who would think a puddle is interesting?

But Trump seems to have many millions of followers on Twitter. You wonder when these people have last taken the trouble to read a real newspaper? Is he only pandering to the ignorant? What does that say about Twitter?

Hillary Clinton said something early on in the campaign relevant to the lack of social graces of some of Donald Trump’s followers. That was a no-no. Politicians know better than to malign their opponent’s supporters. You are trying to win them over, not make them mad at you.

Mind you, that has never held Donald Trump back. Nobody ever accused him of being a real politician. He has been a sham and a bad smell in the political field for more than a year.

It is amazing throughout the United States that academics are only now starting to compare Trump’s actions to incidents in the Weimar Republic in the 1930s. While Adolph Hitler was far more circumspect than Donald Trump, the Trump big lie approach to politics is straight out of the book as though written by Reich Minister of Propaganda Josef Goebbels.

Our only advice to the people pushing Twitter is they better exercise some control over their domain on November 9. There must be laws in the United States that make inciting to riot or insurrection a criminal offence.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Donald Trump: Ego Infantus.

October 20th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

The third presidential debate is over. Donald Trump’s run for the presidency is over. He is a lost cause. That was not a man ready for the American presidency we saw last night, it was a spoiled child acting out.

From our first observations of this year’s American process for choosing a president, we have rated Donald Trump’s odds as long. It is not as if we knew much about the man. Never watched him on television. Have never knowingly been in a Trump-built building. And have never gambled in a Trump casino. Our paths have never crossed. Our opinion was based on the man’s lack of political experience. He is no politician. He does not like them.

And that is what his rag-tag army of followers like about him. He is entertainment, not politics. He is anger, not policy. He panders to prejudices. He appeals to the ignorant. He is a reality show posing as political strategy.

He made the colossal mistake of criticizing his own political party to the point where its leadership started disavowing him. This is unprecedented in American politics. How he will get those dumber followers of his to the polls to vote is a good question? He is losing states in the polls that have not voted Democratic since reconstruction after the American Revolution.

Last night in the debate, Trump was abusive, bellicose, childish, devious and you can keep going through the alphabet of ugly adjectives for a loser. There was a better moderator but even he had difficulty shouting down Trump’s tirades. And Secretary Clinton lost it a one point and the moderator could not shout her down. It was nobody’s shining hour.

But the entire debate hung on one crucial point. It was the discussion of accepting the decision of the voters. A fundamental of English and North American democracy is the acceptance by the candidates of the decision of the voters. When the moderator asked Secretary Clinton, she immediately affirmed her belief in that principle. Donald Trump refused. With the spite of an angry child, Trump truculently refused to acknowledge that the decision of the voters is final. He smirked and told the viewers to wait and see.

Nobody wins a debate such as this. It was interesting to see a very confident and aggressive Hillary Clinton—that bodes well for the next four years. At the same time, it was not the Donald Trump everybody expected. It is probably too bad that there are no drug tests for these events. Trump seemed to be in a different time zone.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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What’s in it for us?

October 19th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

That is not a selfish question. It came up the other day when reading another boring presentation to the House of Commons special committee on electoral reform. “What is in it for us” is likely to be the cri de coeur of Canadians when they see what the months of gestation of the electoral reform question have produced.

An official report is in the offing.

For months we have been told of a democracy deficit, the false majorities, the policy lurches of alternative governments, how your vote does not count and how magically your vote can count if Canada just had proportional representation in parliament. We have been told of making every vote count, how to transfer our vote and how to ensure every minority is represented in parliament. We have had Canadians standing, waiting at alternative microphones to tell the committee of their alternative system of voting.

And we have also been told that nobody cares.

In Canada’s largest city, we were told that the news media did not bother to come to see democracy in action. And if the media are apathetic, are the citizens far behind?

But we are becoming increasingly convinced that the real problems are in Ottawa. The problem is in the all-powerful Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The problem is in an elitist, non-elected Senate of Canada. It is in electing gutless, sycophants of a party leader instead of people we would be proud to have as our member of parliament. It is the rigid control of parliament’s agenda by the PMO. It is the hand-in-glove relationship of our leaders and big business. It is in the increasingly complex and legalistic free-trade relationships that leave the people concerned in confusion.

This does not excuse the role and manipulations of the provinces that make up the Canadian federation. We are lucky today that we get the first-past-the-post winners from the provinces in Ottawa. We hardly need or want the malcontents of provinces that proportional representation would bring to Ottawa. And we are not just thinking of Quebec.

Maybe we wasted our time following this common’s committee process. It looks like whatever is reported will be an eight to three split. The Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc and Green are likely to agree on something while the Conservatives will hold out for a referendum.

The Liberal government will then have to decide just how much of its political capital it wants to spend on a foolish election promise by its leader.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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