The rich are different, Mr. Clark.

November 21st, 2014 by Peter Lowry

There is something irrepressible about TD Bank’s Ed Clark. He wants to give advice in areas beyond a banker’s experience. The other day, he handed in another seriously flawed report to the Ontario government and now he is giving advice to the rich. Being one of the rich himself, he is advising them to be more charitable. While nobody will disagree, the rich are not always the best people to decide where this largess should go.

One of the first things you learn in charitable fund-raising is how there is a broad range of potential donors with just as broad a range of ways to motivate them. While the one per cent can provide some very large gifts and the top ten per cent of earners can give your cause a lift, it is the average wage earners who stay committed to your cause who make the year-after-year difference. And while fads such as a bucket of cold water and ice can produce interesting peaks in fund-raising, the annual signature campaigns (the ones identified with your cause) are what you count on.

But like a garden, these signature campaigns need constant tending, nurturing, pruning and new ideas to keep your cause current and in the public mind.

Some fund-raising experts concentrate their efforts on those one-time generous gifts of the one per cent. It helps if you have a building to name or an important prize to identify. There are egos to be stroked and descendants to be flattered. Despite the urge to just rent out this naming, you really have to wait for a generation to die off before you can tack new names on well known edifices such as Toronto’s SkyDome or O’Keefe Centre.

And thank goodness the one per cent are no longer wasting their money on ostentatious mausoleums. University buildings and named wings on hospitals are really much more practical and appreciated. The largest ever of one of these gifts in Canada to health sciences was announced the other day by the family of the late Ted Rogers. A total gift of $130 million will not do much to burnish the image of the company that bears his name but will go a long way to furthering heart research.

But the big problem is that we do not always make the best choices on what to do with our money. It is ours and we get to do as we wish. For example, Bill Gates is one of the richest people in the world and the foundation he and his wife run concentrates on problems in Africa. What Gates forgets is that a large percentage of that money was made in North America. There is also poverty, hunger, ignorance and needs in North America. While the needs in Africa are dire and have to be addressed, there is still validity to the old adage that charity begins at home.

And while Ed Clark’s advice to his fellow top earners is appreciated and obviously warm hearted, we each need to contribute in those areas where we are comfortable that the money is used properly. Being sceptical and checking carefully always makes sense.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

The dubious diplomacy of the Hair.

November 20th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Was there a sign at the Brisbane Airport last week barring diplomacy or diplomats entry to Australia? The way Vladimir Putin was treated at the G20 conference there was a disgrace. He is the leader of the Russian people and as their representative he deserves to be treated with courtesy. How would Canadians feel if the world leaders treated the Canadian Prime Minister so discourteously? And where does the Hair get off, thinking he can kick the school yard bully when he is down?

The world has over many centuries developed a code of diplomacy. It is designed to help prevent your emissaries being needlessly butchered before they have delivered their message of peace and friendship. And there are even diplomatic ways of informing the overly aggressive leader that his intentions in a neighbouring state are not reciprocated. Sure diplomatic sanctions might seem slow and less effective than a well-aimed kick but that kick can earn its own consequences.

The Hair needs to learn diplomacy. And he has to stop playing to numbskulls back in Canada who think Canadians can make enemies of the Russians. Sure the Americans will protect us from the wrath of the Russian bear but what price will the Americans exact for the aid? Being friends with the Americans is hard enough already.

The Hair has to stop making enemies for Canada. He is busy alienating much of the Muslim world. He has annoyed many at the United Nations. His government’s mistreatment of refugees is spreading alarm. The Americans are tired of him pandering to them while pushing pipelines for his highly polluting tar sands bitumen. And they hardly want his bitumen polluting south of the border.

It is not as though the Hair does not have a Minister of Foreign Affairs—such as he is. John Baird might be something other than competent but the Hair picked him and he might as well use him.

And there would be something poetic about John Baird getting in Mr. Putin’s face. This would be particularly if Mr. Baird explained to Mr. Putin that we are less discriminatory. Canadians are more tolerant of gentlemen who prefer other gentlemen for company.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Liar, liar, pants on fire.

November 19th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa might not have been born a banker. He probably decided on that profession when the other kids picked on him in the school yard. He determined to get even. In a strange new ritual called the Fall Economic Statement, Charles sounded like he still had it in for the school yard bullies.

The economic report he made to the legislature was really nothing more than school boy bragging. He sure is going to get even with those tax cheats. He brags that he is going to nail tax cheats for some $700 million over the next four years. If he really thinks he will get that money, he is kidding us and himself.

The best way to get rid of tax cheats is to make it less worthwhile to cheat. The most expensive way is to arrest the cheats and to send them to prison. That costs far more than the amount of tax they have scammed. And if you think you only have to incarcerate a few “pour encourager les autres,” you have no idea how many different types of scams that are possible.

And with Ontario’s remodelling business built so shakily on tax dodges, he will be needlessly throwing people out of work if he clamps down on those tax loopholes. He would be far better off to add some taxes in that sector on equipment and materials. The province can allow the legitimate remodelling contractor to claim back the tax when he pays in the customers’ taxes on a related contract.

The really bad news in this school-yard dialogue was what Sousa said in regards to the foolish suggestions of TD Bank’s Ed Clark and his panel of has-been politicos. To take a one-time gain from selling hydro-electric distribution to people who will rip off the consumers is pathetic. To have the LCBO try to meet the local needs of ethnic groups is an exercise in the ridiculous.

But it was the plan to squeeze the Beer Store monopoly that indicated how really childish Sousa was in his economic statement. Instead of ending the idiocy of having a foreign-owned monopoly with their disgusting beer stores, Sousa gave up millions in potential revenues from better distribution of beer sales.

Frankly, it is becoming an embarrassment to admit that Charles Sousa and the Wynne government are supposed to be Liberals. We used to refer to them as Whigs which were an earlier version of Liberals. What they really are is Conservatives by another name.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Le Dauphin, with two speeches ready.

November 18th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

It is a tough job. When you have to have two speeches ready, you are likely to have to use the losing one. Writers hate them and politicians hate them. Your first one tells all about how you knew you were going to win. Your second one admits the loss but finds good signs in what happened. And if you cannot find something to crow about in the outcome, you are not much of a politician.

The Whitby-Oshawa by-election yesterday was one of those times. We knew that the Liberal’s biggest problem in winning was getting out the troops to in turn get out the vote. The result was better than we thought it would be. That speaks volumes.

It says that Liberal candidate Celina Caesar-Chavannes can win the riding next year—the ghost of Jim Flaherty was entitled to one more kick at the cat.

It spells serious trouble for Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives next year. It confirms the probability of the federal Liberals taking more than 70 ridings in Ontario.

It tells us that New Democratic Leader Thomas Mulcair is in more trouble than we expected. Whitby-Oshawa used to be an area of strong union strength. New Democrat Trish McAuliffe, who came second in 2011, could not even garner 10 per cent of the vote this time. This is trouble with a capitol “T” for Mulcair.

But we best not lose sight of the messages it sends to the Liberals. It shows us that Justin Trudeau is not invincible. He is not “le Dauphin” who can just wave some magic wand and produce victories. He has to prove that he can be democratic. He has to prove that he will listen to the Liberal grass roots. He and his tight little team need to smarten up.

Canadians do not need to hear that the future is Liberal. They need to hear what that Liberal future holds. We need to start talking clearly about policies and plans. We have much to rebuild in Canada. People need to hear the Liberal priorities.

In both speeches prepared for last night, we would be seriously remiss not to recognize the great work of the Whitby-Oshawa Liberals and their superb candidate. They all worked hard. They knew how tough it would be from the beginning and they all did their part and they did it well. Congratulations.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Does the NDP know where it’s going?

November 17th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Wow, it says here that 77 per cent at the Ontario New Democrat convention in Toronto this past weekend liked Leader Andrea Horwath. Were they given a choice? Did they have someone else in mind? It seems silly to read anything into these figures. If the New Democrats had an alternative in mind, we would have known.

And when you do not know where you are going, why hire a new chauffeur?

In a spirit of inter-party cooperation, maybe Babel-on-the-Bay can help. It has always been our opinion that in Ontario the New Democrats were discouraged by some of their union members from being true socialists and the Liberals were barred by their bankers from being true reformers. It has always been our opinion that unions and banks can be equally reactionary forces and some need to be stepped on periodically. There are those times when neither a particular union nor banker are doing anybody any good.

On the other hand, there is a very strong need in Ontario for social democracy. And the truth is that liberalism and social democracy are very similar. Many political scientists are prepared to admit that there is really very little difference.

It has been noted over the years that the conservative parties have enjoyed the in-fighting between the various social democratic factions. Too often the conservatives have benefitted from that in-fighting. It has been so bad at times that New Democratic voters have switched to the conservative candidate rather than concede victory to the nasty liberals. And that has even been reciprocated by some liberals who would not vote for the left. It left bad feelings and scars.

It is time now for a new beginning. And if you are waiting for the perfect timing, there is none. It will always be difficult. There will always be some election in the offing. And there are complications because of the different federal and provincial organizations.

What we need is for the olive branch to be offered. We might have to offer it more than a few times. It will also be hard to tell the bankers and unions to take a hike. There was a comfort level there that we all might miss.

Maybe Babel-on-the-Bay can help as something of a clearing house. You know where we stand. Where are you? Do you want to help? Let us know.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Can TD Bank help Ontario’s deficit?

November 16th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

If you are a TD Bank customer you should be concerned. Another interim report to the Ontario government has been received from TD Bank Chair Ed Clark. He and his panel of former politicians are supposed to be telling Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa what assets should be sold or become more profitable to help with the province’s deficit problem. What we are hearing does not sound like very good financial advice.

In his 77-page report amusingly entitled “Retain and Gain: Making Ontario’s Assets Work Better for Taxpayers and Consumers.” Clark seems to forget he is a banker and tells us how to create jobs in liquor stores and sell off hydro-electric distribution. And somehow, this is expected to make billions for Ontario. While the expertise Clark’s panel brings to liquor sales might be questionable, the collective expertise of the panel in electricity distribution is likely non existent.

What we would really like to know about these recommendations is what criteria are used to determine if something should be a monopoly or a competitive business? Maybe others wonder what we gain in Ontario by keeping some businesses as a monopoly. And what would we gain by having our monopoly liquor stores catering to the wishes of their local markets? Would not competitive independent retailers do a far better job of meeting the market needs for ethnic liquors and wines?

And what fairy godmother advised the panel to suggest privatizing Ontario’s confused mess of monopoly power distribution systems? And why do we get the impression that Clark and friends have got it all backwards?

Would it not be more logical to retain as a monopoly something that is a logical monopoly? If power distribution has no competition, what is to be gained from privatizing it? Would you not just be licensing people to take money from the taxpayers for a service requirement that government can more fairly satisfy?

On the other side of the coin, why not privatize those businesses that would benefit from privatization? If the government could make more revenue, the taxpayers have more choices and Ontario entrepreneurs get to do their stuff, what the hell is the Ontario government’s problem?

And to advise the government to rip off more money from the beer monopoly to keep their monopoly is advice we would not accept from any banker. This banker is way out of his depth and he should quit now.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

The Newspeak of Tony Clement.

November 15th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Canadians now have an “Open Portal” to an “Open Government’ according to the “doublethink” of Treasury Board President Tony Clement. You get the impression that the Parry Sound-Muskoka Conservative Member of Parliament took his script directly from George Orwell’s 1949 book Nineteen eighty-four. Even a Toronto Star editorial writer referred to the proposal as Orwellian.

It is only when you try the Open Portal site on the Internet that you realize how far from the truth that Mr. Clement has wandered. For anyone experienced in working with computer databases, this site is archaic, out of touch with reality and will satisfy nobodies’ queries. And being directed to download pdf documents related to test queries without knowing their size or content structure can be a terrible waste of time. This portal ignores the present and is confused by the past.

But if you think the “Open Portal” is a joke, Tony Clement’s “Open Government” promises are just plain silly. There would have to be tens of thousands of person years spent on programmers and system designers to start to address what he is proposing. As most of the better systems people have learned: Treasury Board hates fulltime staff but encourages contract employees. The good ones are moving to the contract side these days as the benefits might stink but you can triple your income.

But that is nothing new for our Tony. For the past three years, Clement has been a man on a mission. He was tasked by Stephen Harper to gut the federal government, clean out its brain pan, pull its teeth and make lamb fries of its gonads. In the process during that period, he has reduced the full-time public service by some 25,000 personnel.

It is almost pathetic that Clement would promise easier access on the internet to Canada’s scientific information after his wholesale removal of many government scientists and the effective gagging of the remainder.

It was about 30 years ago that the federal government first set up computerized access to government requests for proposal. That was pre-Internet and it worked. It should work as well today!

And if anyone can decipher what is really happening in government spending, many Members of Parliament and people at the Parliamentary Budget Office would more than appreciate your help.

If you have read Nineteen eighty-four, you know that the only objective of Big Brother and his party was to seek power for its own sake.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

The Hair is home as Obama cooks his goose.

November 14th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

It was obvious that nothing good would come of the Hair rushing back to Ottawa from Beijing to be at the National War Memorial Ceremony last Tuesday. Hobnobbing with a princess was hardly worth the trip. And it was not as though he said or did anything more than lay a wreath. It was what American President Obama was doing after the Hair left Beijing that made the difference.

And it certainly speaks badly of the Canadian intelligence gathering capabilities. Why did the Hair not know that President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China were going to sign an historic carbon emission agreement after the Hair left early from the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference?

It certainly looks as though Alberta’s Keystone XL pipeline will be an early casualty in saving the planet. With the pipeline cancellation, President Obama could save the world from the equivalent of 27,500,000 metric tons of carbon emissions per year. It might seem like a small step forward but as they say, every journey starts with a single step.

But far more seriously, this agreement could spell the end of Chinese interest in Canada’s highly polluting tar sands bitumen. While the Chinese are taking longer to achieve their emission goals than the Americans, they need to address their serious air pollution problems in their cities as fast as possible. It means ending dependence on coal and oil-fired electrical generation and switching to natural gas and nuclear energy. It might provide Canada with a larger market for our liquefied natural gas but we would be competing with Russian gas pipelines directly into the industrial heart of China.

What is particularly interesting in this situation is that the Hair is now faced with living up to his promise to follow the American lead in controlling carbon emissions. How he is going to curtail the carbon emissions of Canada’s largest pollution problem—the oil and gas sector—remains to be seen? There is no other sector that can possibly contribute as much in emission savings.

And if the Hair keeps waiting for that sector to come up with its own suggestions on how it can curtail its pollution problems, he will hardly be prime minister that long.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Waiting for Premiers Ford and Péladeau.

November 13th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Imagine if we had former Toronto Councillor Doug Ford of Toronto as premier of Ontario and Pierre-Karl Péladeau of Quebecor as premier of Quebec. Both of these gentlemen are standing at the sidelines at this moment waiting for the coaches to call them into the game. They are both considering the call to enter their respective party’s current leadership race.

It is a not too obtuse a conclusion that this is the sad state of politics in Canada today. You see it every day. You see it in all political parties. It is the anger, the distrust, the conniving, the cynicism, the hypocrisy, the lies and deceit. Politicians today do not like themselves. How do you think they feel about the voters?

Why would Doug Ford not want to take over the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party? His and his brother’s hard-core Ford Nation followers could swamp the membership of the entire PC party in Ontario. In a one-member-one-vote situation he could not lose. And that band of crazies in the ridings dominated by the Ontario Landowners would support Ford just to get even with the city-dominated old fashioned Conservatives in the Bill Davis style. If Doug Ford decides to go for it, the Conservative party might as well take the position for the enema he has promised it.

And just think of Pierre-Karl Péladeau as leader of the Parti Québécois in Quebec. That is an enema mix with jalapeños in it. And he is promising to declare before the end of November. It is still hard to say whether it was Péladeau or the PQ’s bigoted secularism charter that cost the PQ the provincial election last year. It is the blind belief in separatism that still drives what is left of the PQ and it seems the party’s already anointed saviour is Péladeau.

But just think about it: Ford and Péladeau as leaders of Canada’s two largest provinces, with more than half of Canada’s population. It would not only destroy the country but you would want it to separate.

But saner heads will prevail in both provinces. It appears that the separatist movement in Quebec has already split into three quarrelsome entities and it will never be a controversial person such as Péladeau that can rebuild the coalition. Quebecers might hate Ottawa at the moment but the government there is likely to change within the year. That will help change the dynamics in Quebec.

Ontario is actually the major problem. Its Liberal premier has a majority but has yet to show much spark as leader. Ontario New Democrats desperately need a new leader and there is no saviour on the horizon. As Conservatives go, the two leading contenders for that leadership, MPPs Christine Elliott and Lisa McLeod, are somewhere in the wishy-washy middle of the conservative spectrum. Doug Ford could put a face to that party: not a pretty one!

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Has Global’s Tom Clark sold us out?

November 12th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

While a mortally wounded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation defiantly fights back against the Harper government, the last of the supposedly independent news shows seems to have sold out. That last news show to capitulate was Tom Clark’s West Block Sunday morning show on Global Television. It looks as though Tom has lost his independence.

Since Ivan Fecan put CTV firmly in the hands of Bell Canada in 2011, CTV news has been a lapdog for the Harper Conservatives. If you have ever wondered why the kids in the Prime Minister’s Office can be so arrogant, it is because they have a lot to be arrogant about. Having the dominant Canadian television networks in both official languages at your beck and call is no small accomplishment.

But we had hopes for Shaw. Even though Global’s Toronto’ evening news was too long, too repetitious, too self-serving, it was still not as bad as the CTV sham. It was actually appreciated for its attempts to maintain balance in its politics. CTV in English and TVA in French on the other side of the coin appear to buy into the Conservative government’s propaganda—which is hardly subtle.

While many considered Tom Clark’s precipitous leaving of CTV over Lisa LaFlamme being chosen late news host replacing Lloyd Robertson as something of a prima-donna act, we were pleased when he joined Global. Nobody ever expected Tom to show his true political colours but we always believed he was fair.

A good example of this fairness was when he used to have Assistant Professor Ian Lee of Carleton University and Senator George Baker on his West Block show. Those two had some excellent discussions. There was never any question where each stood. Ian Lee gave the Conservative view and George Baker spoke for the Liberals. Two weeks ago Ian Lee was back on the show alone telling us how wonderful it was to have income sharing for wealthy parents. There was nobody there to point out the foolishness of Lee’s argument.

What really told us that Tom’s show was a sell out was when he had Alberta Premier Jim Prentice last Sunday to explain what a great job Alberta was doing in slowing global warming. That was not the Tom Clark we used to respect hosting that farce.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me