Vacuous Tory attack ads turn vicious.

July 28th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Until recently the Conservative attack ads on television have been simply silly as they posed the suggestion that despite his nice hair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau might not be ready for the job of prime minister. Oddly enough that might have been true of his father in 1968. After less than half the experience Justin Trudeau has in parliament, Pierre Trudeau handily won election as Prime Minister. Nobody said he was not ready.

But the Harper attack ads on the son swung from silly to surly the other day. It was almost as if the timing was to catch Trudeau’s team before the release of his seniors’ program. The attack ads swung to a seniors theme that accused Trudeau of ignoring this segment of the Canadian population. It even suggested that income splitting for seniors was in jeopardy if he became prime minister. As income splitting for seniors has been about the only protection for them against inflation since the Tories have been in power, those were fighting words..

But the Conservatives have never let something as simple as the truth stand in the way of one of their scurrilous attack ads.

One amusing aspect of this Conservative campaign is that there is nothing new in it. The Diefenbaker Conservatives, trying to fight off a Liberal resurgence in the 1962 or (more likely) 1963 federal election said the same thing about Liberal Leader Lester Pearson. The Nobel Prize winning Pearson answered by parading an impressive array of Liberal candidates before the television cameras that were ready to form a government. That is something Justin Trudeau can do today and Stephen Harper cannot. He has too many replacements to make.

The advantage Justin Trudeau has that his father did not have is that Justin Trudeau knows and has worked hard with his political party. He has built a strong party and nobody is selling it short.

And if the Liberals want to run attack ads, the best available theme might be the rats leaving the sinking Harper ship. It is when you look at what is left of the Harper cabinet and the zombies that he and his party are choosing as candidates, you really do wonder if Stephen Harper does want to run everything himself?

In fact, the Liberals could use the same theme against the New Democrats. It is obvious that Thomas Mulcair would not be ready to run the country himself but you really wonder where he would find a cabinet in his lacklustre line-up of candidates.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Left, Right or Liberal?

July 27th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

One of the best—and funniest—opeds we have read for a while was by Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star. Susan’s first premise in her article (Liberals must win the middle…July 25) was that there are too many communications people in the Liberal Party. She then segues into a discourse on whether the Liberal Party is even necessary. She gives the party a pass but notes that it has to determine if it takes the middle road through principle or pragmatism.

We will take it as something of a back-handed compliment that Susan recognizes the communications expertise that the Liberal Party has shown in the past. We will be less charitable about the idea she quotes from Stephen Harper’s mentor Tom Flanagan. The guru of Canada’s simian right tells political scientists that Liberals in Canada tend to thrive when national unity is a live issue. Maybe that is because we Liberals tend to understand the issue.

Susan goes on to make the point that the Liberal Party can hardly own the pragmatic political middle. That is the fighting ground for all political parties where they pander to the voters, bribe them with their own money and promise the nirvana to come.

But believing in a principled liberalism is also a tough row to hoe. It is a comfortable position when you are only fighting the ideological stands of the parties on the right and left. It becomes uncomfortable though when the Liberal Party leadership breaks its word and veers from one side of the spectrum to another. Intellectually you understand the need to go this way and that to scoop up some more voters but anyone who has followed the family dog around knows you get other detritus when you put a grocery bag over your hand to scoop.

The reason so many Canadians are disillusioned with politics is that there do not seem to be any principled politicians anymore. They died off with Lester Pearson, John Diefenbaker and Tommy Douglas. It has been downhill ever since. Leaders lie. They make promises they never intend to keep. (To be fair, they also make promises they cannot keep. They should have known that when they made the promise.)

Harper said the other day that he will appoint no more senators—those horses have already left the stable. Mulcair promises to abolish the Senate—wish him lots of luck figuring out how to do that. And Trudeau wandered to the right to suggest that elitists pick the senators—an idea his own party could not support.

Today we have the sight of Thomas Mulcair and Stephen Harper duking it out for the pragmatic middle ground. What is left for Justin Trudeau to do? Referee?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Eglinton-Lawrence is the place to be today.

July 26th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

It all comes down to the wire today in what will be one of the most hotly contested Toronto ridings in the October federal election. It is widely assumed by politicos that whoever the riding Liberals pick as their candidate will become the next Member of Parliament. The dour Conservative incumbent Joe Oliver has failed as Finance Minister and has little excuse for his poor performance.

What is very important to remember today is that Eve Adams, who was the Conservative MP from Mississauga jumped from the Harper Conservatives to the Trudeau Liberals in February 2015. The move was more practical than ideological as the Conservative Party had indicated that they did not want her to run for the party in the coming election. There were questions about her questionable tactics in vying for the Conservative nomination in Oakville North-Burlington.

Some of the same questions have now come to light in Eglinton-Lawrence. It seems that the media are reporting questionable memberships being signed up by the Adams campaign. There are the usual counter charges from the Adams campaign about the Medicino campaign.

Lawyer Marco Mendicino had a good head start on the Adams campaign in signing up new Liberal Party members. So the counter charges might just be pro-forma. You never know. He also has broad support from people such as Mike Colle, the Liberal MPP for the Eglinton-Lawrence area at Queen’s Park.

The battle lines seem to be drawn between the right wing of the party as centred at Queen’s Park and the left wing Liberal politicos across the city. The most interesting aspect of this is the presence of Kathleen Wynne’s political campaign guru, Tom Allison, running Eve Adams’ campaign for the nomination. With Wynne’s riding just across Yonge Street from Eglinton-Lawrence, it raises some interesting questions about Wynne’s friendly relations with Mike Colle. He might not be in the cabinet soon.

But the real question today is the outcome for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his campaign team. He was the one who promoted the idea of Eve Adams running against Conservative Joe Oliver. His strategy is obviously based on picking up the soft Conservative vote from the voters deserting the Harper Tories in the coming election. That might be a winning approach if at the same time he can stop The NDP’s Mulcair from picking up disgruntled left-wing Liberals. Who said politics is easy?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Tommy tours Ontario.

July 25th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Whoever convinced New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair to paste that smug smile on his face should be cashiered out of the NDP. The poor guy looks more constipated than happy. Now that Mulcair is being exposed to more Ontario voters in this pre-election run up, we are starting to understand the man’s problems in the coming campaign.

Seeing clips of Mulcair on an Ontario farm with a heifer, we could not help thinking of those famous pics of Opposition Leader Robert Stanfield trying to field a football in the 1968 campaign. The one thing we always advise candidates is to stay within their comfort zone. If it is not you, do not do it.

The main point to this commentary is that many older Ontario voters well remember their experience 25-years ago with a provincial New Democrat government. As we recall, it was a disaster. Those of us who had to deal with that government for our business clients learned first-hand of the incompetence, vindictiveness and lack of understanding of their role in both cabinet and caucus.

While many Queen’s Park-knowledgeable Liberals were sympathetic to Bob Rae’s problems as Premier, we did our share of ridiculing his ‘Rae Days.’ Some of us had always recognized that he was a liberal in the wrong party but it hardly helped when he later tried to advance in the right party.

Mulcair’s biggest problem is the same as Stephen Harper’s. He has no depth in his candidates to form a government. Looking at the line-up of New Democrat and Conservative candidates emerging across Ontario, you wonder where any cabinet members would come from. These are weak slates in Ontario and both Harper and Mulcair know it.

And any voter stupid enough to just vote for the party leader had better realize that even Stephen Harper has proved he cannot run the government by himself—as much as he might try. He makes too many mistakes.

When you consider that Stephen Harper’s senior cabinet member from Ontario is Finance Minister Joe Oliver, you realize how shallow the talent pool is in this province for that party. Mulcair might have two potential members of a cabinet in Ontario but after that his search would be tough.

Conversely, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has a wealth of strong candidates for government in Ontario and across the country. And, in case you think Trudeau is not ready for the job of Prime Minister, he will have lots of competent help to do the job.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Dunlop does it up Brown.

July 24th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

When a respected member of the Ontario Legislature resigns his seat so the new party leader can contest the by-election there, the party owes him something in return. But Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop is the real winner as he will not have to serve under Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown. It is very much a win-win situation for Dunlop.

It has been no secret that Garfield Dunlop had been watching Patrick Brown’s embarrassing performance as a Member of Parliament for Barrie with growing distaste. He has made no bones about Brown’s lack of effectiveness in Ottawa. It was obvious to all people in the area that Brown had no future in a Stephen Harper government.

The gentleman that he is, Dunlop had all the right words ready when announcing his decision to Conservative Party supporters in the Town of Coldwater in Simcoe North electoral district. With Brown there to accept the offer, the two men might have appeared to be friendly but sometimes you have to hide your real feelings in politics.

Back when Brown announced his provincial leadership bid, Dunlop told Post Media Network that “He (Brown) knows nothing about provincial politics.” Dunlop added that “He’d be the last guy I’d choose.” Being the party supporter that he is, Dunlop said at the Coldwater love-fest that he was wrong to have made the comments.

The Member of the Legislature for Simcoe North had no idea when Brown announced his candidacy how the younger man was going to win the Ontario leadership. He was probably not aware of the close relationship between Brown and Minister of National Defence and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney. It is Kenney who has been leading the drive to win over new immigrants to the Conservative Party for the past nine years.

While Brown had his ties to the pro-life organizations—and ultimately had MPP Monte McNaughton’s pro-life supporters as well—he could never have won with just Ontario PC Party members. It was the ties to recent immigrants from India who support Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who he signed up as members and swamped the existing Conservative membership. With 40,000 sign-ups who might or might not have paid their own membership fees, there was no way to stop Brown.

We will see further erosion of the long term stalwarts of the party if Brown continues too long as leader. The greatest favour the voters of Simcoe North could do for the Conservatives is to reject Brown in the by-election.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Olivia Chow’s train has left the station.

July 23rd, 2015 by Peter Lowry

New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair must be desperate for subjects the media will cover. The other day on his ill-conceived Ontario campaign tour Mulcair was even speculating about Jack Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow, returning to politics. Mulcair is hoping she will run against Adam Vaughan in the downtown Toronto Spadina-Fort York constituency. That might be a riding area with previous New Democrat leanings but this election is about change and Olivia Chow is no change agent.

Chow’s major problem with her successor in the now redistributed Trinity-Spadina riding, Liberal Adam Vaughan, is the generation gap. At 58, she is a few years away from collecting pensions but has taken a three-year contract as visiting professor at Ryerson Institute, mentoring students and teaching civic activism. To dump that opportunity to take on what can be a losing bid for a political return is not a cheery prospect.

The problem she faces is that she hardly represents change. Her performance through many years of school board, city council and federal politics was always that of what is called today a retail politician. Her activism was directed at lower economic voters in older neighbourhoods. She has no concept of the problems facing the many thousands of condominium dwellers that make up so much of the new riding.

Even with the high priced politicos hired to forge her bid for the Toronto mayoralty last year her campaign was flat and uninspired. She was out of her league.

The problem is that Mulcair needs her running in Toronto to show solidarity in a weakening NDP base in the city. And while Chow might be persuaded to run, the facts are there is no future for her in Ottawa as a member of the New Democrat caucus. She would be a problem in any New Democrat cabinet should the vote split in October put the NDP in office.

Mulcair desperately needs some big name candidates in Toronto to stave off being eliminated in the rush to rid the country of Stephen Harper and his wrong-way Conservatives. So far the strongest ‘name’ is that of Noah Richler, the son of the late author Mordecai Richler. The only problem is that the NDP have put him in Toronto’s St. Paul’s riding which is not likely to vote NDP without a second coming.

And as much as Mulcair needs a den mother for the accidental New Democrats who do win in October, she has already deserted them once for greener pastures. What makes anyone think she would stay longer this time?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Liberals are committed to change.

July 22nd, 2015 by Peter Lowry

There are lots of changes being bandied about in this coming election. Only the Conservatives want to stay the course but as that appears to be straight downhill, it is not too popular a route. All this talk of change has made looking for differences between the Liberals and New Democrats something of a game. That is why we were pleased to see that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are offering a national discussion process before proposing a specific change to how Canadians vote.

The NDP has already picked Mixed Member Proportional voting as their change if the party is elected to a majority. That would allow smaller parties such as the NDP to appoint members to parliament to match their popular vote. These non-elected appointees to parliament would have no responsibility to an electoral district and would represent their party not voters.

Alternatively, the Liberals have promised that a wide range of reform measures will be considered by an all-party parliamentary committee. The committee would examine proposals such as ranked ballots and proportional representation as well as measures such as mandatory voting and on-line voting. Having both appeared before parliamentary committees and written committee findings, we can point out that one of those steps does not necessarily follow the other.

The one thing you can be assured of is that no parliamentary committee is ever allowed enough time to do the job. To have a solid understanding of parliamentary voting systems around the world is not something you can absorb from crib notes. It requires an appreciation for democracy, an understanding of societal pressures, a concern for the individual and the imagination necessary to understand what can go wrong.

While it sometimes looks that way, voters do not really take a leap of faith. Voters accept change in the way society accepts change in most things. They take a bold step forward with one foot—while the other remains firmly planted in the past.

And if you really think you know everything you need to know about voting systems, you are invited to read some of the Democracy Papers that are archived on this web site. Considerable time was spent researching and writing those papers for the ‘No’ side in the Ontario referendum on voting method in 2007. The ‘No’ side won by about two to one.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Learning about “Caveman Voting.”

July 21st, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Babel-on-the-Bay received some interesting responses from readers to the commentary on the NDP plan to implement Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting if they win a majority in October. One reader supports proportional voting but he does not like the way the New Democrats and other proportional voting supporters want to “try to ram this voting system down the throats of Canadians.”

While that reader and this writer are actually closer to agreement than disagreement on the issue, he brings up some important points. The first point is the common misconception that in a democracy, the majority rules. Ours is technically a Representative Democracy. In this form of democracy we should have the right to vote freely and effectively, without intimidation for our representatives. It is the representatives that then rule on our behalf.

But democracy is also based on the value we place on the individual in society. We are ‘Demos’ the citizen body. We all share the same basic rights and we impinge on the rights of others at our peril. Yet we have people who hate our democracy because they want to impose their mores on others. We need to recognize that to rule is a privilege, not a right. And to help choose our rulers is a very serious responsibility of us all.

But we can hardly have the best rulers by choosing the lowest common denominator. We need to seek out and encourage the best. The most common complaint with First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting is that many are unhappy with it being based on plurality choice as opposed to majority. If we really want to elect by majority, we should insist on a run-off vote for the top two contenders. (And forget ranked ballots or preferential voting as those systems leave the losers to be choosers.)

The reader mentioned refers to FPTP as “caveman voting” but it really does not go back that far. We always assumed that the person who ruled the cave was the one who wielded the biggest club. FPTP is only as old and durable as it is because it seems to work for us.

But no system of voting is perfect. This writer has studied voting systems in many parts of the world and is still looking for a better solution.

The most interesting study of a Mixed Member Proportional voting system in action is what happened in Germany’s Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s. That the Brown Shirts were able to do what they did could probably never happen again. It would be a good idea though for the NDP to check out their proposals more carefully.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Is Justin just keeping his powder dry?

July 20th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

You get the impression that the quiet of the federal Liberal campaign is just the wariness of a trap about to be sprung. Maybe the Liberals are waiting to see how parents respond to the Conservative bribe. It seems to be the only thing happening. At this time in the summer the television networks are running reruns of reruns, voters are only interested in tomorrow’s weather and political pundits are taking some time off. It is a time for leaders to be attending barbeques, debate preparation sessions and getting ready for the stretch run in September and October.

And if you are worried about some political polling, you are wasting time and energy. The real national campaign starts in September. Sure the candidates are out there testing the voters, dropping throw-away literature and talking to them at their doors but even that activity will not be widespread until the kids go back to school.

Judging by the television commercials, there seems to be something going on but nothing worth worrying about. And if the Conservatives think they are impacting the Liberal vote, they might not realize that they are doing Trudeau a favour by keeping his name in front of the voters.  And the ‘Trudeau’s not ready’ ads are boring Conservative voters, delighting NDP supporters and invigorating the Liberal supporters. Harper’s strategy is not only wrong but it is backfiring on him.

It was amusing to see last week that New Democrat supporter Robin V. Sears of Earnscliffe Strategy in Ottawa is going to handicap the odds on the October 19 election for the Toronto Star. His major problem is that the Star wants to publish the findings of his handicapping this week.

Babel-on-the-Bay has always qualified its Morning Line commentaries on elections because we publish them after the writ is issued (a minimum of 37 days before a federal election). This guy thinks he knows what is going on three months before the vote. Any track aficionado knows that odds posted more than a day before the race are nothing more than speculation.

With the Conservatives keeping the Trudeau name in front of the voters, he can spend time learning the ‘adlibs’ he is going to use instead of shooting from the lip in the coming race for the wire. It matters little whether Mr. Harper attends the debates or not. The attention will be on Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau. The voters have already decided that Stephen Harper is past his ‘best before’ date. He will be gone in November.

It is at the debates that the voters will choose between to the two opposition leaders. It is when the voters will realize that Mulcair lacks the leadership ability. The debates are most likely to put the mantle of PM on Trudeau. The voters likely think he is ready now.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

NDP promise to change how we vote.

July 19th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Ontario voters rejected a scheme for mixed member proportional voting in a 2007 referendum because the political parties wanted to appoint party faithful to the provincial parliament so that they would have representation according to the party’s popular vote. That is the scheme that New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair promises to use in future federal elections if he is elected Prime Minister. It is also the scheme that is used in countries with high rates of illiteracy.

Mr. Mulcair makes the outrageous statement in supporting this system that “The current system over represents some voices and silences others.” He goes on to try to convince us that not every vote counts in the present first-past-the-post voting.

Instead of taking the time to study different voting systems and letting the people make the decision, Mr. Mulcair and his party want to impose a process that puts unelected people in parliament to represent their political party. He ignores the fact that in Canada we have always tried to send the best people to parliament rather than people who vote blindly for a party. You would think he would have noticed how badly that idea has worked for Canada’s Conservative Party.

What is really wrong with the NDP stand on this issue is that much of the propaganda for the system is based on lies. FairVote Canada whose ideas the NDP are cribbing say that more people will support proportional voting but never provide a reason why they would. It is like the statement that this would improve the representation by women and other marginalized groups. First of all, women are not marginalized in Canada and the NDPers supporting this foolishness need to talk to women MPs in the NDP caucus.

The NDP point to the present system of voting as the reason the number of voters has been falling. One can also make a strong argument that the lack of interest among some segments of the population is more the fault of our politicians than the voting system. The recent ‘Fair’ Vote Act that is designed to disenfranchise many thousands of Canadians is also an example of a government desperate to stay in power.

The New Democrats seem to be desperate to get a turn in the Prime Minister’s office. The prospect of them then changing the voting system to their advantage is not going to appeal to many Canadians.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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