Dullness Reigns.

September 25th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

It was during one of the overly warm days in this past August that are often referred to as the dog days of summer. It had to be a dog day because a reporter with a major Canadian newspaper got away with comparing the royal offspring of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to pedigree dogs. She thought the royal offspring were cuter than dogs but it proved that sometimes you can slip things past the best editors.

While this writer might disapprove of things royal, the pretences of it in Canada and is definitely not a monarchist, he would not compare the royal children to being bred like pedigree dogs. That seems to be going too far.

Mind you, we certainly agree with the writer that the monarchy—in Canada—is a massively expensive, outmoded institution. Canadians get none of the tourism advantages that the royals offer the Brits. We just get to kiss the hem occasionally when they do a walk about here just to remind us that we are part of the foolishness.

The Cambridge’s sire and dam along with their princely and princessly(?) young progeny are on the Canadian west coast to wow us colonials. Somehow it reminds us of an election being due soon out there and guess who will be front and centre with the royals while in beautiful British Columbia.

The wayward writer who started this compares the royals to the Kardashians. The first time this writer asked someone “What the hell is a Kardashian(?)” the follow-up to the answer was “You have got to be kidding!”

But after giving it some thought, we conceded that “Well, we guess the Americans have to have their form of royals, too.”

The best description of Canada’s royals was the newspaper writer’s suggestion that the royals are like a living, breathing incarnation of the Yule log television channel—an “intoxicating spectacle of dullness, as comforting and mind-numbing as it is predictable.”

But the writer (Emma Teitel of the Toronto Star) gets her best quote from Robert Finch, Dominion Chairman of the Monarchist League of Canada. He tells us that “the one thing that remains constant is the Queen. I think that continuity is reassuring for Canadians.”

Maybe dullness can reign but this writer loses interest in the Yule log channel after a very short time of watching.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Selling Canada or just selling PR?

September 24th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Found in the pile on the desk today was an op-ed written a few weeks ago by a former communications director for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. A quick re-read had us smiling. It reminded us too much of being a young public relations person almost 50 years ago. Back then Hill + Knowlton Canada did not exist but the company was a prestige PR firm in the United States.

At the time, we joined a well-established Canadian PR firm and only found out afterward it was the Canadian affiliate of New York City-based Hill + Knowlton. While we found that the disciplines needed for the larger firm were beneficial to us, the relationship was more beneficial to them than it became for us. It was about four years later that Hill + Knowlton Canada was in operation. We parted amicably.

But the point of this is the recent op-ed by the Hill + Knowlton Canada vice-chairman, Peter Donolo. It proposed putting more money into branding Canada to cash in on the new popularity of the Liberal government and the ‘star appeal’ of our new prime minister.

Donolo thinks that $100 million per year would be a good start to an international campaign to build on Canada’s brand. That is the kind of money that PR firms only get from clients such as trans-continental pipelines. And Donolo wants to seize the moment—if not the day!

Mind you, thinking back, that was what this PR guy was doing for free back in the 1970s. In travelling around the world for the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies at that time, holding news conferences in many countries and getting in good plugs for Canadian scientific research, we always got good coverage for Canada.

While there was some slippage in the perception of our country during the Harper years, Canada has usually been high on the list of likeable countries. There is no question that we are perceived as more exciting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the helm.

But a $100 million might be the Hill + Knowlton budget but Tourism Canada can sell Canada effectively for much less. We have to pitch Canada as a tourism destination. We can do that by bringing the foreign writers and videographers to see what we have to offer. And we have plenty.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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How far Bill Davis’ party has fallen.

September 23rd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

We can admit it now but could not when he was Premier of Ontario, Bill Davis is a decent guy. As much as he likes to pose as the bastion of the right, Bill has always liked people and is a caring, compassionate person. If he was much younger and leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives today, Kathleen Wynne and her neo-Liberals could pack their bags.

But Bill Davis’ party has fallen on hard times. The triumvirate of leaders, Harris, Hudak and now Brown have not helped. John Tory, who as a young man attended Bill’s breakfasts at the old Park Plaza Hotel, might have been an exception during his brief stint as Conservative Leader but his timing against Premier ‘Dad’ Dalton McGuinty was bad. And he blew it by going against the hard core right of his own party by offering more support for parochial schools.

The present leader Patrick Brown is causing further splits in the party by denying his roots as a religious right conservative. He has managed to get all factions of the Conservative Party angry with him for his constant flip-flops. He can hardly deny his vote against women’s rights and against same -sex marriage when he was a Member of Parliament. Attending Toronto’s Pride Parade this year only showed what a hypocrite he can be.

Current public opinion polls are useless as no Ontario voters outside of Barrie really know anything about Patrick Brown. And those voters do not know much. Bill Davis must be appalled at the thought of a person such as Brown sitting in his old office at Queen’s Park.

But the more serious problem is that Premier Wynne and her caucus are not doing the job. They lack direction, attention, discretion, determination and intention. They only use half measures when bold steps are needed. They use band aids instead of solutions. They have no discernable leadership or philosophy.

It hardly adds up to anything better than Patrick Brown running Bill Davis’ old party or the New Democrats under the hapless Andrea Horwath.

But as much as Ontario voters might think The Wynne Liberals are less than productive, they have absolutely no idea how bad Brown would be.

When Bill Davis was premier, there was a certain trust that he earned. That would not be what Ontario would get with Brown. Brown is a manipulator with the personality of a nerd. Women tend to lose interest in him very quickly. Men just do not like him. He really does not belong in the same party as former Premier Bill Davis.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The pride in losing.

September 22nd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

The submission by Fair Vote Canada to the special parliamentary committee on electoral reform recently claimed that 9 million voters in the 2015 federal election were unable to make their votes count. This assumption was made because they voted for losing candidates. And they did not even get a lollipop for their trouble.

That is how it should be. Frankly, voting for a losing candidate can be a badge of honour. You might be surprised at the number of times this writer has wrestled over determining just which candidates on the lists of municipal candidates would be losers. At one time we actually went through lists of up to eight municipal offices requiring a vote and carefully voted for a loser in every category. It felt good. There is a pride to standing against the mob.

And we are hardly the first person willing to show disagreement. We used to have a vote for local hydro commissioners in the Toronto area. The way to get elected to the job was to have a P.Eng degree after your name. They finally got that business stopped.

But there is one important item on which Fair Vote Canada (not to be confused with the original Fair Vote organization in the United States) has erred. They worry about the voters who feel frustrated because they live in a ‘safe riding.’ They should stop worrying. There is no such thing as a ‘safe riding.’ Never as long as there is more than one candidate.

Over-confident candidates can often find themselves to be losers. You face new voters in every election. The young come of age and new residents move into the electoral district. District boundaries are redrawn. The incumbent often has an advantage but that can be reversed by a smart opponent.

The concerns for what the detractors of first-past-the-post voting call our democratic deficit include such areas as demographic diversity, pandering to voters in swing ridings, hyper-partisanship, unrelenting party discipline and policy lurches when new governments undo what a new government considers the excesses of the previous government. Why these problems of partisan politics would be different under proportional representation is never really explained.

But what kind of wimps are we encouraging today that we do not want anyone to lose. This writer wants right-wing ideologues to lose. People who do not care about our environment should be losers. And people who attempt to impose their rigid ethos on others should be prepared to lose.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

No guts, no glory, no re-election.

September 21st, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Ontario’s Liberals have to stop whistling past the graveyard. That American idiom means that they are ignoring sure destruction. And nothing said it better than the recent rebooting of the Legislature with a joke of a throne speech read by the Lieutenant Governor.

It was no throne speech. It was a stop-gap to oblivion. It put another band aid on electricity rates and solved nothing. The problem quite frankly is that there is no one in the Legislature capable of running this province. There are no leaders. There is no direction.

Does anyone have any idea what Ms. Wynne’s political stance might be? We already know that the Conservative leader will go whatever way he can find some votes. And that silly New Democrat leader is nothing but a nebbish. Welcome to a province where the only option for the voter is to vote for ‘None of the above.’

The only policies we have seen Premier Wynne espouse are the ones she steals from other parties. She takes on the pension problems brought forward by the NDP and then steals their pledge to take the tax off electricity charges. Only—typical of her—she only goes part way. She gets lucky and dumps the pension problem to the Trudeau Liberals and then just gives a tax rebate on run-away electricity charges.

There is nothing any other party can think of that the Premier cannot find a way to handle conservatively. We should not forget the former PC Leader Timmy Hudak took the lead in suggesting liberalizing beer sales until somebody convinced him to turn off that tap.

But what Wynne is doing is ludicrous. She is actually allowing less than ten per cent of the large grocery stores to sell warm six-packs of beer. Not in this town though. The only place to buy beer downtown in this writer’s city of more than 135,000 is the province’s most disgusting beer store.

And the other day, Kathleen Wynne announced her ‘Liberal’ stalwarts to run the 2018 Liberal election effort. If these are the same Pat Sorbara and Vince Borg who wandered the halls at Queen’s Park some 30 years ago, we will not get our hopes up.

One of these days Ontario might finally have a government of grown-ups that will realize that selling off how you distribute electricity is a no-no and selling off the Liquor Control Board stores is the golden goose that can continue to pay off in gold.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

What does electoral reform solve?

September 20th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

With one of the least experienced ministers in the government responsible for democratic institutions, you sometimes wonder what this special committee on electoral reform is supposed to solve. It seems to be a distraction. If there was a list prepared of the 100 most serious problems facing Canada’s democracy, it is likely that how we elect our MPs would not make the cut.

Any list of our democratic concerns has to start in the Prime Minister’s Office (the omnipotent PMO). It was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who welded together the PMO and the Privy Council Office at the hip with the help of his friend, then his Principle Secretary, Marc Lalonde to control every aspect of the Government of Canada. Pierre Trudeau had worked in the Privy Council Office as a young lawyer and he saw the potential power of the combination.

But what Pierre Trudeau used, Stephen Harper abused. And it seems Justin Trudeau is following in Harper’s footsteps instead of his father’s. In the elder Trudeau’s years in power, the system of senior regional Liberal ministers ran the patronage system dispensed across the government. Harper might have listened to people such as the late Jim Flaherty and MP Maxime Bernier but he maintained control of all patronage through the PMO.

It will not be until parliament itself gains control of all appointments that our MPs can start to earn their salaries. We have to have balanced committees of parliament vetting these thousands of appointments for agencies, boards, commissions and the judiciary on behalf of the people of Canada.

It is also critical to our democracy that we free the drones. There will be fewer useless MPs elected when we free them from always having to vote on their party’s command. MPs should be required to vote for their party only on the key votes. If they cannot vote for their party’s throne speech or its budget, then the government could fall but for all other House votes they should be able to vote on behalf of their constituents. (And that would change the attitudes of a lot of voters about voting for the party or the person.)

And we can hardly think of Canada as an authentic democracy with our still appointed Senate and a governor-general who is neither elected nor equipped with the staff to do the job. Ceremonial trappings of the past do not a democracy make!

Sunny days might be the watch words but there are still too many questions about where Justin Trudeau is headed.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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A rocky road for Trudeau.

September 19th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Into every life a little rain must fall. And there might not be many sunny days this fall for the Trudeau government. After almost a year in office, it is time for some tough decisions. You can hardly please all of the people all of the time. And most of these decisions are landing with a thud on the Prime Minister’s desk.

The most serious of these is the demand for a decision on the twinning of the American-owned Kinder-Morgan pipeline over the Rockies to Burnaby, B.C. Despite our Quisling news media referring to it as an oil pipeline, it is not. It is a high-pressure dual pipeline for diluted bitumen from the tar sands. Mr. Trudeau is being pushed by Canadian business, the People’s Republic of China, the Alberta and B.C. governments and the lagging Canadian economy to get this pipeline flowing.

Some of those same pressures are behind the Energy East pipeline to Saint John, New Brunswick. At least with that decision, Trudeau can delay by making the National Energy Board more of an impartial regulator. It should have happened when he took office.

By December, Mr. Trudeau’s office will have received the report from the special commons committee on electoral reform. The committee is expected to recommend a modified form of proportional representation that will be opposed by the Conservatives MPs unless there is a referendum.

But even more serious are the financial decisions that will require negotiations with the provinces. The first of these is the sharing of Medicare costs. It will not be as simple as having a selfie with the Prime Minister and being sent home with less than your province wants.

This might be a give and take situation if the federal government can control carbon pricing as it really should. What it gives out in Medicare solutions, it might just take back in carbon pricing. Those should be interesting negotiations. To make the negotiations more interesting, Quebec will be expecting the Trudeau government to come up with another billion to help out Quebec-based Bombardier.

One of the more interesting traps for Justin Trudeau is the planning for refugee settlement in the coming year. Any major increases in those figures are going to be welcomed by factions within the Conservative Party as they head for their 2017 leadership convention. While MP Kellie Leitch might have bungled her opener on the ‘Canadian Values’ agenda, there are going to be more attempts by Conservative leadership hopefuls to work that street.

The prime minister might enjoy his rock-star status with the citizens of the countries he visits but like Mr. Harper, he has to remember that politics start at home.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The Division of Ignorance.

September 18th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

If you are black, is that license to call people racist because they are white? It seems the editors of the Toronto Star have stopped thinking when they accept op-eds from writers who just want to create racial strife. Desmond Cole, a regular contributor to the Toronto Star said in a September 15 op-ed article that “Suspicion of all immigrants who are not white, or not members of the former British Empire, is a Canadian value.”

Mr. Cole insults all Canadians who happen to be white and the Toronto Star should be embarrassed. Cole uses a speech by Sir John A. Macdonald as support for his thesis and says the fact that it was 150 years ago is irrelevant.

And it is obvious that Mr. Cole has no idea of the wide differences today between British and Canadian values. Canada has grown in many ways over the past 150 years. As mentioned recently in one of our commentaries, our Canadian values are constantly changing—we hope for the better.

Of course people such as MP Kelly Leitch do not help just because she might think bigotry plays well with some of her voters. Leitch has been severely criticized within her own political party for her proposals and her chances of winning her party’s leadership have fallen from slim to zero.

But the comments of writers such as Mr. Cole and the disruptive antics of an organization such as Black Lives Matter do not help matters either. They can cause embarrassment for the black community.

Nor are Mr. Cole’s opinions on Canada’s treatment of its indigenous peoples germane. When he takes the time to see how attitudes have changed across Canada over the years and the extensive efforts of Canadians to atone for past mistakes, maybe then he can comment. To suggest that Canadians practice a forgetfulness of past indignities is not only wrong but displays an ignorance that is hard to take.

Another grievous error in Mr. Cole’s comments is his scurrilous attack on the North-West Mounted Police, its successor Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the spin-off Canadian Border Services Agency. Nobody believes that these forces are paragons but they certainly do not deserve to be described as being “steeped in centuries of racism, colonialism and white supremacy.”

It seems to this writer that Mr. Cole welcomes divisive comments by politicians as a way to keep his own cultural war going.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The School Mistress’ Lesson.

September 17th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

This lady does not beat around the bush about to-day’s lesson. She is from an organization called Leadnow.ca and she and her organization think that our present voting system is broken. That seems to be a common theme among the do-gooders who come out to talk about electoral reform across Canada.

But fear not folks, you can also have a say at public meetings being held by your local Member of Parliament or at meetings of the Special Commons Committee on Electoral Reform. Between September 19 and October 7, the committee hopes to hold 15 meetings in cities across Canada. (The trip to Iqalit, Nunavut is tentative.)

The committee has been much more relaxed listening to academics and other supposed experts in Ottawa this past summer. The school mistress type presentation from Leadnow.ca was one of these ‘experts.’ Like many other opinionated witnesses, she started by stating that her organization’s members think “it is absolutely vital that Canada replace our broken first-past-the-post voting system with some form of proportional representation.”

She further claims that our present system “does not allow people to adequately and fairly express their preferences.” She thinks that under FPTP the people who do not vote for the winner have wasted their votes. Any thinking politician could tell her that no vote is ever wasted as the results of one election can be the basis for the hopes of a coming election.

What FPTP has really given Canada for the this nearly 150 years of being a nation is the stability that makes it one of the best governed countries in the world. Our system encourages national political parties that form around policies and political ideologies that offer a broad choice to the voters.

These national political parties are mainly ‘big tent’ parties that argue policy ahead of elections and build their platforms under the party’s big tent approach. The school teacher presentation claims that Canadians would want more opinions in parliament. She sees it as more fair. She wants all voices to be heard in parliament. We could get that by reforming parliament rather than how we vote.

She also wants a more inclusive parliament. While we can never be totally satisfied with the diversity that is already there, we would have to have hundreds more MPs to accommodate all. And nobody wants to spend the money that would cost.

Proportional representation would see a proliferation of narrow interest and regionally based parties. It would also cause more parliaments without majorities and Canadians would only find out after elections which direction the coalition parliaments want to take.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Can you fight fire with fire?

September 16th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Got an interesting complaint from a frequent reader: he disagrees with our Morning Line assessment of the Republican candidate in the coming Presidential election in the United States. He thinks the odds should be even between the two candidates. His reasoning is that Hillary Clinton has failed to answer Mr. Trump’s claims about her. Frankly, it would be interesting to hear just how the reader thinks she can answer them?

It is a classic political conundrum. How do you deal with a negative? How do you explain that you never have beaten your wife?

The Republican candidate is like a kid in a candy store who is already on a sugar high. He thinks he can get away with anything. The more outrageous the claim, the louder his clack cheer him on.

The problem is that Trump is not a politician. He has none of the constraints of a politician. He also has no idea of what the job is like to be President. And he is quite unlikely to get the job the way he is going about it. He has enraged Hispanics, demeaned blacks, denigrated women, denounced Muslims and insulted veterans. And his campaign team is furiously trying to use social media on the Internet to try to backstop the damage.

Hillary Clinton in the meanwhile—who is very much a politician—is faced with what to do about it. Her problem is that she cannot answer some of the outrageous things he says about her, as that would give his claims credibility.

What she finally tried recently was to suggest that a portion of Mr. Trump’s supporters might be ultraists. Only she called a spade a spade and the bigots ‘bigots’ and a politician cannot do that. Even though Trump pitches most of his campaign to the bigots among us, a politician never attacks another’s supporters. It is based on the faint hope that the idiots might change their minds and vote for her.

It was obvious at the time of that speech that she might not have been feeling too good and she gave it to those Trump supporters (and bigots) with both barrels. And she was roundly criticized for it.

The best advice for Hillary Clinton is to let her very capable back-up team of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama deal with Trump’s foolishness. Her role is to look and act presidential. She has to solidify her base vote and pace herself carefully so as not to make herself sick again. Americans like to vote for a healthy President.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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