Good writing, bad math in the Star.

September 23rd, 2014 by Peter Lowry

The Toronto Star editors certainly enjoy stirring the pot. They are always in the market for 800 words of controversy to support differing opinions on current subjects. This is why it has always been easy to sell them op-eds (these are guest-written think pieces usually located on the page opposite the editorial page). Take the latest one that tries to use mathematics to explain why Doug Ford could win the Toronto mayoralty. They must have chortled over the reaction they will get to that one.

It will certainly generate a spate of letters-to-the-editor. Many of them will be about the bad mathematics used to make the case for the elder Ford brother.

And to describe the older Ford brother as the one without a crack pipe is titillating but terribly misleading. Sharing the last name does not mean he shares Rob Ford’s political acumen or work ethic.

First and foremost, nobody voted for Rob Ford four years ago because he smoked crack cocaine, had a potty mouth and would seriously embarrass Torontonians. They voted him into office because he wanted to stir the pot and end the dominance of downtown councillors who think bicycles are the answer to traffic congestion. At least that was the perception in the suburbs.

Rob Ford won and definitely stirred the pot. His older brother seemed to think supporting Rob in that effort was to make more enemies for both of them.

The 2014 municipal election in Toronto is hardly a rerun of the 2010 election. The players have changed. Olivia Chow is there representing the downtown left-wing councillors who have not changed much in the past four years. She is only now trying to get her flagging campaign off the ground.

John Tory entered the race representing the moderate middle ground. He has built a solid coalition that brings considerable strength from the suburbs and is he is respected as a thinker, leader, conciliator and doer. By combining the less extreme conservatives and broad liberal support across the city, he is now the leading contender for mayor.

To suggest that Olivia Chow has any votes to grow is to call on some yet unknown political magic. The numbers just do not add up. Doug Ford has entered the race at the top of a slide to oblivion. There is nowhere else for him to go but down.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Harper’s CRTC dog won’t hunt.

September 22nd, 2014 by Peter Lowry

It was like old times at the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) hearing last Friday. You could see the anger rising in the commission chairman’s face. The only problem was that it was not the previous chairman Konrad von Finckenstein who had led the commission into the digital age of communications. It was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice of chair, civil servant Jean-Pierre Blais. Where von Finckenstein would have blown a gasket, Blais called a washroom break.

The witness Chairman Blais left at the microphone was American lawyer Corie Wright global public policy director for Netflix. The streaming video company is believed to have over two million Canadian customers and the regulating commission wanted lists and revenue figures. Until now the company has been operating under an exemption from having to supply competitive information on its Internet-based service.

What needs to be understood about this incident is that it was the Harper government that wanted Netflix exempted under an open Internet policy. At the same time the CRTC is charged with regulating the telecommunications and broadcast industries in Canada and Netflix has been operating at a considerable advantage over its Canadian competitors.

It is simple enough to understand. Bell Canada, for example, has a vast network today of fibre optics that enables it to supply high bandwidth service called ‘Fibe’ to customers for their telephone, television and Internet services. One of the services Bell supplies its television customers is a somewhat limited pay-per-view service. And say what you like about Bell, it does pay taxes and other charges to government to pay its way.

Netflix is an American  streaming video service that uses the broadband Internet service you are already buying as its carrier. Netflix bills you for access to the extensive Netflix portfolio.

The only problem is that as competition for Netflix grows and more bandwidth of the telephone and cable companies gets eaten up by video streaming, somebody is going to have to pay for the additional capacity required. And if money is to change hands, the government wants a share and the CRTC wants to get its fingers into the regulatory pie.

The good news for that lady from Netflix is that if she cooperates a bit with the chairman of the CRTC, she will find he is not that disagreeable. In fact, he is actually a bit toothless. He works for a Conservative ideologue and is not about to upset any commercial enterprises. And a little cooperation here with the Prime Minister’s friends at Bell, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, etc. will keep everything running smoothly.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Babel-on-the-Bay’s best bets.

September 21st, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Babel-on-the-Bay continues to have an almost perfect record when it comes to forecasting elections. People who used to make foolish bets with us either hold us to being within a few percentage points or have given up and save their money and pride. The latest win was our forecast for the ‘No’ side in Scotland’s referendum.

Only last week we were discussing the Scottish question with our barber. She was clipping away at our hair while explaining in her lovely Scots brogue why the ‘Yes’ side should win. Rather than lose an ear to an errant pair of scissors, we opted not to argue the case for the ‘No’ side.

There were more than a few who told us we were crazy earlier this year when we forecast the majority win for the Wynne government in Ontario. One of the Sun Media writers blithely stated that anyone who said they had forecast a Liberal majority was a bloody liar. We did not waste the time to threaten him with a slander suit.

It was a very different situation when Babel-on-the-Bay published the Morning Line for the Liberal Leadership with Sandra Pupatello of Windsor in the lead early in 2013. That was a delegated convention and the dynamics changed abruptly when Toronto MPP Glen Murray most improperly dumped his delegates into the undecided pool but then took his support to Wynne just before the delegate selection voting. While Pupatello would have won in an open convention, the corrupted contest in the old Maple Leaf Gardens gave the crown to Wynne.

The outcome of the election in Quebec was much easier to forecast. While Pierre-Karl Péladeau won Saint-Jerome riding, he lost the election for the PQ. It was easy to see why the Liberals would win that electoral contest.

Probably the most difficult elections to call are those in your local community. You get too many false readings unless you are actively involved in the campaign. Four years ago, we helped get a new mayor elected in Babel. That was hardly difficult to call. Running the ground campaign for him made it easy to see how the campaign was unfolding. Actually the operation was guilty of overkill. The campaign spent far more than necessary to win.

We are not involved this time around. Babel’s mayor will win re-election in any event. A local radio personality made the point on air the other morning. She said the mayor is boring. What he really is can best be described as a waste of talent. He is just a small town mayor, marking time. That is sad.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

The woes of the woman wannabe.

September 20th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

There was an interesting complaint the other day by a reporter that women cannot get elected mayor in Toronto. The complaint was that polls tend to show that while current candidate Olivia Chow might be well supported by woman voters, she loses when you add in the male voters in the poll. The writer goes on to say that no woman can do well municipally in the city since Toronto was amalgamated.

Bunk! All Toronto needs to see as a successful woman candidate is a woman candidate who is worth electing and understands the challenges involved. Exit polls on the October 27 election will show Olivia Chow doing about as well with men as she will with women. The common factor with these voters will be that they are predominantly downtown voters who usually vote for the New Democrats. That is her base vote and it is simply not large enough to beat John Tory. (Besides, women tell pollsters they are backing a woman candidate because they think it looks better.)

The reason Councillor Karen Stintz bowed out of the mayoralty campaign was that she lacked any political base. While obviously right-wing and an earlier Rob Ford supporter, she has never built a base of Conservative or Liberal support.

The reason Doug Ford will lose is that his Conservative base is confused with the Ford Nation label. Ford Nation is an aberration similar to the American Tea Party. These are political extremists of the right, supported by the angry and the losers. They are an embarrassment to the more centrist Conservative supporters of John Tory.

What everyone is reaching for in this Toronto mayoralty campaign is the sizeable Liberal vote that is up for grabs. It is obvious to anyone who knows Toronto’s Liberals that by far the majority have already swung behind Tory. He does not share the ideological stridency of Prime Minister Stephen Harper or former provincial Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. He is a businessman with the ability to negotiate for the city. He can probably run it well.

That is something Olivia Chow cannot do. Try as you will, nobody can show any initiative by Chow as a former councillor or MP that indicates any leadership skills. If she was serious about her political career, she would have had voice training by now to smooth her stilted manner of speaking. She lacked any control of her supporters in the beginning of her campaign and we watched her early lead go nowhere.

There is a great deal of prestige to the job of mayor of Canada’s largest and most vibrant city. The voters should think long and hard about that before voting willy-nilly for some mythical ‘gravy train.’

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

The Hair prefers ‘presidential’ powers.

September 19th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

What a bother! That fussy Mr. Mulcair is making trouble for the Hair again. He wants Canada’s Prime Minister to ask parliament for permission to send troops to Iraq. It seems a lot of bother for a matter of just 69 soldiers going to the aid of Canada’s friends in Kurdistan and Iraq. After all, the Hair’s buddy, American President Barack Obama, has the power to send help to the Iraq government without calling Congress together to discuss the plans.

But Canada has a different system of government. The Americans have a republic wherein the President heads the administration and has substantial executive powers. He has to also deal with a bicameral Congress that controls taxation. Canada has a parliamentary system of government where parliament is the ultimate authority. As much as the Hair gets frustrated with the constraints of reporting to parliament, he is not brave enough to call a constitutional congress to change how Canadians are governed. Hell, he would have enough problems with his own party if he tried that.

And as much as the Hair tries to ignore that fussy little Mr. Mulcair, the gentleman is the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and he has the responsibility to call on the Prime Minister of the day to account to parliament. It is much more fun for the Hair to belittle the leader of the third party in parliament, that flighty Mr. Trudeau. The only problem with that is that public opinion polls, as useless and as inconsistent as they might be, are telling him that if an election were called today, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is likely to become Prime Minister.

So what is the Hair to do? He can hardly keep proroguing parliament every time he is pissed with the questions and heckling he gets there. There are news media people sitting there and reporting on his intransigence. He can hardly bully all the media owners to sit on such a good running story. Maybe Bell Canada will listen to him but that company is in danger of a revolt by the CTV News Department. The media people are all waiting gleefully for Senator Mike Duffy’s story of his bribe from the Hair’s Chief of Staff to be told in Ontario’s provincial courts.

The reality is though that Canada’s parliamentary system is not as rigid as the American congressional system. It has lots more flexibility. And the Hair has always been a rapt student of the loopholes and side doors of our parliament. It is as simple as considering the right of Mr. Mulcair or even Mr. Trudeau asking him a question in parliament. They certainly have the right to ask questions. Nowhere in the rules though does it have any penalties for failing to answer them.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Hailing the Hair’s homecoming.

September 18th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

They were all in Ottawa for the opening of parliament. They were the Conservative Commons and Senate parliamentarians, the Prime Minister’s and ministerial staffs, MPs’ and Senators’ staffs, local Conservative Party members and their guests. They were all there to welcome home the Hair.

But they were not in the parliament buildings. The Hair detests parliament. It is a bother for him. People stand in parliament and criticize him. They do not recognize the greatness that the Hair sees in his vision of Canada. They ask long and boring questions. There is the tedium of votes.

The Hair prefers to talk to these loyal supporters as though he is the laird responding to the fealty of his household staff. He has journeyed far for them. He has dealt with worldly problems and concerns. He can report his successes. He can speak with benevolence. In a large room in a conference centre draped with large Canadian flags he reported on his successes and launched his party into a year-long election campaign.

God help us, he set his sights on a Conservative victory in 2015. Who else would he expect to be given control of the Canadian economy? He also stands for retribution for criminals, consumer rights, stamping out prostitution and solving the world’s problems.

The Hair spoke of the strengths he and his loyal followers are going to take into this campaign. He believes in his foreign policy, such as it is. He continues to pander to the Canadian Jewish community and our country’s voters of Ukrainian extraction. And he continues to stand ready to sign any so-called free trade deal anyone puts before him. He thinks this is statesman-like.

The Hair told his sycophants that they will need to make short work of the upcoming work of parliament this fall. He wants to be ready for a self-aggrandizing throne speech and a laudatory budget in the New Year. This will continue his theme of tax cuts and smaller government while catering to the oppressive priorities of his Conservatives.

The Hair managed to go through all of this foolishness as though he was a farmer spreading manure on his fields. His hand picked audience appeared to have bought it.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Blowing the whistle on the Fraser Institute.

September 17th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Fair’s fair. Babel-on-the-Bay would like to file a complaint with the Canada Revenue Agency. The complaint is against the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute and its offices in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. This pseudo think-tank enterprise has been found to be biased and one-sided. It is more of an unthinking-tank as it has a clear bias on its research subjects and seems to only hire researchers prepared to support that bias.

What has brought about this demand for retribution is the outrageous treatment of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The Canada Revenue Agency is harassing the centre with an unnecessary and vindictive audit. The agency has not told us who made the complaint. The Centre for Policy Alternatives is a think tank that actually encourages thinking. It is honest about its bias. It is concerned about people and their needs. It appears to be left wing because the policy alternatives it studies are alternatives to right-wing government action and, in many cases, inaction.

Have you ever seen a more obvious prejudice than auditing the Centre for Policy Alternatives and not the Fraser Institute? This is trashing the reputation for fairness earned over many years by Canada’s revenue agency. It makes the agency look like some kind of lackey for the Harper Conservatives.

And what is enraging academics across Canada is that it is obvious that the Harper government is using the government agency to carry out a partisan political agenda. If the agency cannot stand up on its hind legs and say ‘No,’ it is only hurting its own reputation with Canadians. It is obvious that the Conservatives have expanded their vendetta that was originally just against environmentalists and scientists to any people who do not think like them.

What is particularly wrong is that the Conservative government has given the CRA a special budget of $13.4 million to harass specific charities that appear to be targeting Conservative policies. These include the lack of environmental policies related to the exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta, the promotion of pipelines to move bitumen and now general policies that are impacting Canadian citizens.

A letter demanding an end to this practice of advocacy-chill was signed recently by more than 400 Canadian academics. They want this form of intimidation to stop.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario sucks and blows on gaming.

September 16th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

When it comes to gaming, the Wynne government in Ontario definitely sucks! According to a confusing op-ed in the Toronto Star Monday by former McGuinty cabinet member Michael Bryant, he reports that the Liberals are sucking and blowing at the same time. Yet when you get to the end of his piece, you find that Bryant is promoting his current business in addiction.

That puts Bryant in conflict with his subject. How do you sell addiction solutions without a ready supply of addicts? Frankly, the Ontario government is doing a lousy job of creating gaming addicts. Gaming in Ontario is badly run, unevenly available and definitely lower class. Other than thoroughbred racing with its patina of style and class, people tend to look down their noses at gambling and the addicts it creates.

In desperation with the flattening revenues of gaming for the province, the Wynne Liberals floated the suggestion recently that Bell Canada and Rogers might take over the lottery business for the province. If that did not scare hell out of the serious lottery player, nothing else will. Have you ever tried to communicate with those companies when they owe you money? Yet if you owe them, they will be on you like flies on a warm cow pad. These companies lack the friendly, unctuous vibes needed in the lottery business.

And obviously Ontario Lottery and Gaming has absolutely no understanding of distribution needs to serve the public in Ontario. Casino resorts in Ontario are a sad joke. While there was a tourism cover for the original casinos, it is the people of Ontario who are ill-served. To not have a casino in the Toronto area is paternalistic and stupid. If ignorant city councillors do not want a casino, they should get the money for transit from their ratepayers themselves.

What nobody seems to understand about gambling addictions is that there are many opportunities, both public and private, for the gambling addict to exercise their addiction. It is like the alcoholic who can always seem to find a drink or the drug addict finding a pusher. From the bingo games in church halls, friendly poker games in a neighbour’s rec room, to office pools, we gamble. It is human. Sometimes we get a harsh lesson and in the very occasional circumstance we can get a pleasant surprise. That is what gaming involves. It is a favourite form of entertainment. And it is fun.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Who convinced Trudeau to look democratic?

September 15th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Wow. When you read the Liberal.ca website now it looks like Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau invented party democracy. It not only says he believes in party democracy but he is working to assure Liberal Party members of open nominations. He seems to not only be recanting his heavy-handed approach in the recent Trinity-Spadina by-election in Toronto but maybe he expects us to pretend it never happened.

But we should not let him off the hook for just some well chosen words. We still have to see some positive action. We still have to get the heavy hand of the party off the so-called “green-light” process of nominating candidates. Winning a battle is not resolving the war.

Many Liberals believe that the power to vet candidates belongs at the electoral district level. Maybe the local party could ask for assistance if it does not have all the resources needed to check credentials but the decision has to be made by the riding executive. The names of those who sign the nomination papers for a candidate for example, tells the local executive a great deal about a candidate. The meaning of the names is lost on senior levels of the party. Senior levels look at candidates in a different manner than the local party executive.

The truth is that truly democratic nominations can change the face of the party. They bring in more people, new ideas and changing demographics. They create greater volatility and sometimes some tensions. They accommodate the occasional maverick and create challenges for the party leadership.

But without the challenges within a Canadian political party, it fails to grow and evolve to meet the needs of an ever-changing population. The needs and desires of Canadians will always change as they process through the cycles of aging, maturing and renewing. We are human and not static. Our wishes and needs evolve and our politics have to be able to change and evolve to meet those needs.

And it is liberalism ahead of all other political movements that can best meet these societal fluxes. The ideologues of the right and left of politics are hide-bound in comparison. Only liberalism has the flexibility to seek the constant renewal of ideas and solutions to meet societal change. Our liberalism requires the freedom to grow with the changes.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Conservative Oliver uses gifts not incentives.

September 14th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Say what you like about Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver but he is certainly proving that he is not the brightest bulb to ever hold that portfolio in Ottawa. In fact, Oliver might just embarrass the Harper government right out of office next year. It was his opening salvo in goodies for next year’s election that showed Canadians that he has no idea of how to motivate business with taxation for job creation. He does not understand that there is a serious difference between a gift and an incentive.

And this is all about a matter of 28 cents. That is the amount that Oliver intends to cut from Employment Insurance premiums per $100 in insurable earnings for employees of small business. And this is only for in the fiscal years of 2015 and 2016. Oliver thinks it will save small business about $250 million per year for each of those years.

What would have made better sense would have been a much larger cut in premiums for all additional employees added over the next two years. That is job creation. That is how government should use business tax incentives. What Oliver is offering is just a present to people who want to take more money out of their business.

But what do you expect from a bunch of ideologues. They only offer gifts. Using an incentive to motivate their business friends to do something for the economy is a completely foreign idea. To them, business is good old Sam or Harry who runs a business and gives them money to support their re-election. This party wants to do something for their friends. They would never think of restricting these gratuitous gifts to those who did something for Canadians.

What is going to happen though is that the recipients of this gift from the Conservatives are going to do the mathematics themselves. With only about 40 per cent of employees eligible for Employment Insurance and this saving of $190 per eligible employee, it will mean a maximum of $2200 to any one business. If the Conservatives want to pay a bribe for this writer’s vote, they should be warned. It will cost much more than $2200,

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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