What is this mantra of debt?

December 21st, 2014 by Peter Lowry

For years we have been listening to right-wing politicians, bankers and other busybodies complaining about debt. It seems to be their constant mantra that debt is bad, tax cuts are good, small government is better and environmental controls are bad business. While the ignorant try to sell these silly ideas, any smart business person can tell you that debt is just another useful tool in the economic tool kit.

Debt is also a critical tool of government. How do you think your various levels of government get the money needed to build infrastructure such as water works, bridges, schools, highways and sewers. These systems all have life cycles and paying off the capital costs over some part of the time of use makes sense. The public gets the use of the facility earlier than it would if the governments saved their money until the full funding was available. Saving money until you have the cash for infrastructure would not only be poor strategy but would strangle economic growth.

There can also be too much debt. You always have to beware of what would be too much debt to be trying to manage. Ontario Hydro is a good example of bad debt management. The power utility went into debt to build nuclear reactors and between cost overruns, operational problems and a shorter than expected serviceable life for the plants, Hydro’s debt spiralled out of control. It has ended up in a serious problem because of the decision to build more nuclear plants while still paying for the first batch. For well over 100 years, Ontario politicians have been trying to figure out how to control Ontario Hydro’s debt. No party has ever produced a workable solution.

But that hardly means Ontario is drowning in debt. Our Auditor General was wringing her hands the other day and complaining about Ontario’s ‘heavy’ debt load. She is forecasting that by the 2017-18, the provincial debt will average $23,000 for every person in the province. That is no big deal when you consider the $36,455 average annual income and you can take many years to retire the debt—especially while the prime rate is at one per cent.

And there is no reason that the Ontario Treasurer should not be looking at new or increased revenue streams. Companies can come up with new ways of earning money, what is wrong with our politicians? Do we only elect stupid people? (Don’t answer that!)

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Liberals we have heard on high.

December 20th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

It is only fair after introducing the local Conservative candidate, we mention that there is also going to be a Liberal candidate. We actually have a contest to determine the Liberal candidate. Somehow the Liberal party made a slip and approved two candidates in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte. (That riding name has something of a country music connotation.) And it might be an interesting contest. Both candidates approved to-date have some good credentials.

The first to announce was Brian Tamblyn, a well-known educator and community leader. While still in his 50s, Brian has had a 30-year career with Georgian College and the last 13 years he has been President and CEO. It was a time of unprecedented growth for Georgian and he has solid credentials throughout our community. He has shown himself to be very adept at dealing with politicians and functionaries at the federal, provincial and municipal levels.

But one good candidate must deserve another. Also approved by the Liberal Party is lawyer Trevor Owen. Trevor has been a litigation lawyer for the past 24 years and goes even further back as a Liberal since his father Bruce Owen was a Liberal Member of the Ontario Legislature in the Peterson government. Trevor is also a hard worker for groups such as Habitat for Humanity and in working with physically and mentally disabled children as well as his father’s cultural and musical productions.

The only thing that we do not know is when the heck the party is going to get around to letting the riding hold its nominating meeting. To prevent any hanky-panky, the party makes a practice of announcing the nominating meeting to all members of the riding association from the party’s membership database. If you have not paid your membership before then, you do not get a vote.

As a writer we try to be forgiving of the candidates for their desperate efforts to cram all the reasons someone might vote for them into their first letter. As a lawyer, our friend Trevor should know that the only time someone wants a lawyer to write a letter is to go to someone they are mad at. And as an academic, Brian should understand that only academics weigh curriculum vitae rather than read them.

While both candidates might be somewhat more right wing than we normally would want, they both seem attuned to people and that is always a good start. And, after all, the first job is to get rid of Stephen Harper. Anyone is to the left of that guy.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

“Well look, Mr. Mansbridge” said the Hair.

December 19th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

To be interviewed by his nemesises at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on a bad hair day was really more than the Hair should suffer. And what has befallen Michelle Muntean, the hairdresser the Prime Minister lured away from CTV three elections ago? There are more questions than answers at this time. All we know is that you can see for yourself on the CBC News Network show One on One on Saturday, Dec. 20 at 6:30 pm EST or on both the CBC and its News Network on Sunday, Dec. 21 at 12:30 pm EST.

Just look at the Hair’s hair. It lacks any of the helmet-head security that Muntean brought to the job. There are only two shots in the show: the left profile of the Hair and the over-the-shoulder shot of Peter Mansbridge. The managers from the Prime Minister’s Office must have been locked in a room somewhere without a working television. The left profile was actually shot from slightly above which is the fixed camera shot we usually see of him in the House of Commons. The only difference is that this is not a long shot and we have better definition and depth. We can see where the hairpiece had been held in place as the glue dried. We can see where it is pushed over hiding the part.

And we knew for sure it was not Muntean’s makeup work when we checked the Hair’s eyes. Instead of the clear definition with mascara, the Hair’s eyelids look brown and the eyes sunken. On top of everything else being wrong, the Hair’s colour was terrible. He was pale and showed more years than he admits to. And here was Mansbridge with his shiny dome properly muted and the Hair looking like hell.

But on top of that, he showed how nervous he was. When the Hair is not sure of himself he uses the word “look” as his pause word. Unless you use a pen and paper, you will quickly lose track of how often the Hair says “look.” A few times, he almost said “Look, look, look” to cover his struggle for control.

And you can be sure that there was no agreement ahead to bring up the Hair telling the House of Commons that it would be “crazy to put in pollutions controls when the price of oil is so low.” He actually told Peter Mansbridge that we misunderstood him.

The worst part of the show is when the Hair tries to explain the Alberta version of a carbon tax. If that item was supposed to be news, the Hair needed better briefing notes.

The most telling little secret in the dialogue is when Mansbridge asks who he called after hiding in a closet during the recent shooting on the Hill. The Hair called his mother. He must have forgotten the name of his wife who he sometimes takes on his world travels. He always used to take his hairdresser.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Mentioned in Dispatches.

December 18th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

We have heard from the front lines of the coming federal election. Our first of many big, full-colour brochures from our local Conservative candidate hit the door last week just ten months before the coming election. This elaborate missive told us probably more than it wanted to about our Conservative candidate in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte. (When you cut the City of Barrie into north-south halves, that is what they call the new north Barrie riding.)

The brochure has something of a colour-by-numbers quality. You can imagine the original front page that said “Your picture here.” The print is big to cover the lack of content. There is the obligatory casual picture with dog, friendly looking female, baby and candidate but no cutline that says who the dog, baby or lady might be.

The brochure has an amateur quality and what copy is in it is somewhat puerile. It actually says, the candidate is empathetic because he grew up in government-subsidized housing. What relation that can have to the Conservative promise of transferring $50,000 of your income to your spouse in income splitting, leaves you wondering.

This is the guy a few years back who was working as a trainee at a local bank and decided to run for the local provincial Conservatives. One of the rules of membership in the party is that people have to pay their own membership. He was only found out when someone noticed that the guy’s new memberships were paid with new, sequentially numbered bills that he had obtained at his bank. He lost that nomination and no longer works at the bank.

This is another reason that the young gentleman is running for the federal and not provincial Conservatives.

The brochure proudly mentions that this candidate spent the last two council terms representing a ward in the south end of Barrie. Whether he was effective in that role is a mute point as that ward is quite remote from his new federal electoral district of Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte in the north.

What struck us as fresh and new about this brochure was the statement that the candidate “believes that a Member of Parliament must represent our communities’ interests to Ottawa and not the other way round.” This seems to be a very harsh criticism of our previous Conservative MP and will not win this new kid any friends at the present Prime Minister’s Office.

Times must be changing.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Selling what you don’t understand.

December 17th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Only a banker could dream up this one. Former TD Bank head Ed Clark insists on the Ontario government selling electricity distribution to private sector people who could then make a profit from other people who would have no choice but to buy their electricity from them. We have it on the authority of none other than the Ontario Minister of Energy that these people can charge whatever they want because nobody understands energy costs anyway.

And these entrepreneurs do not have to worry about the capital cost of the distribution system they buy. Any bank in Canada will loan them whatever it costs for such a sure thing. This is what is so wonderful about free enterprise.

And look at the benefits to our provincial government. It gets the voters off their backs about energy costs. They can now blame free enterprise. And the cherry on top of that dessert is the $2 billion to $3 billion the province gets to put into other projects. It is not as though it would be used to pay down hydro debt—which the voters already pay each month on their energy bills.

And you cannot look to the news media to help in this. Most of them believe that free enterprise is good—even if it is a monopoly—and that public ownership is bad. The media are under the impression that free enterprise is responsive and that public servants are not. That is because the news media never seem to have to deal with companies such as Bell Canada or Rogers.

Could you imagine having Bell Canada as your distributor of electricity? The company would let the system deteriorate while charging you more each month. And just try to get any money back when there is a few days outage because of the deteriorating systems.

This idea of selling the distribution systems is from the same banker who tells the government to not sell the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. This is an area that desperately needs some competition. If Ontario sold the LCBO, consumers might get a price break occasionally while the government would earn more in taxes. There is guaranteed to be no break for the consumers if the government sells the monopoly electricity distribution systems.

And after almost 100 years of being screwed by the Beer Store monopoly, Ontario citizens know better. Where is William Lyon Mackenzie when you really need him?

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Trudeau’s “Free, open, transparent nominations.”

December 16th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Do you want honesty or do you just want to get rid of the Harper Conservatives? That seems to be the conundrum facing members of Canada’s Liberal Party. The fact is that Justin Trudeau has lied to the party. He did not have much of a platform when he won the Liberal Party leadership but we all heard him promise open nominations wherein the individual party members in each electoral district would choose their candidate.

Here we are ten months before the election and the party has lawsuits, people tearing up memberships and bad feeling right across the country. It feels like tiny talent time. The leader, his incompetent team and the party apparatus have obviously disregarded Justin’s only bloody promise.

And what do they think they are accomplishing? What really smells are the silly party spokespeople who marvel at how free, open and transparent the nominations have become. Do these people take lessons in Orwellian NewSpeak from the Harper Conservatives?

Just filling out the intrusive and demeaning forms required by the Liberal Party from potential candidates is a farce. The party officials often take different lengths of time to respond to individual candidates. It seems that different candidates get different—and highly discriminatory—treatment. Just the fact of controlling when the local party can have its nomination meeting is a control factor. And back-dating membership cut offs certainly sends a clear message about which candidate is preferred.

What really galls is that this very simple promise from Justin meant so much to some of the key riding association people in the Liberal Party. These are the local organizers needed to help the candidates. The amateurs in the Trudeau team are choosing candidates who need the help these organizers can provide. Talking to a newly approved candidate recently in a riding where the Liberals can win, it was a shock to learn that he had absolutely no acquaintance with the party people in the riding. He might have potential as a candidate but he was starting with some very serious handicaps.

What also seems to be the situation is that the party offices and the Trudeau team are getting untrustworthy intelligence about many of the electoral districts. In many Conservative held ridings, the Liberal Party has broken into a series of cliques. You have to be sure you are listening to the group that has a chance of pulling the Liberal supporters in the riding together.

Only a truly open nomination process has the chance of rebuilding and renewing the Liberal Party’s riding resources. Without open nominations, you might squeak by and elect a Justin Trudeau government but you will not have a Liberal government.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Causing premature election.

December 15th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

We always knew that having fixed elections in Canada would cause the same problems as in the United States. You end up in an almost permanent condition of premature election. Take right now in Canada. The pundits and pollsters are already in full election mode when we are ten months from going to the polls. They are making their lists and checking them twice to try to tell us which politicians are naughty and nice.

Frankly, there is no percentage in telling you who has the best odds of winning that election before Labour Day of 2015. That will be when technically the Prime Minister is supposed to converse with the Governor General and the GG signs a Writ of Election. Mind you, Mr. Harper has lied to the electors before so you might want to hang loose in April for a surprise writ then.

If anyone is deluded about this election, it is New Democratic Leader Tommy Mulcair. He has found that Canadians are nice to him when he gets away from the House of Commons occasionally. What he has really found is that Canadians are nice people and they have no intention of hurting Tommy’s feelings. If they even let him keep his own electoral district next year, he will be lucky.

But the person headed for the worst surprise of the 2015 election is guy we affectionately refer to as The Hair. He is the most travelled Prime Minister in Canada’s history. Not even Brian Mulroney’s farewell tour to countries where people had once been nice to him was as impressive as the travels of The Hair and his hairdresser. Mind you old Brian never had his own Airbus A310 to do the job in style.

The Hair is also the most anal and micro-managing PM in Canadian history. At least Mackenzie-King got good advice from séances with his mother. And his dog helped too.

But the one to get the benefit of this premature election is Trudeau the Younger. While a better looking but shallower version of his father, Justin has been busy campaigning for the past two years. With occasional appearances back in Ottawa, Justin has been busy doing selfies with Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Nobody has a clue what Justin would or would not do as Prime Minister but he hopes to surprise people during the election by talking in continuous platitudes.

Somebody must have told Justin that people vote for the leader who annoys them the least. And what has Justin ever done to you?

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Defining public-private partnerships.

December 14th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Before damning something, we should always be careful to say what we are talking about. The recent report of the Auditor General of Ontario has brought about a spate of discussions about public-private partnerships which seem to deal with many different relationships between the public and private sector. Having been party to the seminal report on the advantages of public-private partnerships almost 30 years ago: The Business Venture Project, we have reason to complain.

Partnership implies a collective responsibility and decision making that does not seem to apply to the current form of public-private partnerships. In fact today, any project involving government seems to end costing the government more money than it should if it were a true partnership. Two outstanding examples of this in Ontario are SkyDome in Toronto and the Express Toll Route 407 that started as a Toronto highway bypass.

SkyDome was budgeted at a highly optimistic $150 million when the Bill Davis Conservative government partnered with the City of Toronto and 29 private companies. The companies only needed to kick in $5 million each for advertising and Skybox rights. When SkyDome was finished in 1989, the David Peterson Liberal government had to swallow $420 million in cost overruns. It was also about this time that other companies realized what a sweetheart deal the original 29 companies received.

Yet it was the Bob Rae New Democrat government that sold SkyDome to a private consortium for a fire-sale price of only $151 million. By the time the Rogers people got their hands on it, the price was down to only $25 million.

You would have expected the Bob Rae government to be loathe to continue with public-private partnerships. Yet it went along with the Highway 407 Express Toll Route that was built during their brief tenure. It was the Mike Harris Conservative government that came up with the idea of leasing. They got $3.1 billion for a 99-year lease of the entire 108 kilometre highway, from Highway 403 in Burlington to Brock Road in Durham.. The Dalton McGuinty Liberal government realized that the consortium is obviously on to a good thing and while paying the consortium for collecting the tolls, the government will get the money from drivers using the eastern extension to Highway 115 that is now under construction.

As you can see, it hardly matters what team sweater your politicians are wearing. When it comes to the Ontario version of public-private partnerships, it will always be the taxpayers who will pay in the long run.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Arm-wrestling with police services.

December 13th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Just like Toronto Mayor John Tory, this writer once thought he could make a difference on the local Police Services Board. The boards are made up of elected municipal politicians and citizen appointees. This resolve was strengthened the first time we saw the local Police Services Board chair stand up at City Council to present the police budget. It seemed to make a lie of everything we thought we knew about these boards.

A person appointed by their council or by the province to their police services board does not work for the police. These are the people who are supposed to oversee the activities of the police on behalf of the public. Their employer is the public.

The worst type of member for the board is someone like Alok Mukherjee Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. He is considered a survivor. In ten years on the board, he has avoided controversy and stayed out of trouble. Other than a very naïve posting to his ill-advised Facebook page, the man is rarely noticed. He has done nothing, achieved nothing and the Toronto Police have remained a law unto themselves.

If it were not for the tensions between the senior police staff and the rank and file officers with their union, we would have anarchy. As a paramilitary organization, you expect disciplined behaviour and an effective command structure. You also expect the behaviour of your police to reflect well on your community.

While they do not always live up to ideals, your police are ambassadors. Politeness and smiles do far more for your community than a heavy hand of enforcement. Scruffy, ill-kempt officers in dirty cars tell you volumes about a city.

The truth be told, John Tory is probably not helping himself to take on a role on the Toronto Police Services Board. The job would take too much time and would be a major distraction from his other priorities. He neither needs to take on the police union nor should he allow himself to be drawn into dialogue with the union head. Relations with the union are the police chief’s problem. In fact that might be the main concern in appointing the next chief.

Living in Babel, this writer is not available for a seat on the Toronto Board. Mind you if we were appointed to the board here, we would have to stop writing this blog. And the blog is much more fun.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Time to retire Mr. Chiarelli.

December 12th, 2014 by Peter Lowry

Some people age faster than others. There are people in their 80s who you would swear were 20 years younger. And then there are people such as Ontario Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli. Sure he is only in his early 70s but he should know better than to act as he did in front the news media the other day. If was definitely impolitic for him to say that the Ontario Auditor General was wrong.

To say that the auditor “did not understand” is not only a career ender but an immediate signal for Premier Wynne to remove him from cabinet. It is impossible to imagine anyone with any political savvy advising a cabinet minister to make such a comment.

The auditor general is an officer of the legislature and to challenge her veracity is a very serious charge. It is the same as asking for the auditor’s dismissal and you had better have all your ducks in line. You certainly do not make vague charges that she did not understand the pricing of electricity. At the news conference, nobody had any confidence that Chiarelli understood the pricing either.

Pricing of electricity in Ontario has been something of a political confidence racket for many years. The person who wins arguments about electricity pricing is usually the one who can keep the straightest face. And what it really costs to build generating capabilities and then to produce, transmit and distribute electricity to Ontario homes, offices, businesses and streetlights, as well as pay down debt, are figures based on confusion, compounded by creativity. And if you ever find a way to rationalize your charge for just being on stream, you will know more than most of us.

But it is the consumer who gets ripped off no matter what political party is in power. The New Democrats incompetently in power in the early 90s and then Mike Harris’ reign of terror led to Father McGuinty’s Ponzi scheme for wind and sun power. Ontario has been paying too little for electrical power for many years and the banking buzzards have now taken to roosting on the transmission lines and dropping excrement on us. (They want us to sell off local distribution systems so that the bankers’ friends can get some of the action.) We are not only paying the piper but we are paying for the horrendous blunders compounded by all political parties.

All the public can hope for is that Ms. Wynne fire that incompetent Minister Chiarelli and put someone in the hot seat who can force the various elements of the electricity system to make some sense of their costs and billings and then pass the savings—or explanations—on to the consumers.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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