The killing ground at the LTCs.

May 25th, 2020 by Peter Lowry

The cull continues. Just what is the purpose of our long-term care (LTC) facilities? The figures are shocking. We sent in the army. All the army got was covid-19.

Britain’s Economist asked around, checking covid-19 deaths in LTC facilities in European countries. The people at the Economist were shocked to find that Belgium had more than 50 per cent of covid-19 deaths at their LTCs. I am not. I remember once being taken for a tour through a facility in Belgium. It was dingy and depressing but surprisingly well staffed. The only thing that really bothered me was the floors were divided by language. Even in life’s most difficult of times, the Flemish do not speak to the Walloons.

But Canada has those Belgians beaten. Over 80 per cent of our covid-19 deaths have been at LTC facilities. We even beat the Americans. Despite the lack of coordination in fighting the pandemic and the high percentage of deaths, the Americans have just 35 per cent of covid-19 deaths in nursing homes. Maybe they put more money into them.

As much as some might gloat over Jason Kenney getting called out on his assumption that Alberta had already beaten off the pandemic, the situation in Alberta is a concern we all share. Just the combination of the outbreaks at LTCs and meat packing plants is gruesome.

While Quebec also shares the problem of LTCs, its higher level of incidents of covid-19 are probably caused by its one-week earlier Spring break. That break from school down in Florida cost a lot more than expected.

There is no denying that a large part of the problem in LTCs is the desperate need for more full-time staff. And if they are people who can take pride in their work, they are worth any amount.

But it is up to all of us to make sure there are sufficient, properly run LTC facilities in our provinces to meet the need. We are all potentially in need of them.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Harry Who?

May 24th, 2020 by Peter Lowry

It is a different world for poor Harry Windsor. He cut himself off from the trappings of royalty with surgical precision. Now he is staring up from a prone position in the self-centred world of Hollywood. No honours, no special branch protection and no money. In California, there is a name for men who live off their wife or an allowance from their granny or their late mother’s estate.

Maybe Harry should not have left Vancouver Island so precipitously. Come to think of it, he could have timed it better when ditching the titles and allowances, over in ol’ blighty. I expect that Canadians might have found something for him eventually. Hollywood is only an answer for his wife. In tinsel town every third person on the street will gladly respond to being called ‘your highness.’

It seems an appropriate topic today, as we celebrate the birthday of Harry’s Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmother Victoria. That woman who suppressed the Brits for so many years is blamed for many failings today. I am sure we can now include Brexit. She did few favours for Canada—having been the one to choose Ottawa for the nation’s capital. And the city has changed very little over the ensuing 150 years.

If Harry had been in Canada today, he would probably have been surprised that it is one of those bank holidays—a Brit tradition. Though with the pandemic, there are no Victoria Day fireworks. Such festivities might have attracted crowds.

Harry, himself, probably attracts crowds of his own. It reminds me of women in Ottawa who are quite open in their quest to add another cabinet minister to the collection of notches on their bedpost. While maybe a little too deep into the fortified wines in a Vienna heuriger (wine bar) one time with an old friend who was a titled Brit and he explained it to me. “My dear chap,” he said to me, as he waved to the various ladies there, “They all want to fuck a British Lord.” I guess the competition would be much stiffer for a prince—defrocked, or not.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Can Chuckles make a comeback?

May 23rd, 2020 by Peter Lowry

The conservative party and the news media have written off acting conservative party leader Andrew Scheer much too soon. When he resigned late last year, the unwritten proviso was that the party thought they could get someone better. There might be four or five people vying for the honour of replacing Chuckles but you would have a hard time convincing any sizeable number of conservatives that any one of them is any better.

In fact, it is hard to say which of the four or five prospects could be half as effective as poor old Chuckles. You might expect that Peter MacKay has some of that same experience in the conservative party and in the Harper conservative government. When you ask knowledgeable conservatives about MacKay’s experience, you get a thoughtful answer that agrees, “Yes, he was there.” And then nothing but a sad look.

The facts are that Peter MacKay is a lightweight. He had three important portfolios in the Harper cabinet. He was an embarrassment in all three. He seemed to be working on a reputation for being the playboy of Ottawa and the eastern seaboard. Each portfolio he was in was just another set of photo ops. Mind you, he embarrassed the entire country in coming on to American secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

The reason I mentioned the four or five candidates is because last week an Ontario superior court judge said that Jim Karahalios should not have been ejected from the race when he maligned Toronto lawyer Walied Soliman, campaign manager for candidate Erin O’Toole.

I have a hunch that we might not know if there are four or five candidates until we have a ruling from the supreme court. It took a couple days for the right committee of the conservative party to kick out Mr. Karahalios again.

In the meantime, Erin O’Toole is going around being nice to any or all conservatives, hoping for their second vote approval. All O’Toole needs is for Peter MacKay to keep shooting himself in the foot. And that can be as good as money in the bank. There are a couple other candidates—we call them losers.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Panic in the pandemic.

May 22nd, 2020 by Peter Lowry

The problem is that these so-called experts keep changing their minds. They tell us to wear a mask and then they say, ‘Don’t bother.’ Now they want us to wear a mask again. Maybe they should draw us pictures. It is not that we are slow or just plain dumb.

The damn masks are becoming a fashion statement. Just not surgical masks—those are for the medical professionals.

Why should we have to sew our own? What good can it possibly do? How many masks do we need to take us through the day? Do you just throw them in the washing machine? Or do you have to take them to a dry-cleaning establishment? Which is better, the 100-thread count weave or the 300-thread? What about those ones that seem to be made of a porous paper?

And what do you do when a friend calls and wants to go for a walk—six-feet apart, of course? Do you say, you are washing your mask and it is too wet to wear? And do you have to wear masks when having sex with your neighbour’s wife?

What you need to realize here is that masks are really quite useless—especially on people who do not understand their purpose. When a medical professional wears a face mask, it is to protect the people with whom they are in close contact. It does not protect the wearer. When a professional has to be protected, they wear something closer to full hazmat suits with a shield protecting the face, plus a surgical mask.

Bear in mind that the N95 mask is called that because it can filter out up to 95 per cent of pathogens for a brief period. Nothing is perfect. And all professional medical people can give you is their best guess. We are all going to listen carefully, nod knowingly and do whatever the hell we want to do. I, for one, do not like wearing masks.

But I sincerely appreciate the, probably useless, efforts of those wearing masks to protect me from their germs and viruses. Those silly masks just might become the badge of honor of this pandemic.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Debt walls and other delusions.

May 21st, 2020 by Peter Lowry

Having always admired the work of Toronto author Linda McQuaig, I enjoyed her opinion piece in the Toronto Star the other day. She was suggesting that we should not listen to the deficit hawks. It must be a measure of my admiration that we tend to agree on the subject.

Linda notes that it is only now after months of lock-down and the desperate efforts to protect Canadians from financial despair, that we are starting to hear from Canada’s conservative deficit cops. She sees their reluctance to say much earlier as a reflection of the popularity of the liberal economic rescue efforts.

I certainly shared Linda’s expectation of some blow-back. While the conservatives have lacked an effective national voice for some time, you would normally expect some of their major provincial leaders to speak up. It is also likely that the desire to look like they are cooperating, in the face of the pandemic, has lowered the volume.

And we also need to recognize that the key provincial leaders such as Jason Kenney of Alberta, Doug Ford of Ontario and François Legault of Quebec, each have their own agenda. Kenney has deep financial problems to go with the pandemic outbreaks in nursing homes and meat processing plants. Ford lacks the political background and is trying hard not to stumble. Legault is losing political ground to Justin Trudeau and his attempt to break free from the feds has forced him to backtrack on his early attempts to lighten restrictions.

It is fascinating to see a spectre from the past such as Stephen Harper emerge as a key spokesman for the conservatives at this time. He actually sounded threatening in a recent Wall Street Journal piece when he wrote that those who do not practice a ‘mild’ austerity, will have a “brutal kind of austerity thrust upon them.”

McQuaig even touches on the era of neoliberal Paul Martin when Canadians suffered a “brutal round of social spending cuts.” Many Canadians never forgave him for what he did as Jean Chrétien’s finance minister.

Linda concludes that because of this spending, that we are doing to protect Canadians during the pandemic, we could be on our way “to a very different and promising future.” I agree.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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The Pirates of the Pandemic.

May 20th, 2020 by Peter Lowry

The gloom and doom writers have it all wrong. You do realize, do you not, that there are business bandits who are making a killing because of the pandemic. These are the ones shedding crocodile tears as they make another billion. Who says we are all in this together?

It was win some/lose some for Loblaws and other large grocers in the first quarter as they watched sales escalate as they learned how to stay open in the face of covid-19. Watching the prices rise in the grocery stores throughout the first three months of the pandemic is paying for more than the costs of shields and masks in the retail end of the grocery business. No need for a tag day for the Weston family.

And it would take far more than a pandemic to rattle Canada’s bankers. They are hardly losing when they are cutting back on staff hours and keeping the plastics industry busy making cheap shields.

But the one industry that is making the most of our misery is the telecommunications industry. If we had never understood the need for streaming video on the Internet, we know it now, and never have so many paid so much. Welcome to the battle for bandwidth.

If the telecoms would just deliver the service, they try to tell us we are getting, life could go on. I think I have checked every competitor in my area and I find they all seem to be using the same resale Bell optic fibre. And while the fibre cables might be running down my street, it is two pairs of twisted copper wires delivering the service to my apartment.

It is Canada’s major breweries, owned today by mainly foreign companies who are taking home profits from the increased alcohol consumption. I expect it will not help to ward off covid-19. Profits from liquor and wine are mostly taken by the provinces that own or control most of Canada’s liquor distribution.

Mind you, the main beneficiaries of Canadians staying at home during the worst of the pandemic will probably be hospital obstetrical units starting about Christmas time.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Who’s voting for stupid?

May 19th, 2020 by Peter Lowry

The ignorant and the gullible are on the march in America. They are coming to his rallies and buying his snake oil. Donald Trump has his eye on the prize: the November election. That is quite a prize for a serial killer who has already helped the pandemic take the life of more than 90,000 Americans—and this year is not even half over.

Is this not the guy who belittled the declaration of the pandemic and cut off the U.S. funding of the World Health Organization? Do you know that his followers think America is lucky to have him? They can watch people close to them dying and they think Trump is a gift from some funny farm Heaven.

These people are mixing and drinking their own Kool-Aid. Trump says he is taking an anti-malaria pill. Maybe he will also drink bleach.

He is promising his followers a vaccine by the end of the year. He sees the race for a vaccine as an economic contest to make money for Americans, instead of something that will be distributed freely around the world. In addition to this miracle of medical science he is also promising his supporters a miracle economic recovery in the next year.

Trump supporters tell us that we are lucky to have a businessman like Trump running things. They think that, as a businessman, he can help the economy to recover. He is certainly no businessman. People who really understand Trump know he is just a gambler who typically uses other people’s money. As a developer, he is used to promising much and delivering little.

If Trump had been more of a scholar, he would understand why the lack of organization in his country during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918/1919 killed so many. It is disgraceful that his ignorance, disinterest and partisan approach make it impossible to create a co-ordinated approach in 2020.

But maybe the real villains in this event are Trump’s supporters. Theirs is hardly a statement of political allegiance. Trump is not political. He is too selfish and self-centered to be part of any party. And yet, it is likely die-hard republicans that are giving Trump a narrow edge—while helping him do irreparable damage to their party.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Planes, Trains and Trucks.

May 18th, 2020 by Peter Lowry

If you listen to some analysts, it would seem that Canada’s economy is based on airlines. That was a mistake that came down to us because of the Second World War. In putting Canada on a war footing, the ubiquitous DC-3 aircraft took responsibility for high-speed travel while railways became the drudge and trucks were relegated to regional needs. It is a pattern that has held Canada back since, in terms of both inter-provincial trade and relations.

While the U.S.A. launched that country’s inter-state highway network back in the Eisenhower era, it is seriously working today on networking 200+ mph electric trains.

And frankly, Ontario and Quebec residents are tired of the continued talk of ‘studying’ the needs in the Quebec city-to-Toronto corridor. Just electrifying the GO Train system in Ontario could go a long way to speeding up that service and accommodating more passengers. Less pollution would be a bonus.

But, if anything could kick-start the Canadian economy after the pandemic, it would be building the infrastructure and rolling stock needed for high-speed trains. Such an ambitious project could take 20 years to complete just the first phase. And it could be the major project that brings us quickly out of any downturns after covid-19 is beaten.

What guarantees us a downturn when the pandemic is done? The economy has taken its hits. It has nowhere to go but up.

The choice is very simple. We can be frightened by the bogeyman of debt or we can work to put it behind us. It will not be a question as to whether we can afford it? The question is can we afford not to?

There is no question that we will still need airlines for intercontinental travel. It would make sense for the federal government to nationalize Air Canada. That way they can be integrated instead of competitors.

The real challenge that faces us is where is the leadership our country needs to take up the challenge. And are our fellow Canadians willing to support the type of leadership we need? We need vision. We need to believe. The country is worth it. Are we?

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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When our world is on hold.

May 17th, 2020 by Peter Lowry

Every morning when waking up to this pandemic, I challenge myself to remember what day it is. I never realized how confining a person to their home could be so cruel. I work hard at keeping alert and interested in our world. Some days the newspaper crossword is a challenge and other days, simply frustrating. It is like politics, some days it is so simple and easily understood and some days it can be beyond belief.

Maybe that is why I enjoy writing about politics. While most of the comments from readers are positive lately, my wife cannot understand why I am not a fan of prime minister Justin Trudeau. She meets the guy a few times, gets added to his Christmas card list and she wants to protect him like a lioness with a cub.

What really gets to me is her way of ending arguments regarding Trudeau. She simply says, “Then, who are you going to vote for?”

She knows, she has me cold.

She knows darn well that there would be three moons in the sky before I would vote conservative. Conservatism goes against everything in which I believe. Conservatives, these days, are too often cruel, self-absorbed people. They think a jurisdiction that does anything for its citizens is a ‘nanny state.’ These people, when in power, try to impose their philosophy on others, like a wicked step mother.

The current leadership situation with Canada’s federal conservatives is a joke. The four contestants hoping to replace Andrew Scheer are shallow, unimpressive ideologues—which also explains Scheer.

And as for the new democratic party, it is based on a socialism that reflects the desperation of Canada of the 1930s. It has not had a new idea since Tommy Douglas retired from politics. The party is still dominated by labour unions that are far from progressive and have no interest in the effort to convert it into a modern social democratic party. It is just another ideology, seriously in need of a leader.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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An autopsy or a resuscitation?

May 16th, 2020 by Peter Lowry

An interesting question was raised in the Toronto Star the other day. There was an opinion piece by Bob Hepburn proposing a national commission on the reconstruction of the Canadian economy. This suggestion was based on some thinking by Greg Sorbara, a former Ontario treasurer, and Michael Mendelson, former Ontario deputy minister of the provincial cabinet office. It is the kind of suggestion that these types of thought leaders often develop over a decent bottle of single malt scotch.

But before you say a royal commission is a good answer, you should review Canada’s experience with royal commissions and the people running them.

The proposal reminds me of the Macdonald royal commission on the economic union and development prospects for Canada that was set up by Pierre Trudeau before he left office in the 1980s. Don Macdonald (Pierre Trudeau’s former finance minister, whom many of us referred to as ‘Thumper’) gave his report to Brian Mulroney’s conservatives. I really think Thumper had the report rewritten for Mulroney based on the demand of the Business Council on National Issues that Canada enter into a free trade agreement with the United States.

Canada has to be a trading nation but this particular drive was badly timed. It was when our country needed to be better aware of its own needs before entering those negotiations. Luckily, we were able to grandfather the Auto Pact into the free trade agreement arrived at between Mulroney’s conservatives and the George H. Bush administration.

The truth was that the North American pact and the later three-country addendum was more of a business-to-business deal than anything that recognized the needs of the 477 million people involved. And the recent reprise with Justin Trudeau’s liberals, Donald Trump’s republicans and president Andrés Obrador’s Mexicans at the table, was not much better.

What the business leaders seem to want is to be able to pick the most accommodating of jurisdictions with the weakest of labour and human rights laws for their processing and manufacturing operations. Luckily, Canada is not yet run by the Fraser Institute.

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Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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