Premier Wynne: Colour her gone.

January 16th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

It seems more and more likely that Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Ontario Liberals are on the slippery side of the slope. Nothing says it more emphatically than the situation in which we find ourselves here in Babel. (You know Babel as Barrie, Ontario.)

We are less than two years from a tough election situation here in Barrie and there has been no sign of provincial Liberal activity. Normally you would expect some evidence of action. Especially since there needs to be new provincial electoral district associations created by the political parties, you would have expected that to happen by now. You would have expected a candidate search committee to be activated by the Liberals to talk to potential candidates and be sure they are aware of what is required of them.

What makes this doubly important is that this is the riding that PC Leader Patrick Brown has chosen to contest. It is hard to imagine there are many Conservatives with any common sense wanting that nerd representing them at Queen’s Park. He is not a leader. He has nothing to offer the party or the voters. He flip-flops on issues trying to convince people he is on their side—whatever that is. He is incapable of leading the fractious Conservative caucus. He has no direction and would be a serious embarrassment to Ontario if he accidently became Premier.

But the good news is that we can defeat him here in Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte. And when we defeat him, the Ontario Conservatives would have an opportunity to call a new leadership convention—one where Brown and others would not be allowed to cheat. Just think of it: an honest political leadership convention.

And if the election just produced a Liberal minority government, maybe Kathleen Wynne would also take the opportunity to resign. She has not led the Liberals into anything but trouble.

There is no reason that the New Democrats could not take the opportunity to also dump their inept leader Andrea Horwath. She is not leading them anywhere anyway.

Ontario is in a very unusual political situation. It has three major party leaders who all need to be replaced. And then, after getting a chance to assess the results of some new leadership, we could vote again. We might have a chance to get it right.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Butt out Ms. Fonda.

January 15th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

While it is so very nice of actor Jane Fonda to lend her celebrity concern to the rape of the environment for tar sands in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canadians should certainly say ‘Thank you.’ It all helps, but celebrity endorsements and support can come across as self-serving and really do not carry much credibility. Celebrities can carry negative images as well as positive. And if they attract the wrong audiences, how is that helpful?

An example of this was in the 1970s when the New York advertising agency for the American Multiple Sclerosis Society showed some members of the Canadian executive a new flight of commercials that they thought we would like to use on Canadian television. The commercials were of Hollywood stars such as Frank Sinatra urging people to help in the fight against MS. They were excellent quality and professionally produced and there would be little effort involved in getting Canadian stations to use them as public service announcements.

All we had to do was put our Canadian society’s name on them and use them. The agency people were quite surprised when we said ‘No thanks.’

At the time the Canadian MS Society was coming out of its shell and determined to become a multi-million dollar health agency. You do not do that with celebrity endorsements. We had to let Canadians know we were dealing with a crippling disease that creates huge costs for our health care system. We had to make Canada the leader in neurological research and coordinate it with research around the world. And it is working.

The MS Society is the third best known health agency in Canada today. It is one of the best run agencies. It is not surprising when you hear that the people working on Heart and Cancer helped us get there. Smart agencies are cooperative agencies.

But protecting our environment in Canada is an even tougher challenge. We do not need celebrities. Nor do we need the growing breed of celebrity environmentalists. You are dealing with highly organized greed when you deal with tar sands exploitation. You are dealing with large businesses. You are dealing with people who can outspend you in the news media, in social media, in political IOUs and in impressing the politicians. You not only have to stand in front of the pipeline bulldozer; you have to mean it.

And you have to remember that bitumen is the bitch you are fighting. The truth might not set you free but you can get people wondering why nobody wants to convert large amounts of bitumen to ersatz crude oil on the Prairies?

We promised at the Paris environmental summit that Canada would do its part. Sending bitumen to other parts of the world to process is not doing our part. Our world cannot sustain it.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Put in a word for us when you see the PM.

January 14th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

So, what are you going to tell the prime minister? He’s coming to see you. You just need to contact your Liberal M.P. to get an invitation. He is not coming to our riding. We lost to the Conservatives by 86 votes.

And please do not ask the PM if it is cold enough for him. He is a Canadian. He knows about our winters. Besides, he just got back after he and the family spent some warm time at the Bahamian island of the Aga Khan.

But now it is back to reality and the grind and the PM wants to know what is on your mind. The poor guy has so many newbies in his cabinet that they are not making as much progress as he would like. He wants you to help kick-start them with some good ideas.

And believe it or not, he wants to spend money. Lots of it. He not only promised us a deficit of 180 billion dollars but there is more if you need it. His finance minister Bill Morneau wants us to buy into an idea where we get investors around the world to pay for our infrastructure needs. All these investors with deep pockets have to do is pay for it and they get a nice revenue stream once the idea starts to make money.

One idea is that now—if ever—is the time for Canada to get into the world-wide craze for high-speed rail lines. What we are talking about is getting from Toronto Union Station to Montreal Central Station in one and a half hours. That is far faster than by Air Canada, is more comfortable and does not pollute.

If you like, you can impress Mr. Trudeau by pointing out that we are just about the last major country in the world to join this parade. Tell him that in Uzbekistan, you can get from Tashkent to Samarkand (about the same distance as Montreal to Toronto) by a 250 km/h train.

The beauty of getting people to invest in trains and other forms of transit is that there is revenue flow. It means the investor can be assured of a flow of profit from the investment. Whether the investor is Canadian or European—where there are now hundreds of high-speed trains criss-crossing the continent (and England)—is not as important as our need in Canada to move people and goods efficiently and without pollution.

But that is our hobby horse. It is absolutely beyond us why there is so little progress in this field in Canada—a country that was created by railroads. You might have another idea that could be as good. Go for it. Justin Trudeau has come to listen.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Concern for Canada’s Conservatives.

January 13th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

If we did not have Canadian Conservatives, we would have to import some from the U.S.A. Admittedly these are not the best of times for Canada’s Conservatives. This coming week we will watch their federal leadership contestants mangle the French language trying to measure up to Maxime Bernier and Steven Blaney in a French language debate. Then on Friday, their Republican cousins in the U.S. will inaugurate President Donald Trump. These events combined should set back Canadian Conservatism at least a generation.

As far as the debate goes, it is not a debate. It is a yawn. It would be just as boring if it was in any language. If there are the same 14 people on that stage next week as we saw in Moncton, there had better be a place on the ballot in May for ‘None of the above.’

The American presidential inauguration is, in itself, not a big deal. It is the ceremonial handing over the reins of power from one President to the next. Most people go out and freeze their behinds at the ceremony so they can have an excuse to drink to excess and boogie at the parties later.

The event for Canadian Conservatives a few days before will lack the public coverage of the after parties. The winners will be Bernier and Blaney as they will be boring but understood. The dozen non-Quebeckers (including Franco-Ontarian Pierre Lemieux) will be measured and mostly found wanting. And all that Dennis O’Leary will get for not being there will be ridicule for not speaking French.

Pierre Lemieux (not to be confused with the economist) and Chris Alexander’s problem is that both lost their seats in the 2015 election. They are still a leg up on those competitors who have never been elected.

Squaring off against each other will be MPs Lisa Raitt and Kellie Leitch from Ontario. Raitt has taken a combative stance in the contest and is zeroing in on Leitch’s demand for immigrants being asked about their Canadian values. She also has been leading the attacks on Kevin O’Leary in case he ever gets around to throwing his hat into the race.

We are still expecting to produce our Morning Line on the race in March, once we find out all the real entries. Frankly we are going to have to look carefully at all their workouts and other stats. There are too many of these people who have no performance stats with which to measure them. We might have misjudged Donald Trump in the U.S. race but there is no potential Trump in this collection of Canadian Conservatives.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Culling Canada’s Cabinet.

January 12th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

Cabinet making and cabinet tending are different requirements of a prime minister. Those were sunny days in late 2015 when Prime Minister Trudeau chose his first cabinet. Change can come quickly at busy times. What we have to realize is that his perspective on the need for change is quite different from our perspectives.

Trudeau has direct contact with his ministers while we get most of our impressions through the filter of the news media.

But despite this difference, we can well understand most of his changes. The most difficult for him must have been the retiring of foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion. While we will reserve judgement on replacing Dion with newcomer Chrystia Freeland, the job could be more of a challenge for her than she expects. Misogynists such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will tend to ignore her.

And she is following a class act. Stéphane Dion got a bum rap from the Liberal Party and voters. No, he does not communicate well in English but he is probably the smartest foreign affairs minister we have had since the days of Lester Pearson.

Trudeau had to do something about democratic institutions minister Miriam Monsef. Watching her in action has been a bit of a surprise. She has that porcelain prettiness of Persian women without their usual reticence. It was her outspokenness in dumping the blame on the special committee’s report for a lack of direction in her portfolio that got her in the most trouble.

The only surprise was the removal of John McCallum. There was a point late last year when we were curious about the reported comment of the immigration minister that we should go slower on accepting Syrian refugees. That seemed to be the opposite to Trudeau’s gung-ho approach and we were wondering if McCallum’s natural conservatism was running counter to Trudeau’s neoliberalism. Any rift between them could not be that bad if McCallum is now being trusted to handle relations with China as our ambassador. Bejing has the capability of replacing much of the trade we currently have with the United States if Trump foolishly tears up the North American free trade Agreement (NAFTA).

We will have comments on the newbies in cabinet once they have been briefed and ready to talk to the media.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Let’s march to our own drummer.

January 11th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

It was hardly a surprise when the Prime Minister’s Office said he was not attending Donald Trump’s inauguration in Washington next week. Frankly, the Canadian prime minister would just be in the way. It was more of a surprise that he would not be attending the concurrent world economic conference in Davos, Switzerland. It seems that our Prime Minister has decided he would rather talk to some Canadians that week.

It reminds us of the 1972 federal election that Pierre Trudeau almost lost because he said he was going to have a conversation with Canadians. It was because of that resulting minority government that Pierre Trudeau brought more political people into his office and gave Liberal organizer Keith Davey his old job back.

But there is no concern over our current prime minister missing Donald Trump’s inauguration and ‘celebration.’ And, frankly, the after parties could be quite depressing. Nor would Trump would want someone younger and better looking to compete with on the inauguration stage. He suffers enough just standing near outgoing President Obama. Obama’s eight years in the Oval Office have certainly greyed his hair but he is still a lot younger than his replacement.

It was quite a reach the other day when a writer tried to compare the impact Franklin Roosevelt had as President of the U.S. to the potential impact of Donald Trump. Trump might be a change-agent businessman but he is a special maverick breed of businessman: a developer. They play by different rules. It is like in the movie business, you are only as good as your last blockbuster. And besides, Roosevelt cared about people other than himself. Many would argue he was the greatest President Americans ever had.

Somebody must have said something to the powers that be in the Prime Minister’s office about the perceived elitism of our prime minister. Last year at the Davos gathering of the rich and famous, Justin Trudeau was the flavour of the month. Maybe there were just too many pictures fed back to Canada of him cavorting with the moneyed of the world. This year, those of us who belong to the hoi polloi get him.

We certainly hope that we will get him more fairly distributed than when the special parliamentary committee on electoral reform visited with Canadians last summer. More than 13 million Canadians in Ontario got a half day visit in Toronto while many smaller provinces got two or three visits.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Meet the Elites: Business.

January 10th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

Now let’s talk about the real aristocracy in Canada. These are the nobles. They direct the troops that dig our mines, produce products, market the goods, merchandise wares, account for our monies and provide services that all add up to our gross domestic product. It is the chief executives that are the elites of business and they know who they are. They measure their successes in our productivity, their company’s bottom line and their remuneration.

Their strength is in the approbation of the stock market and the wealthy for their quarterly earnings, for the acceptance of their brand, the jobs they provide and for their support of their community.

While there are those who worry about the ownership of these businesses, it really only matters that they act as a good citizen where they do business. Three of the top paid Canadian chief executives are George Cope of Bell, Nadir Mohammed of Rogers and J.R. Shaw of Shaw, the largest communications and media companies in English Canada—that are restricted to Canadian ownership. Each of the three has earned the anger of Canadians for their companies perceived rapacious pricing, immunity to customer concerns and resistance to the regulatory surveillance of the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC).

But it hardly matters what we peons think of them. They also have the power of the Business Council of Canada behind them. Run today by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, the Business Council is a self-appointed cabal of business leaders who exert ongoing influence on the federal government and provincial governments as well.

The Business Council goes far beyond supporting the goals of the individual companies. It proposes policy directions and international trade objectives for the government on behalf of its members. It lobbies for more free trade deals and open borders for business. Its proposals are mainly political and on the right of centre. The council served as a cheerleader when the federal cabinet recently approved the expansion of the American Kinder Morgan pipeline to Burnaby, B.C. Pressure works.

We should always remember that it is regulation that ensures the quality of the food we eat. It is standards that keep costs of needed goods within reach of our pay cheque. It is the breadth and access to education that builds our future. And it is strong and effective government that enables us to drive on safe highways that are properly policed and have emergency services when needed. Good government provides a good life.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Meet the Elites: The Politicians.

January 9th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

Sociologists would probably not include this group among the elites but from a political perspective it is hard to deny them. While the elected at the provincial and federal level have obvious influence on our lives when serving in cabinet as prime minister, premier or in a cabinet position, their position as an elite can come afterwards. It is the influence they can wield after they leave office.

Some people could not figure out why former Prime Minister Stephen Harper held onto his seat in parliament so long after his party lost the 2015 election. It was likely the sinecure he had of an MP’s salary while assessing offers. And you can be assured there were many to consider.

Former Prime Minister’s Turner, Mulroney and Chrétien are today earning substantial incomes for just advising clients of their firms. On top of that they are paid generous fees for speeches and talks to business audiences. When you hear that Justin Trudeau earned $450,000 in fees the year before becoming Liberal Party Leader, think of how much he can earn when he gives up prime ministering! (And he is not even that good a public speaker.)

And do not assume that former premiers are treated as lower class citizens. We hear that former Ontario Premiers such as David Peterson, Bob Rae, Michael Harris, Ernie Eves and Dalton McGuinty are all doing quite well, thank you.

Cabinet ministers at both levels have to be more creative but it is probably finance ministers who get the best deals. Mind you it is incorrect to assume that just because a person was known as minister of a particular portfolio that they necessarily knew very much about it.

The guys and gals with the tough row to hoe in parliament and the legislatures are the back benchers. The key to success for them is to pick a specialty and become expert in that field—while all along voting promptly at your party’s call. The specialty can pay off in many ways. It can make your fundraising efforts easier, get you noticed and convince people of your devotion to duty—all good attributes to furthering your career. It can get you into cabinet. It can also get you a lucrative career when you or the voters decide your time as a politician is over.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Meet the Elites: The One Per Cent.

January 8th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

If anyone ever got a bad rap, it is Canada’s one per cent. This group of Canadians is supposed to control about 50 per cent of the country’s wealth and is divided between old money and new money. And there is constant conflict between the old and new. It is simplest to divide them into the ‘benefactors’ and the ‘scourges.’

The benefactors are basically old money that has survived generations by carefully protecting and building the capital. Both the Toronto-based Thomson and Weston families fit into this category. They are considered benefactors because of the charitable foundations this group often create to control charitable giving and to ensure the maximization of tax benefits.

With wealth comes privilege and these people sit on the right boards of both business and charities. They attend the right galas as their children attend the right schools. They are part of the community and stay in plain sight.

The scourges, on the other hand, are the newer wealth that cares little for the communities and people earning their wealth for them. They prefer gated communities and obscurity. This group brings to mind the fortune that K.C. Irving ripped out of New Brunswick and took with him to the Bahamas. His will was reported to stipulate that his sons had access to the billions only if they left the province.

Stephen B. Roman of Denison Mines was also in this category. His generosity seemed to be mainly in seeking to buy politicians and succor for his immortal soul at his tomb east of Ontario Highway 404 under the golden domes of the Slovak Cathedral of the Transfiguration of our Lord.

It is hard to measure Canada’s one per cent beyond the few obvious billionaires. Not that many lists are produced. Our prime minister barely makes the list of millionaires despite the inherited family wealth of the Trudeau’s that has been passed down from Justin Trudeau’s grandfather.

But the point of this is that we can hardly blame the one per cent for being wealthy. It is what they do with the wealth that matters. There are well meaning people with wealth and there are the skin-flints. They are all human. Our politicians are obviously doing a very poor job of making sure that the wealth of Canadians stays in Canada. And there are too many tax loopholes letting them keep more of their wealth than they should.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Meet the Elites: The News Media.

January 7th, 2017 by Peter Lowry

It has always come as a surprise to us that the news media could think of themselves as one of society’s elites. (And just because Donald Trump says it, does not make it so.)

But there is a growing distrust of the news media that is hard to deny. We cannot speak as knowledgably of the American scene but the distrust in Canada is there for all to see. It is in the corporate dominance of English television by Bell, Rogers and Shaw, the weaseling of the Postmedia chain of newspapers, the omnipotence of Péladeau’s Quebecor newspapers and television network in Quebec and the steady dismantling of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Radio Canada that worries Canadians.

It seems a little out of touch for news people to consider themselves among the elite when already close to half their numbers are competing for work at call centres. And with Postmedia and its Sun newspapers acquisition already on the wrong side of bankruptcy, it looks like Chairman Paul Godfrey has received his last million-dollar bonus.

But the major concern with this media elitism was obvious many years ago when we were on a panel discussing the news media with among others the editor of the Ottawa Citizen. It was when we mentioned that the parliamentary Press Gallery reporters got their best leads from the reporter on the next bar stool, the editor got angry. What must have made him angrier is that the remark got good coverage in the Ottawa news media—including a Citizen reporter in the audience.

But this media elitism is obvious today when you check out the political discussion panels on television. They are mainly news media interviewing news media about what the politicians mean by what they are saying. They rarely seem to ask the politician.

It is also the source of the media problems that needs to be understood. When in the early 20th Century radio challenged print and magazines, print rose to the challenge and became more colorful and aggressive. When television came in the second half of the century, radio had to change and print media had to offer a more in-depth product.

It was the Internet and cell phones that joined the mix at the end of 20th Century that brought us to where we are today. Print has tried to adapt to the Internet and the various platforms but has still to arrive at the right formula. Radio has become an automobile and elevator background noise and the Internet has been swallowing more and more of the advertising dollars.

And where are our media elites? They are writing tweets and making video clips for YouTube. Being an elite in modern life is fleeting.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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