Experience needed to do a Morning Line.

May 25th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Just like the racing experts who produce a morning line for the day’s racing card, a morning line for a political race requires considerable experience. And nobody would be so foolish as to try to create one without knowing and studying the performance of the horses in the race. That is why we are a long way from producing a morning line for the upcoming Conservative Party of Canada and New Democratic Party leadership contests.

By March of 2017, a line on the Conservative race is likely. Mind you if the contestants were only from the eleven possible candidates we discussed recently, we could probably give you a fairly accurate reading now. What cannot be foreseen though is the foul at the three-quarter pole, the contestant who drops out from illness or injury or the unexpected case of doping.

That was one of the reasons that Babel-on-the-Bay did not produce a morning line on the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership contest in May, 2015. We knew the contestants too well. And we had no trust in Patrick Brown. We expected chicanery and we had a pretty good idea of what Brown was up to in the race. We knew he would get lots of sign-ups from the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities but we had no idea how deep his supporters’ pockets were. His $400,000 worth of sign-ups were lined up by paid organizers from those communities and probably cost him well over a million dollars. The paid organizers’ attitude at their parties for immigrants that payment of the $10 party membership fee was optional said it all.

In typical Conservative fashion, the federal Conservatives closed the barn door on the Brown tactics in their upcoming race. They have raised the membership fee to $25 to block that method. It is also quite unlikely that anyone could swamp the party membership with ethnic sign-ups on a national scale.

But there are other things to watch for in this Conservative race and in the NDP leadership to follow. Leadership candidates in both parties in 2017 will be far more cognizant of the possible weaknesses in Justin Trudeau’s leadership style by that time. The question each candidate has to answer is how best to position themselves to take advantage of the opportunities offered. It is the credibility of their answers that will sway the party voters.

What the morning line cannot forecast though is the behind the scenes manoeuvering that is part of any political race. You have to make your guesses based on what you can see.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Bumper sticker solutions still work.

May 24th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

A fellow progressive once accused Babel-on-the-Bay of using bumper sticker solutions. What he did not realize is that the era of the bumper sticker is long gone. Maybe he had failed to note that automobiles no longer have real bumpers. Getting adhesive off a painted surface can be expensive.

But what he was really complaining about was the simplicity of words used to make our point. We have always been a strong believer in the adage that if you cannot write your proposal on the back of your business card, you need to rethink your proposal.

It is why in a career of writing business and political material there was always a demand for our services. If you are allowed a little pride in your accomplishments, we could always reduce the complex to something easy to understand. It was why when heading up the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada our medical director always joked that he wanted to do the fund raising while we explained the disease and prospects for a cure.

But the point is that while bumper stickers still work, the problem is the closest thing to bumper stickers today is called Twitter. As we have noted at times: Twitter must be for twits. Like the rest of the Internet, you always have to consider the source. Just like blogs, any idiot can write them and they often do. Sometimes you think the Internet was invented for the dumbing down of the human race.

It is amusing to note that the blog repeatedly chosen as best in an accumulation of Canadian progressives continues to be by a chap who likely spends more time using Adobe PhotoShop than MicroSoft Word. His cartoons can be quite funny.

Mind you, the current situation in the United States might also be proving the point. When our morning line called Donald Trump at 25 to 1 on the American presidency, it was because he is a longshot and far from a good bet. It is just frightening to think of.

Trump has reduced the race to the lowest common denominator. It is a race to the bottom of the barrel. He has no interest in the truth or reason. He is nothing but a massive, self aggrandizing ego who appeals to the angry, the bigots and other losers. The only problem is there are quite a few.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

An appropriate salute to Queen Victoria.

May 23rd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

The following is a repeat of our 2013 salute to Queen Victoria. Nothing has changed. Enjoy your long weekend.

Happy birthday Your Majesty! As children in Ontario, we used to set off fireworks to celebrate your birthday. It was a joyous occasion. It was wonderful to know that the sun never set on your empire. We were all British subjects. You were the image of our strength. You were a moral compass. We all got passing grades in our loyalty.

But times have changed lady! You have been dead for some 113 years. The children that you spawned to repopulate the palaces of Europe are long gone. Your great-great granddaughter, Elizabeth II is fast coming up on your length of service to your people as one of the few reigning monarchs left in the world. When she joins you in history, there are no bets on where the English royals are headed.

Elizabeth II has certainly done a fine job on shoring up the monarchy but her own son, the Prince of Wales is one of the stumbling blocks. There is just no respect for a man who was provided with a story-book princess. She gave him a couple of nice kids but he was too busy boffing an old flame. The demise of the princess almost turned into a public relations disaster for the Brit royalty.

So how do we honour you Victoria? What is appropriate in Canada to recognize the sovereign who was the midwife of our Confederation? In a few more years, Canada will celebrate 150 years. It is way past time to release us from your apron strings. Canada has proved its loyalty in the blood of wars and support in times of need. We should, in your honour, write a new constitution for this country, this Canada.

Canada has surpassed its origins. We have welcomed the peoples of the world. We are not just English or French anymore. We are all languages, all races, all religions and our perspective is of peace and hope and progress and compassion. Sorry Madam but a country such as this must stand on its own.

And it is also past time when we need to recognize our needs as a country. We tried to import your Parliament of Westminster to this new land and failed. We have the weaknesses in our parliamentary structure that Oliver Cromwell noted hundreds of years ago. We have been unable to patch them with the customs evolved over time as has Westminster. Our version of a House of Lords is a sham. Outdated, misused and misunderstood, the Canadian Senate has failed. It needs modern thinking.

Canadians pride themselves on their democracy. Yet we need checks and balances to the power of our Prime Minister’s Office. We need to distance our court and administrative agency appointments from politics of the day. We have much to rethink. And even if we reason that the time is long past for a royal head of state, in Ontario at least, we will be sure to keep our Victoria Day long weekend holiday.

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Copyright 2013 and 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

My Green is greener than your Green.

May 22nd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

You sometimes get the impression from Canada’s Green Party candidates that they want us to keep them as pets. They are too nice and they are always trying to prove how green they are. You would think they would check to see what other parties are offering to do for our environment. Maybe they would cut out some of their holier-than-thou attitude.

But most of the time, we take a live and let live approach. At least that was the case until our local Greenie-weenie here in Barrie used his free advertising space in the local Postmedia newspaper to promote his version of electoral reform. Since Liberals are never given the time of day by Paul Godfrey’s newspapers, we are unlikely to send a letter-to-the-editor to correct the misinformation that was being spread.

He makes the point in his unpaid column that almost two-thirds of federal voters last year voted for a party supporting reform of how we vote. The assumption he makes is that we all support all of our favoured party’s promises. Even if we did, there are many forms of voting reform and there is no agreement between political parties on which reforms are preferred.

And he goes on to tell us that we have no need for a plebiscite on any voting change as we extended the franchise to women and indigenous peoples without a vote other than in parliament. It is strange that three provinces have said in this century that they would only change the voting system if it was approved in a referendum. Extending the franchise is a decision for parliament; changing how we vote is a decision for voters.

We might be lucky that this frequent Green candidate with his reliance on surveys has not been elected to parliament. He believes that the majority of Canadians are dissatisfied with our current system and would accept a change without due consideration and discussion. Provincial referenda have found that Canadians will turn down voting system changes that they do not clearly understand because of the limited discussion or a lack of clarification. There is also the possibility that we really do like the easy to understand system that is now in use.

There is no question but that any changes to the simplicity of our present first-past-the-post system of voting will need careful thought. And we could be headed for trouble if we try to make any changes with which most Canadians might disagree.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

A line in the tar sand for Trudeau.

May 21st, 2016 by Peter Lowry

The ball is in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s court. A three-person panel of the Calgary-based National Energy Board has approved twinning the American-owned Kinder Morgan pipeline. The board panel has stipulated some 157 conditions related to it but the key is getting the Canadian Cabinet to sign off on the approval. That is anticipated later this year.

The Kinder Morgan proposal—also known as the Trans Mountain Pipeline—has been opposed by the British Columbia provincial government and the major B.C. cities of Burnaby and Vancouver as well as indigenous peoples and environmental groups. The proposal is to twin the original pipeline that was built in 1953 and triple the throughput with high pressure for heated, diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands.

The federal cabinet can expect to be under intense pressure from environmentalists on one side and Alberta politicians on the other. The stipulation that Kinder Morgan carry $1.1 billion in liability coverage will hardly appease environmentalists. Alberta business and political interests can only see the serious problem they face in being unable to get the tar sands output to tide water where it can be put in tankers and sent to third world countries with lax environmental standards.

But, in addition to the pipeline concerns, environmentalists are also worried about the danger of tanker spills with the greatly increased traffic in the waters leading out to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

But even if the Canadian cabinet refuses the Kinder Morgan go-ahead, there are still other options for the pipeline and tar sands interests to fight over. While the Northern Gateway proposal by Enbridge to Kitimat, B.C. has been mired in legal challenges since being approved by the Harper cabinet, it is still very much a tar sands company’s dream solution. Despite Justin Trudeau promising the banning of tanker traffic into the proposed Kitimat terminal, nothing has been heard on that promise from his transport minister.

The major betting has remained on the Energy East proposal by TransCanada Pipelines. This 4500 kilometre pipe would run all the way to the Irving Oil tanker terminal in the Bay of Fundy. This route has been knee-capped by the Quebec government that finally realized what that bitumen could do to the environment if there was a spill in the Quebec portion.

At the same time, New Brunswick environmental groups and agencies are realizing that doubling the oil tanker traffic into the Bay of Fundy might put marine income and tourism at risk.

But all this does not make us feel sorry for those business people who just want to make money out of Canada’s tar sands.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Taking the measure of Minister Monsef.

May 20th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Last we heard, the former MP from Maryam Monsef’s Peterborough electoral district was still arguing over the length of his prison sentence. Former MP Dean Del Mastro, having failed to do the honourable thing by committing ritual seppuku after being found guilty of election fraud, has continued various appeals against his conviction. Maybe he likes seeing pictures of himself in prison shackles. News editors certainly do.

And if you think that the Del Mastro incident should be cautionary, Minister Monsef has now been compared to the irrepressible Paul Calandra, the gone but hardly forgotten Conservative MP from Oak Ridges—Markham. Mind you, that comparison could be overkill. Instead of dealing in facts answering questions for the former prime minister, Calandra told the House fairy tales.

Though it is often difficult to write about the outrages of our parliamentarians in Ottawa with a straight face, political commentator Chantal Hèbert might have been reaching in her recent article in the Toronto Star to cast Monsef as being as obfuscating as the infamous Calandra. The basic difference just might be that Calandra knew what he was doing. Monsef, in taking her turn, might just be as naïve as she appears. We suspect that in last year’s election, Monsef’s pet gerbil could have put on a red jacket and won Kawartha–Peterborough riding for the Liberal Party.

But we need to bear in mind that Maryam Monsef MP is not the most experienced gerbil in parliament. Her ego might be getting ahead of her intelligence. Her only previous political experience was a run at being elected mayor of Peterborough. That endeavour ended poorly.

But our newly minted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got this crazy, but charming, idea of having a balanced gender cabinet. It was a great idea but he had to sort through a limited number of female candidates to come up with enough material for a cabinet. Ms. Monsef might not have been a first choice. She might look nice but her answers in parliament are not the most scintillating. So far, she has been propped up in her job by House Leader Dominic LeBlanc but he has his own fish to fry.

And nobody is convinced of Ms. Monsef’s knowledge of Canada’s democratic institutions nor of her management skills to run even a small department. Her limited experience with the voting systems of Iran and Afghanistan would have to be discounted as she left that part of the world when very young. Frankly Justin Trudeau should have given her more time to learn the ropes of an MP before throwing the democratic institutions portfolio at her.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Politics is for the rich in Ontario.

May 19th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

It seems the Ontario Liberals want to keep politics in Ontario as a rich person’s game. After all, how many of us can come up with as much as $7,750 in donations each year to our party of choice? And that is on top of the more than $2 per vote subsidy to be provided to the parties to supposedly wean the parties off the big bucks from corporations and unions.

Mind you a single corporation can probably contribute $150,000 with judicious giving through its executives and board members. To which Premier Wynne would probably say: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

You really do not think that the party in power would do itself any harm in updating political donations do you?

The Liberal dominated legislative committee will be considering this bill over the summer. It is expected that they will stick to a minimum of sitting days. And they would hardly invite a skeptical Liberal apparatchik such as this one to make comments.

Besides, the Conservative and New Democratic members of the committee will only be there to earn some extra money over the summer. (Oh, you did not know that they were paid handsomely for their onerous summer chores?)

But it is the experienced campaign managers for each party who are the most knowledgeable about how political donations get from the deep pockets of contributors to where they are influencing votes for the party. And, in this Internet age, all parties are becoming more adept at drawing maximum funds from their on-line supporters.

And the party apparatchiks would hardly be among those who would leave the central party’s fundraising unlimited. That would leave the leader and the central party in total control of the party and its election process.

Nor would the apparatchiks like the high limit of $100,000 on third-party advertising. That would certainly buy a lot of full-page ads that could help turn an election around.

What also needs to be recognized are the many unrecorded debts that a candidate and party accumulate throughout an election. While these contributions might be considered of no monetary value, they are of very real value to the campaign and to the member of the provincial parliament.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Welcome to our revolution.

May 18th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Canadians seem to range from raging lassitude to constrained ennui. It is hard to get them excited or motivated over more than a hockey game. It is not that they do not care, they just consider their own lives more interesting.

This concern came up the other day by way of a long e-mail from a fellow progressive. He thought young Trudeau might be the answer for Canada last year but he now has his vote parked firmly with the Greens. He tells us he is surprised by the progressiveness of their platform. Obviously, with the fewer people writing it, the more progressive your platform can become.

In disparaging Justin Trudeau, our fellow progressive now refers to him as ‘Slick.’ He believes that both the Liberals and New Democratic Party have succumbed to neoliberal corporatism. He sees Trudeau and team selling us out for a few pieces of silver to the Europeans and to Trans-Pacific Rape.

And yet your Babel-on-the-Bay writer has an honourable background of protest. In 1993, we tried to help Mel Hurtig. He was less than pleased when some of us Toronto supporters started to refer to his new party as the National Socialist Party of Canada. It was soon obvious that the National Party was a disaster in the making and we smarter apparatchiks bowed out. The only good news in the 1993 election was that the National Party got more votes than the Greens.

Through the decade of scrimmaging between Jean Chrètien and Paul Martin, we were too busy keeping our head above water to give a damn about either. And the Liberal Party of Canada was something of a lost cause. We felt sorry for Stèphane Dion, puzzled by Michael Ignatieff but speaking to young Trudeau before he ran for the leadership gave us some hope.

But our progressive friend thinks that Justin Trudeau will soon show his true corporatist colors. He is distrustful and believes that we will be told of pipelines to build, trade deals to sign. He sees no place for himself in a Canadian party that works against progressivism.

What needs to be said here is that progressives do not necessarily leave the Liberal Party. The party tends to want to exorcise us. We can remember pleading with our old friend Paul Martin when Chètien made him finance minister in ’93. Paul took an axe to some of the most vital social programs and the corporations applauded. He forgot that corporations do not vote. And the voters could see no difference between him and Stephen Harper. Martin held the door open for the Harper era.

Justin Trudeau continues to tantalise the progressives still in his party. Most of us still hope that we are of some little influence. Time alone will tell.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Overwhelming ennui on democratic reform.

May 17th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef must feel like Cinderella—left behind while everyone else goes to the ball. And here she was under the impression that the Prime Minister was asking her to do something important. We could have given her a head’s up but she ignored us.

Even the chattering classes have been admitting in print and broadcast media lately that nobody is particularly interested in her approach to voting reform. They can say this because they are mainly interested in the process proposed and have few answers on the subject.

This was obvious nine years ago when Ontario had a referendum on the question. Voting reform is just not a hot topic. Awareness of the issue takes a rare mixture of political experience and frustration, extensive study of alternatives and a curiosity about how people feel about issues. There was no surprise when the Ontario rejected the proposed Mixed Member Proportional system in 2007 but what surprised some was the number of people who voted ‘yes’ who had no idea what they were voting for.

What is very clear up front is that the Trudeau government is going to have to find a way to back gracefully away from the foolish pledge to change the way we vote. Mind you, they can keep their promise by simply changing to Internet voting and an offer of run-off votes in close races. Internet voting is cheap enough to make run-off voting fast, feasible and frugal.

The opposition in Ottawa would not have as much to complain about with this approach as balance in parliament can be restored in the second vote. It is hard to deny voters a reasoned second vote.

The main complaint about first-past-the-post voting is that you can get elected with less than 50 per cent of the votes when there are three or more candidates. Run-off votes are much more democratic than preferential voting.

Preferential voting requires the voters to number their choices 1, 2, 3, etc. The losers’ second choices are then counted to decide the winner. This effectively makes the losers the choosers.

But seeing what happened in the first vote can change people’s minds about their second choice. As the French say about their run-off system “You vote with your heart in the first vote; you vote with your head in the second.”

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Trudeau doesn’t know democracy.

May 16th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

One of the promises Justin Trudeau made to Canadian Liberals before becoming Liberal leader was that he would restore democracy in the party. He lied. He is now asking us to give up any of the rights we had as members of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Justin Trudeau wants the Liberal Party to just be his personal fan club.

At the party’s biennial convention May 26 to 29, Justin Trudeau is asking delegates to renounce their rights as Liberals and to approve a new party constitution. It is now a simple constitution for a top-down party. The details will be supplied by the national executive. Regions and electoral districts will be under the national executive’s direction.

Those Liberals who stuck by the party through lean years are to be cast aside as the fan club pays nothing and gets in line for their selfies with Justin.

This is certainly not liberalism. Party membership is not a cult. Party membership is a commitment by progressively minded people to contribute their time, their energy to working together to create the ideas, the public enthusiasm and promoting the candidates for public office to bring their progressive ideas to fruition.

Liberals do not work for their leader. They work with their leader. They choose their local candidates because they know who their neighbours will want to support. They send their policy ideas up the party hierarchy to be discussed and voted on, not to be edited.

Trudeau signed an e-mail to Liberals recently that said the new constitution would create a party that was more open, innovative and engaging than ever before. Why is he selling this crap? What has he got against us being hard working and opinionated? Does he have some special insight that makes him infallible? After all he is the one who stood up in the middle of an election and made the stupid promise that it would be the last time Canadians voted under first-past-the-post.

What he does not seem to understand is that the Canadian people are forgiving. He had no problem with his numbers of Syrian refugees in Canada by New Year’s Day. Nobody needs to criticize him for saying he might have been over-reaching with his promise on voting systems. It all needs far more study and Canadians need to be more fully informed on the possible changes. He needs to create a bi-partisan commission that welcomes dialogue and meets with Canadians to discuss options.

He also needs to let the Liberal Party muddle along in writing its own constitution. Justin Trudeau can exercise his one vote as he wishes.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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