Should everyone have to vote?

February 9th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Many years ago a senior public relations guy gave a tongue-in-cheek speech to a service club about the people we elect to parliament. The theory he presented was that we should also have stupid Members of Parliament because stupid people should be entitled to representation. As politically incorrect as the message might have been, it came to mind when a reader accused us of having “distain” for “poorer socio-economic groups.”

It can come as something of a surprise to be accused of putting other people down. The subject under discussion was the extent of illiteracy in Canada and the people who come to the polls and yet are unable to perform the basic function of voting. It is insulting to be told you look down on them. Having worked in many elections for either Elections Canada or as a functionary of a political party, we have always been impressed by the accommodations Elections Canada will make for the voter. Canadians can be very proud of the Elections Canada tradition.

But we do have concerns with the admonition to people just to get out and vote. Would it not make more sense to say: “Think about it and then vote”? Many people lead complex and busy lives and are not in touch with politics. It is not that they have no interest in community or country but politics might not be as important to them.

The reason we are such a strong advocate of the ground game (canvassing and getting voters to the polls) in politics is because of the very critical need to talk to all voters. Canvassers in politics are asked to listen. They are given a basic statement for the voter at the door but then they need to listen to that voter and report back to the campaign headquarters with key comments. It is the sum of these doorway conversations that influences the wrap-up and sometimes the results of the local campaign.

But we will never be an advocate for making everybody vote. We will fight to ensure everyone has the right but there are people who are hard to motivate. Having a nephew who is mentally challenged, we rarely discuss elections with him. It is not something that interests him. It is more important to reassure him of his worth as a human being.

As a writer, you can hardly live in a vacuum. You listen to people about their lives and experiences. You encourage feedback (positive and negative) from readers. And you share your opinions. If you have no opinions, you have nothing to write about.

And frankly we do not believe in electing stupid people in politics. By us all paying a bit more attention, we can do better.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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February 8th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Do you have beer in your grocery store? Are you one of the favoured few in Ontario? Here in Barrie we are being discriminated against. We are being denied a proper university here in central Ontario and we cannot even drown our sorrows in grocery-store beer. It is not as though our Liberal MPP can do anything about it. We still have to go to those awful recycling places called Beer Stores to get beer. And that is no fun at all.

Ontario residents are usually stoical about our out-of-date Beer Stores. They assume that there is little that can be done about it. You can ask your local MPP how much money is given by the foreign owners of the Beer Store to the Ontario Liberals and Conservatives and how much the brewers retail union gives to the NDP each year? That might help figure out the answer.

The very fact that foreign companies can give money to our politicians is a disgrace that many jurisdictions do not allow. They consider it a corrupt practice. In Ontario we are behind the times in more than selling beer.

Obviously grocery companies are also allowed to give our politicians money. It got them to a point where they can bid on opportunities to sell beer under very stringent rules.

But many in Ontario thought times were changing. It took more than a year for the government to get organized for beer in a few grocery stores. The bureaucrats had to make new rules just for grocery stores. Stores had to be invited to apply for licensing. Bidding took place by eager grocery groups. The first few licenses were granted for beer. Wine will come later. Much later.

Some people thought: Wow, we will have good merchandising, weekly specials and competition for our beer dollars. Forget it! The price is fixed folks. No specials in beer. The best you are going to get is PC Points or Air Miles on your six-pack.

And all you can get to buy is six packs. Two-Fours and 12-packs are still the exclusive province of the Beer Store recyclers. It is the same deal as the LCBO.

But the one hope we had was that good merchandisers such as experienced grocery chains would figure out how to properly merchandise beer. We thought they could really show up those simpletons at the Beer Store. No such luck. Civil servants are making the rules here and do not forget it.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Can Trudeau open the sepulchres of government?

February 7th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Can Canadians have an open government? Do we want one? Can Trudeau deliver it? They are all good questions. The problem inherent in the questions is Justin Trudeau’s understanding of how Ottawa really works. He might be biting off far more than his limited experience can handle.

Of note is the fact that Justin’s father Pierre Trudeau was hardly as naïve as his son when he won the Liberal Party Leadership and the Prime Minister’s job in 1968. He had the advantage of having worked in the Privy Council Office and his close friend Marc Lalonde had been working in Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s office. As a young Marc Lalonde laughingly explained to us when Pierre Trudeau was chosen, he now had his work cut out for him as an ‘eminence gris.’ He was soon announced as Pierre Trudeau’s principal secretary. The young Trudeau has no such easy path to the knowledge of government processes.

Sepulchres and government buildings are most often built of native stone to survive the vicissitudes of centuries. Change can be glacial. And Ottawa has just been rescued from almost a decade of Conservative control. After that time of cuts, program curtailment, dismissals, constraint and ideological governance, the civil service is relieved but wary.

Nobody in Ottawa is ready to shift to being proactive. They are going to continue to keep their cards close to their vests and their resumes ready. The incoming Liberals might talk a good story about openness and accountability, but nobody in the long-beleaguered city is rushing to hold a Roman triumph for the jubilant Liberals.

And besides, delay, obfuscation and distrust had been built into the civil service DNA. Sure they know it is easy to fire them but then they just come back as consultants for three times the money.

And never forget that government openness only creates more work for public relations professionals. The much vaunted openness to citizen input hardly means that anyone is actually listening.

That very shallow program starring Peter Mansbridge, Justin Trudeau and ten “random” Canadians was one of the silliest and boring shows ever created by the CBC. It was supposed to be discussions face-to-face with the prime minister but it turned out to be concerns of Canadians and blandishments of Justin Trudeau. It was meaningless. We sincerely hope that the attempt to open Ottawa is not as meaningless.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Minister Monsef ‘s measure.

February 6th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

How would you like to have a job based on proving your boss is right? It seems the same as Canada’s Fraser Institute that is always commissioning studies designed to prove the Institute’s right-wing theories. Now we have a cabinet minister trying to implement her leader’s campaign promise that Canadians will never again use first-past-the-post voting to elect a federal government. It was a rash promise and neophyte Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef might not measure up to the task of implementing it.

It is hardly her fault. Psephology (the study of elections and voting) is not a common topic at dinner tables in this country. Nor do civics classes delve deeply into the subject. And judging by what we read from published political science post-graduates, real expertise is rare.

But that does not preclude lots of opinions that people are quite willing to share. For all we know, Minister Monsef might be more knowledgeable than her leader. She might even be wondering how the government would explain a change in voting to Canadians.

While Prime Minister Trudeau leans towards preferential voting systems, Ms. Monsef has probably already figured out that that would be a really hard sell. Quite a number of amateur experts have already figured out that in the election just past, the Liberals would have even more seats if a form of preferential voting was in place. There were lots of Canadians who preferred the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens while the Conservative support was sliding. Best guess, the Liberals would have won about 30 more seats if being elected required a 50 per cent or more preference.

Conversely, a run-off vote in those electoral districts where nobody won a majority would likely have produced more victories for the Greens and NDP. It would be a clear indication that preferential voting is not the same as a run-off election. Since run-off elections can be much less costly when using Internet voting, that is something that needs to be considered.

And proportional voting is far more complex a question. There are many variables in proportional voting. And there are more things it does not do than it accomplishes. It does not ensure more women and minorities are selected. It does not often produce majority governments. It does not improve the transparency of government. And since proportional voting was designed for voters who are mostly illiterate, why would we need it in Canada?

Minister Monsef is an unusual choice to address such a complex question for the government. She might be very willing and adroit in the task but she is coming from a serious lack of experience in government. She is going to have to prove to be a very, very quick study.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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It’s not the pipelines, it’s the bitumen.

February 5th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Thank goodness for mayors who can call a spade a spade. Not every city enjoys that luxury. The only problem is that mayors and their municipalities have no jurisdiction over pipelines. What they do is posture for their voters and then conveniently remember it is not their bailiwick when the going gets tough.

Toronto Mayor John Tory blew by the pipeline issue in the last Toronto election because he did not want a fight with fellow Conservative Stephen Harper at the time. Toronto has a pipeline right through the city that is currently preparing to pump diluted bitumen through high density housing areas. It was quietly given the final go-ahead in the middle of last year’s federal election.

But if it was just crude oil, there would not be the concern. The Enbridge Line 9 is an old pipeline that has pumped crude oil back and forth for almost 40 years. With increased line pressure and the corrosive nature of bitumen, it is a disaster waiting to happen. What is particularly grating is that the National Energy Board approved the Line 9 reversal to specifically pump crude oil at a variety of high pressures. There is no mention of bitumen in the NEB order.

Bitumen is what you get when you wash the sands out of tarsands. Bitumen is a potpourri of chemicals in a viscous tarry substance that can be converted to synthetic oil. It can be pumped through a pipeline by diluting it with hydrocarbons, heating it and pumping it at high pressure. When it gets to a refinery, the conversion process creates vast quantities of what is called bitumen slag which can be used as a highly polluting fuel. This is a major component of what is referred to as downstream carbon emissions. Bitumen is polluting our environment even before it becomes fuel for your gas-burning automobile.

Bitumen is a triple threat polluter. The tar sands exploiting companies are polluting the Alberta environment with vast acreages of settling ponds for the polluted water and tar sands residue. The refineries dread the bitumen slag that can blow like a dirty cloud over their communities. And bitumen spills from a pipeline are a triple threat that can never come clean as on water the hydrocarbon thinner floats and the bitumen goes to the bottom, while on land the bitumen can seep down and pollute the water table.

While Prime Minister Trudeau will bend over backwards to try to save the Alberta tar sands, the mayors are right. There is no redemption for bitumen to be shoved down a pipeline. Rebuilding the Canadian economy has to be high priority but it cannot be done at the expense of our environment.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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What if nobody voted in the by-election?

February 4th, 2016 by Peter Lowry

We had a by-election for council in a Barrie ward the other day. Admittedly it was the middle of winter but you would think that more people would have voted. Out of almost 10,000 potential voters, only 17.5 per cent bothered to vote. It makes you wonder what the heck the city would have done if nobody bothered to vote?

It would not have happened though. Since one of the 12 candidates lived in the ward he would have won by default. He was the only one who could vote for himself.

Babel-on-the-Bay made no prediction on this race. It had to be the candidate with the best ground game. And nobody runs a great ground game in the middle of a Barrie winter. It is like when you put up your signs and the next day there is another dump of 30 centimetres of snow.

But we had an idea about the guy who won. He watched closely when we were running the mayor’s ground game the first time the mayor won. He was a sitting councillor at the time and lost his seat then because he thought he was a shoo-in. We hear now that he had the best ground game of any of the 12 candidates in this by-election. And he admitted what a tough job it was.

Yet he had the worst signs. They were smaller than the rest, had poor visibility and were badly located. The guy with the best signs—that were not obviously Conservative—even had his picture on them. They were impressive. He finished the race out of the money, back with the field.

Second place went to a local sports broadcaster. The guy does a great job on the Barrie Colts hockey games but obviously not enough voters in the ward have cable or are interested in Barrie’s Colts. He should not feel badly, if the ward people do not have cable, they also would not be able to watch the Barrie Council meetings.

Third and fourth place in the by-election went to a Conservative wannabe and a Liberal who has contested a federal nomination in the area.

Also finishing out of the money was one of Patrick Brown’s favourite real estate agents and a Liberal who just completed an appointment on the police services board.

Nobody asked this apparatchik for advice. We cut our political teeth on the frozen ground of municipal winter elections. No advice was asked; none was given


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Ontario Premier Wynne wins India.

February 3rd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Patrick Brown MPP eat your heart out. You are no longer India’s darling. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has won the media wars in the world’s largest democracy. In homophobic India, a lesbian politician from Canada was a big hit. It never occurred to us Canadians that Kathleen Wynne taking her husband Jane with her was unusual.

But all of India is not as gender friendly as Mumbai which is known as the gay capital of the Sub-Continent. The Indian news media were delighted that the Canadians were invited to the Sikh Golden Temple in Punjab. They were sure the Sikhs would refuse to honour their visitor with the traditional robes during the visit because the Sikh religion abhors same-sex liaisons.

Obviously Ontario Sikhs put in a good word for Ms. Wynne and no international incident took place. After all the clothing she modelled for the news media was just inexpensive cotton. It just made her look like somebody’s granny.

But, at the same time, it was insensitive of the Premier to not pay attention in the briefings by her staff. The staff would have known about the controversy that would surround the premier’s partner coming on the trip. While we would never say that Jane should be left at home, her relationship with the premier needs to be treated as casually as it is in Toronto.

India still has a way to go to finally rid itself of the last of the caste system and to better control the extremes of religion that are found there. And we can hardly expect the burgeoning news media there to not play up the novelty of Ontario’s trade delegation.

But we should try to remember that the premier’s trip has important objectives for Ontario business. Canada can make many products that are needed in the Indian market and, in turn, they have many products that are of interest to us. Improving trade is very important to both economies. While a person such as Ontario Provincial Conservative Leader Patrick Brown might need his connections in India to improve his political gravitas, Wynne’s objective is trade to improve Ontario’s economy.

Admittedly, the payoff for the premier to take this trip is the better relations with the business community people who join her and the publicity the trip generates. From the Sikh Golden Temple to Mahatma Ghandi’s tomb, it is a win-win situation for Wynne. There is no question but that Patrick Brown only uses his connections with India for purely personal purposes.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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How fast can the Trudeau team pedal backwards?

February 2nd, 2016 by Peter Lowry

It was all the fault of the Global team that had parliamentary reporter Vassy Kapelos filling in for Tom Clark on his West Block program on Sunday. She was a distraction. It started with Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion saying that we would soon know what the Trudeau government will do about bringing the F-18s home from the Middle East. And then he was heading off for Ukraine to reassure the people there that we were still on their side against the Russians.

Maybe it was just to check on that, Global brought on the Russian Ambassador to Canada. Not immune to the interviewer’s good looks, the Ambassador assured Ms. Kapelos that Canada and Russia have many important subjects to discuss and work on. And by keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the desk between them, the Ambassador was able to complete his diplomatic answer. He also had some excellent double-speak on the Syrian situation that seemed to be revealed to him by the interview desk. He allowed that the problems in Syria might be complicated. He never did tell us what is going on in Ukraine these days.

But it was our Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan who clarified that we would all know soon. He must have said it ten times that all will be revealed to us soon. And until then Minister Sajjan was not telling Vassy or her viewers a damn thing.

The only problem with all this soon business, we were becoming quite convinced that the Trudeau government has not a clue as to what to do about the Middle East mess. We might as well continue bombing the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). After three months of hearing “soon” a serious credibility gap is developing.

One of the problems we are beginning to wonder about is the extent of the war that is going to take place between the Kurds and the Iraqis if ISIL is ever vanquished. With the Americans arming and training the Iraqis, why are our Canadian troops involved in training the Kurds? While there have been mentions of some vague additional training missions, we can ill-afford to be caught between the Kurds and their long-time oppressors in Bagdad.

We should not forget that the guys in charge in Bagdad these days might not care much about the Kurdish lands but they are rather attached to the oil under those lands.

Frankly, the Canadians need to get the hell out of Dodge sooner than soon.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Patrick Brown where are you?

February 1st, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Patrick Brown MPP needs to decide whether he is his provincial party’s leader or its chief apparatchik. In politics, an apparatchik is a person who usually toils in the background of a party coming up with and implementing strategies and tactics with which to win power. Watching Mr. Brown at work in politics over the past ten years has been a constant series of lessons in sleaze, distain for voters, abuse of privilege, careless accounting, hypocrisy and dissembling.

And besides, the man lacks personality. The first time we met him he offered to shake hands and it must have been an involuntary reaction that we snatched our hand away. Knowing nothing about him at the time, the reaction surprised us as well as him. We were told later that he has a limp and unconvincing handshake.

Very early in his public career, the young Mr. Brown must have realized he is a poor public speaker, with little to say that has not been written for him. To overcome this limitation, he chose to insinuate himself with local charities and piggyback himself on their needs. He spent record amounts of public funds sending cheap and unconvincing mailers to constituents promoting his party and this or that charity. You met the occasional ignorant Barrie native who would actually say “Mr. Brown really supports local charity.” That was all they knew about him.

The fact that Brown spent close to nine years in Ottawa as nothing but another vote for Mr. Harper tells his story. He was just another drone. He spent all that time contributing nothing. The only times he thought for himself, he voted for extremist religious motions that went nowhere.

It was when his friend MPP Tim Hudak crashed and burned as Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader in the last provincial election, Brown saw opportunity. One of his perks in Ottawa had been many free trips to the Indian Sub-Continent. He knew the size of the Indian Diaspora in Ontario was five times that of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party membership—and nobody had to be a Canadian citizen. All he had to do was hire organizers at Hindu temples and Muslim mosques. It was all in a day’s work for an unconscionable apparatchik. And nobody even checked if these people paid their own membership.

And today, in new, properly tailored suits and a Toronto salon hairstyle, Mr. Brown is living the life of Riley in Toronto. He has writers and female staff to hide his limitations.

But where do you find him? He is interfering in the campaigns of the Conservatives who are running in a Barrie Council by-election and he is in Whitby-Oshawa behind the scenes of the by-election to replace his provincial opponent Christine Elliott. Once an apparatchik; always an apparatchik!


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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In the doldrums of a Canadian winter.

January 31st, 2016 by Peter Lowry

Not even Bonhomme Carnaval can cure the January-February blahs this year. Eating and drinking too much in Quebec City might be a popular pastime at this time of year but you also used to have the option of heading south soon afterward. Sure you can. If you can find a warm spot where our 70-cent loonie is appreciated?

Even those of us staying at home are looking at prices in the grocery store and grinding our teeth. And we are still paying a lot more for gasoline than we should be at the current prices of crude oil. We even growled at the nice people down at the tire place when they had to replace a valve in one of our snow tires. Mind you, for $40, you are entitled to growl about it.

Catching up on the current flag debate in New Zealand yesterday shows how desperate we are for new topics to comment on. It is about time the Kiwis got themselves a flag that can be distinguished from the Aussie flag. The only problem is that the most common term used for the debate on a new flag there is “desultory.” Compared to the rousing Canadian debate of half a century ago, the Kiwis are putting people to sleep.

The other problem for New Zealand is that they were fearful of a debate over the monarchy and they have shoved that subject to the back burner. That is just as stupid as us Canucks with our heads in the snow and ignoring the need to rid our country of the British monarchy.

The Brit monarchy is not half bad compared to the spawn of Victoria giving monarchs a bad name on the continent but you do realize do you not that this is the 21st Century? Here we are trying to promote equality between our citizens, our genders and our preferred languages and we continue a silly anachronism such as the monarchy.

We can change our constitution in a civilized way or we can have a revolution. The idea of revolution might appeal to some of us but they would have no clue as to who to shoot.

And we could never have a revolution in winter anyway. Not enough Canadians want to go outside to play at this time of year. And then in summer, we are too busy mowing the lawn at our cottages.

And the other problem is the otherwise healthy readership of Babel-on-the-Bay drops like a rock when we discuss such boring subjects as the monarchy. So what would you like to discuss next?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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