If you cannot change FPTP, annoy!

March 29th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Nobody has ever accused the Internet Intifada of being smart. Nor are all bloggers brilliant. The twits on Twitter can be quite antisocial and FaceBook denizens are like Adonis searching the vastness of the digital pool for their reflected self. And in all of these public venues uninformed opinions rage. Nobody seems to gain knowledge from experience. This comes to mind today in considering the arguments of people who want to change how Canadians vote. There is so much mealy-mouthed agreement among them that you would think that change is inevitable.

But it is not. Canadians like the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system we have and see no need to change it. We say this based on three province wide votes, two in British Columbia (2005 and 2009) and one in Ontario (2007). Those voters actually cast ballots to tell the powers to be to stuff it. A single-transferable vote system in B.C. failed to pass in 2005 and then was rejected by a full 60 per cent of voters in 2009. Ontario took one look at a simpler mixed-member proportional voting in 2007 and rejected the idea.

The only problem is that the losers promoting a ‘yes’ vote seem inclined to be insidious. We are being constantly bombarded by the Internet Intifada that continues to preach against our first-past-the-post voting. Organizations such as Fair Vote (originating in the U.S.) are relentless in seeking converts.

What is annoying is that these gremlins are so negative that you cannot get any dialogue going. Nobody is trying to tell them that FPTP is the perfect answer to all voting needs. There are times when that voting system can let us down. What we need to do is analyze those problem areas and address them in a spirit of cooperation.

At one time, we were leaning towards preferential voting in situations were there were large numbers of candidates. This turns out not to work in practice because it proves to be easy to manipulate. It is much fairer to have a run-off vote that allows all voters to reconsider their vote once the candidates with the least votes are eliminated. And with the growing acceptance of Internet voting, it has become an inexpensive answer to giving us winners that are the majority choice.

What people such as Fair Vote do is make flat statements that FPTP is unfair, or claim that proportional voting will elect more women and minorities. Their problem is that these claims are false. They have to realize that Canadians are well educated by world standards and do not accept claims without proof. They should get better arguments or get lost.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

A paean for once-great Montreal.

March 28th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Political writer Chantal Hèbert recently wrote a requiem for Montreal in the Toronto Star. She described the city as a political orphan. It is no surprise. Montreal has become insular. It is a city that has forgotten its wondrous past and searches for a future. It is a city that has forgotten that for people to give a damn about you, you first need to care about others.

It was not always like this. There were happier times. There was a glorious Expo and the world came to Montreal. And then there was the crack of the bat by les Expos when the Habs missed the Stanley playoffs. Montreal has produced great business ventures, major medical research centres, prestigious institutes of learning and leaders in the arts. Montreal has much to build on.

We have always loved Montreal for its civility, fine cuisine, chic women, business savvy, worldliness, savoir faire, mix of cultures and, of course, the smoked meat at Ben’s. Montreal was so much more than it is today and it can be great again.

But first the people of Montreal have to learn that language can be a beacon, not a barrier. They have to seize the opportunity to supply the leadership that Quebec so desperately needs to be part of a new prosperity in the 21st Century.

Chantal Hèbert makes special note of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s wooing of Toronto’s new Mayor John Tory. She sees their working together on the needs of their cities as a very positive step for Montreal. It can work for both and John Tory is probably well aware of the benefits of a united front.

The surprise for Coderre will be learning that John Tory is more left-wing politically. Coderre is a Quebec Liberal and that party now embraces most right wing causes in that province. Toronto’s mayor might be in the same party as Stephen Harper but he is far more progressive.

But if the two mayors can identify the common causes of their respective cities, much can be accomplished. They can each bring their respective premiers on side but it needs both to convince whoever is prime minister for the next few years.

One of their objectives should be the creation of the high-speed electrified rail corridor from Windsor to Quebec City. That is a project of extreme national importance that is needed to restore the industrial, commercial and tourism economies of both provinces and Montreal and Toronto will be major beneficiaries.

Hèbert is quite right. They have to work as a team. Apart they are only pallbearers.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Are you mad? Are you going to take it any more?

March 27th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Have you been following the stupidity of Bell Canada owning CTV? It has been a steady downhill slope for CTV news under their masters at Bell Canada for the past five years. Former CTV boss Ivan Fecan really stuck it to Bell and his network when he sold CTV to the uninformed Bell management. The sale was approved despite many objections because of the political pressures of the Harper government on the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) of the time.

What the experts were talking about those days, but few understood, was the rapid convergence of digital transmission of radio and television with digital telecommunications. Canada ended up with financial consolidation in a communications market that was neither fully understood nor effectively planned. In their greed, Bell Canada, Quebecor, Rogers and Shaw simply grabbed for the biggest pieces of the market players.

And nobody in the know envied the new CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais’ position when he took over three years ago. If he does not speak nicely to some of the huge companies he is supposed to be regulating, they will call their friend Stephen Harper’s office and complain about him. They are not only quarrelsome but think he should bow low before them.

But he got even last week. Justice was delivered. The CRTC is still the regulator. The first shoe fell when he declared that the there will be a “skinny basic” package of television channels offered for just $25 by all the satellite, cable and telecommunications carriers. We had been asking the CRTC for this for the last decade and with an election later this year, the commissioners acted. They have also announced a pick-and-pay smorgasbord approach to specialty channels. There will be no more free rides for channels of questionable value to viewers.

The Prime Minister must have a sore ear by now if he listened to George Cope of Bell Canada about what the CRTC was doing to his company. George’s minion who runs Bell Media for him made the mistake of calling the head of CTV News to tell her to keep the CRTC chairman off of CTV news. That step finally caused an insurrection by some of CTV’s senior news people and the silly Bell guy had to apologize.

But there are far more subtle ways for Bell to manipulate CTV News. There could be some re-assignments down the road for certain news people at CTV. And never forget that it is the person who controls the budgets who ultimately calls the shots.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

When losers are choosers.

March 26th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Somebody needs to rap knuckles around Toronto. People who should know better keep coming up with really dumb ideas and nobody tells them to stop being stupid. Once again the gremlins are trying to screw up the way people vote. It is so bad that even Mayor John Tory wants to get in on the act and support preferential balloting.

Preferential voting is a no-brainer for dumb voters. Can you imagine the simplicity of lining up maybe four candidates for councillor in your ward and marking the ballot: 1, 2, 3 and 4? That is when ‘1’ represents the candidate you want and ‘4’ is the one you least want. It is like a beauty contest. The voter might feel happier about voting this way. What is wrong is the way the ballots are counted. That is when the voters are screwed.

Take a look at a current example of the problem: The Ontario Progressive Conservatives are using a preferential ballot in May to choose their new leader. The Tories are going to mark their ballots 1, 2 and 3 for Christine Elliott, Patrick Brown and Monte McNaughton. If Elliott gets 45 per cent of the first votes, Brown gets 40 per cent and McNaughton gets the remaining 15 per cent, you would assume that Elliott will easily get enough second votes from the McNaughton voters to win. Wrong. Most second votes from McNaughton will go to Brown. Brown is second choice of the Right-to-Life people supporting McNaughton. Elliott could lose because of it.

And that is the problem with preferential balloting. When losers are the choosers, the voters are the real losers. This is not the same as a run-off election. You are letting the losers be the choosers.

What a preferential ballot most often produces over time is a dumbing down of the elected body. It is like always choosing the second best chromosomes in a genetics experiment. If you keep doing it, eventually you produce a monster.

And it is particularly sad to hear people say that Toronto City Council should have the same ethnic composition as the population of Toronto. If you are choosing politicians by their ethnicity, sex or colour, you are headed for more trouble than you expect.

Preferential ballots can never replace run-off voting. If you want to be sure that the ultimate winner has the majority of the votes, you have to allow the voters to rethink their decision.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

“The enemy of my enemy is …”

March 25th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

There is something that needs to be understood by people afraid of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL): It is neither a state nor a country. It is an Internet and public relations savvy band of brigands and thieves feasting off the current civil war in Syria and the turmoil in leaderless Iraq. They are neither disciplined troops nor well commanded. Maybe Iraq asked Canada for help against the brigands but only a fool would get involved in the fighting in Syria when you have no side to support.

It is amazing how the Middle East always has handy heroes for the followers of the Prophet. From the mysterious Saladin of the Crusades to the Mahdi of the Sudan to Bin Laden of al Qaeda and now al-Baghadi, the false Caliph of ISIL, they raise the rabble and feed off of the Europeans and their progeny who so rashly challenge them.

Why should we follow fools to destruction? The British have 200 years of experience of providing army rations to the Afghans. And yet nobody has ever been smart enough to destroy their opium poppies. All the time Canada was in Afghanistan, we were fighting the Taliban’s recruits from the madrasas (religious schools) of Pakistan to protect Afghanistan for its opium overlords..

Canada has no purpose to send armed personnel to the Middle East. There is no peace keeping to do there at the moment. There is much humanitarian aid needed—if we could just get the aid to the right people.

We should ask proponents of war with ISIL what they think we will accomplish. Does name calling by ill-informed, immature jihadists demand revenge? Does the cavorting of a few mentally ill Canadians demand the extremism of Harper’s Bill C-51? Is the purpose of the government to control our lives because of the bogeymen of their imagination?

What it comes down to is that for Canada to send its fighter aircraft to Syria is sending our pilots to their death. There are sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles available in Syria ready for their incursion. Who is there in that country who can rescue them, if they manage to survive a missile hit?

There can be no support for Mr. Harper in this foolhardy venture. Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have to travel their own paths but neither could pull their party behind them in support of the harm Mr. Harper is doing to our country.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

A requiem for our Democracy?

March 24th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

The other day, one of the more interesting progressive bloggers was discussing what he perceived as the three eras of Canada’s democracy. To discuss the three eras that interested him, he really needed to start with Canada at the end of the First World War. The reality is that Canada left its childhood behind when dispensing with R.B. Bennett and came of age under the leadership of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

But the writer was absolutely right to key his eras of democracy to prime ministers John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Mackenzie King only laid the groundwork. Maybe neither of us is old enough to remember what Mackenzie King accomplished for this country. We are both old enough though to remember John Diefenbaker and the great populist that he was. He tended to drive Mr. Pearson to distraction but he was the best opposition leader this country ever had.

Having met and talked privately with the three leaders is part of an interesting life. Mr. Diefenbaker was old-school and a very courteous gentleman. Mr. Pearson was also very much a gentleman and he had a warm sense of humour. It was Pearson, more than any other, who created the favourable world-wide reputation of Canada that Harper and his Conservatives are trying so hard to destroy.

Mind you, helping with many of Pierre Trudeau’s public functions in the Toronto area when he was prime minister was a special delight. He was by far the most intelligent of Canada’s leaders and always fun to talk with.

But what the blogger was addressing was the tearing down of our democracy in the Mulroney era. Mind you the seeds of that destruction came from Pierre Trudeau’s Royal Commission on Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada—The Macdonald Commission.

Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was something of a blow-hard who used subterfuge and guile to destroy and replace Joe Clark and he was leading Canada nowhere other than under the economic control of the Americans. It was right-wing Don Macdonald who saw his chance to convince Mulroney of free trade with his report. Maybe Thumper (as we called the Trudeau’s former finance minister) was not to blame for the mess Mulroney made of the deal but he should have recognized the incompetence.

To accuse Mulroney of neo-liberalism is to give the guy too much credit. He might not understand the term. And it is almost impossible to define Jean Chrètien as he always seemed to be a populist—a French Canadian version of John Diefenbaker.

If we understand the term ‘illiberal’ that the writer used, we will certainly apply it to both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper. They have set Canada on a path of increasing discomfort for Canadians. If we progressive liberals really believe in democracy, we have to fight for it.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Is there nothing left for the finance minister?

March 23rd, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Finance Minister Charles Sousa must have the easiest job in Ontario. He has Premier Kathleen Wynne making all the big decisions for him and TD Bank’s Ed Clark telling him how to handle the details. Which all goes to prove that in politics three wrongs do not make anything right. Which begs the question: why is Charles taking the blame?

The triumvirate seem to want to tell everybody about this budget before Charles reads it aloud in the Legislature some time in April or May. You would not expect there to be a budget lock-up if everyone already knows what is in the budget.

The only thing that is not really clear is the status of Hydro One. There has been a great deal of talk of selling off some of the hydro distribution systems in Ontario. All it will do is guarantee that consumers on those systems will pay more for electricity. That is just as silly as the Highway 407 fiasco. Selling off a public monopoly to make it a privately owned monopoly is just a license to rip off the public.

Now if we sold off the Liquor Control Board of Ontario that would be different. We would then allow people to open wine stores. Ontario citizens could buy beer where it is convenient in the neighbourhood, even at convenience stores. We could even have interesting and innovative liquor stores. This plan can make money for the province. There can be licenses, sales taxes, income taxes, business taxes and maybe even some lower sales prices for the consumers.

The point is that a monopoly that remains a monopoly should not be sold. A monopoly that can be sold to create new businesses, lots of jobs and more taxes is a very good idea.

But we already know that an up-tight, closed minded Premier has said she will not do that. Liberals used to be reformers. There is no possibility that the Premier is a reformer. She does not want to be a reformer. Nor is she a Liberal, very smart or very competent.

And that, in turn, reflects very badly on Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Charles told us that he used to be a banker. You have to wonder how he felt when the Premier told him that Ed Clark from TD Bank was going to help him do his job.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Does the Hair want us to get a gun?

March 22nd, 2015 by Peter Lowry

Canadians are getting mixed messages from their Prime Minister. His message last week to a gathering of rural municipal leaders in Saskatchewan was that there was a certain level of safety in having a gun in the home “when you are a ways from immediate police assistance.” Other than it sounding like a straight lift from American National Rifle Association handouts, the Hair was in conflict with Canadian law.

Canadian law requires that a gun be stored unloaded and both gun and ammunition be kept locked up in separate locations. You have no chance to put things together if the home is invaded. If you are smart, you let the thieves help themselves and let the police and insurance companies look after the fall-out.

When anti-gun lobbies responded about the foolishness of the Prime Minister’s statement, he dismissed them as accusing him of vigilantism. The problem is that it is urban gangs that use guns and other killers in Canada seem to prefer kitchen knives.

And invoking the image of rural home invasions is about as silly as you can get. Home invasions in rural areas are something from a writer’s imagination and do not even make it into Canadian crime statistics.

And the Hair also needs to remember that Canadians are not in tune with his out-of-date stand on guns and gun ownership. This is the Prime Minister who removed the long gun registry that was needed and used by our police.

It makes very little sense that the Hair is going in the wrong direction with guns. It is almost as though he was on a quest to open up the ownership of guns in Canada.

Most recently his government had an opportunity to take better control of gun shows in Canada. What his government did instead was to throw out what regulations there were.

At a time when the United States is trying to stop the killing of children with guns, Canada’s Conservative government is busily opening the doors to more freedom for our gun enthusiasts.

Back in the 1990s when the Hair was just good-ole boy Steve Harper, Reform MP from Calgary, he actually voted against his own party and for the Liberal Party’s creation of the long gun registry. Times do change in politics.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Brown and Pèladeau, a political pair.

March 21st, 2015 by Peter Lowry

You really have to wonder at people in Quebec thinking of Pierre-Karl Pèladeau as being the person to lead the Parti Quèbècois. That is like the prospect of Barrie MP Patrick Brown becoming leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. It is a very bad choice but for entirely different reasons.

The main difference between the two men is that at least Pèladeau is smart enough to know—or at least find out—that he is a square peg in a round hole. Brown might not be that smart. And that is despite Brown’s more extensive knowledge of politics. In fact, you sometimes get the impression that compared to Brown, Pèladeau might have the political instincts of a gerbil.

The latest gaffe by Pèladeau was something of a replay of the famous quote by an angry Jacques Parizeau at the end of the 1995 Quebec Referendum when he said that money and ethnics had cost the separatists their victory. Pèladeau put it even simpler that because immigration is controlled by the federal government that the Quebec separatists are losing ground. He explained that it was the immigration demographics that were causing the separatists to lose ground at the rate of a riding every year. He gave that as his reason for rushing the next referendum.

Besides being a square peg politically, Pèladeau also faces the problem of his attitude towards unions. He does not like them. This is a bit of a problem for him if he wants to lead the left of centre Parti Quèbècois. The party needs that union support.

Luckily for Brown, his party is ambivalent towards unions. With his enthusiastic endorsement of Timmy Hudak’s suggestion of firing 100,000 Ontario civil servants last year, Brown has obviously never been on the side of people who work for a living. In fact, that might be the main difference between Brown and Pèladeau. Brown has a very limited amount of experience with working at anything. Pèladeau started at the top and he won some and lost some—it was his late daddy’s company.

The basic problem is that Pierre-Karl has far too much to learn about politics and Patrick has too much to learn about real life. Nobody is particularly concerned about their prospect of winning their respective party leaderships. Either will be a disaster. They would do irreparable harm.

It is not that we care very much about what happens to the separatist Parti Quèbècois but in Ontario, the Wynne Whigs need some intelligent opposition.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Lessons for Canada in Israel’s elector impotence.

March 20th, 2015 by Peter Lowry

It looks like Benjamin Netanyahu has once again used the Israeli form of proportional representation to cling to power in the Israeli Knesset. Israel uses proportional representation that only allows the voter to select a political party. The representatives are then appointed according to each party’s closed lists. What it means is that ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, with only 25 per cent of the popular vote, can now put together the coalition he wants to control the Israeli government.

The difference in Canada is that our major parties have to reach for a plurality of the votes. That forces them to put their coalitions together before the election, not afterward. Canadians can see what they are getting.

When Netanyahu took a hard swing to the political right during the election campaign, it was mainly posturing to get as many right wing votes as possible. Those he could not win over were the parties that he is now negotiating with to form a coalition. He has to get the support of the extreme right wing as well as adding the ultra orthodox religious parties to his coalition.

If Canada used proportional representation, we would also have more than a dozen parties. Whichever party won the most seats would then be given an opportunity to form a government that could win support in parliament.

It is because of our first-past-the-post system of voting that our fewer parties are broader in their coverage of voters. The Conservative Party of Canada, for example, was created by Stephen Harper from the Canadian Alliance which had replaced the Reform Party of Canada and the older Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.

The new Conservative Party was made up of the right wing of Canadian politics that included the religious right’s anti-abortionists, the social conservatives such as the pro-death penalty supporters and the business supporters.

The Liberal Party of Canada also covers a broad spectrum of both left and right wing as its philosophy is based more on individual rights. It attracts intellectuals as well as some of the more progressive unions and has dominated much of the last 100 years of Canada as a country.

The third party, the New Democrats, are still mired in the unionism of the early 20th Century and have been trying hard to move toward the middle of the political spectrum.

This is why Canadian parties spend so much effort in campaigning in defining where they might like to go if elected. Voters always need to know: What is the emphasis this time?

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(And that is about as much as you can simplify Canadian politics in less than 500 words!)

Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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