Archive for October, 2009

#44 – Minutes of Meeting 23: Republican League of Canada, Babel Chapter.

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Harry Sterns got the meeting underway at 7:14 pm—ignoring his wife who was telling Ethel Brown her recipe to make peach cobbler. (I’ve tried her peach cobbler and it’s darn good. The recipe is appended to the minutes.)

Harry, once more, reminded the secretary that she was not to put her own opinions in the minutes. Nobody made any objections to the minutes of the last meeting, so we have no idea if anyone, other than Harry, has a problem with the secretary’s opinions. Motion by Ralph Goode, second by Myrna Sterns to accept the minutes, motion carried.

The treasurer reported that he gave all the money ($82.15) to Harry to go to Buffalo (and not stop at the casino in Niagara Falls) when former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is speaking there and see if she will be our guest speaker to boost attendance at our next annual meeting. (This led to the usual arguments about whether we are supposed to be Irish republicans or American republicans—still unresolved.)

Harry told us the big news: it seems the English guy with the big ears is bringing that skag of a wife of his for an official visit to Babel. No wonder we have such a good crowd tonight. (Except for Mildred Lapierre who has gone into labour with her seventh but her husband Maurice is here and he insists that he have two votes.) And you should have heard the protests when Harry said this was our chance to protest and get our league better known.

Tom Flanagan objected to Harry’s idea of a protest. He said last time we protested was when that pretty lady from Haiti told people in Paris she was Canada’s head of state. Harry insisted that the secretary send a strong letter to Ottawa pointing out that the Governor General had not been elected to anything and only served because the Prime Minister had appointed her as the Queen’s representative in Canada.

That Rideau Hall sure has nice stationary and we are thinking of framing the letter from some servant of hers saying our letter would be brought to the Governor General’s attention, if she ever gets back from her world tour. We could put up the letter next to the one we got when we asked her what raw seal liver tastes like. (We are still waiting for her to read that one. Betcha she spend a lot of time with her head in the bowl from that!)

But the meeting is getting a bit heated. Sam Brooke wants to barricade the railroad tracks south of Babel to keep big ears and his funny looking wife out of town. Harry said you cannot do that as it would just annoy all the commuters who want to get home in time for supper. He says the commuters are very good for his business as they are all likely victims of early heart attacks. (And Harry’s is the best funeral parlour in Babel.)

Maurice then gave what for to Harry about dumb ideas such as wandering around town with signs saying something about the (French expletives deleted) monarchy when if you just forget to tell people, nobody will know Chuck and Camilla are in town.

That struck a note with the women members and there were a number of increasingly shrill demands for a vote to ignore the Prince of Wales and his dowdy wife when they come to Babel.

Harry gave us all a very strong lecture about that. His premise seemed to be that if we ignored them, we would be no better than the 83.4 per cent of Canadians who already ignore the monarchy. (About half of those pro-monarchy people are women with confused hormones who want to mother Prince Harry or William or both.) Our Harry believes that we have a vital role in countering the doddering idiots in the Monarchist League without meeting them in pitched battle. That is good as there are few members of the Monarchist League younger than 80. We are supposed to make nice with them while pointing out the error of their ways.

The meeting ended with extra helpings of Myrna’s peach cobbler, thanks to Harry for the use of his best viewing room and a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen.

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Enquiries about joining the Babel Chapter of the Republican League of Canada can be directed to peter@lowry.me

#43 – Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals need a Hail Mary play.

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

It is the time of the year for football and football analogies and when one looks at the needs of Canada’s Liberals, a Hail Mary play is the best answer. A Hail Mary play is one where the quarterback throws the football as hard and as far as he can and says a prayer in hopes that the intended receiver catches it to win the game. It is a desperation play. It is also known as the long bomb.

After a quiet summer of barbeques and meetings with Liberals across the country, Michael Ignatieff and his fellow Liberal Members of Parliament were poised to do the Harper Conservative team serious damage when the House of Commons met in September. They were on a high and were ready for the scrimmage. In that game opening, they were teetering on the line of scrimmage, when the NDP’s Jack Layton went off side and the referees blew the whistle on the campaign. That turned the play against the Liberals. Only Jack Layton was chuckling. By siding with the Harper team, Layton had once again proved that he believes Liberals are more of a threat to him and his party than the Conservatives.

Whether Layton is right or wrong will only be known when Ignatieff starts calling the plays for his team in the coming election. The problem seems to be that Stephen Harper and the news media are all really curious as to what Michael’s policies might be—if he has any. Declaring his support for national day care at this early stage is just Michael telling his team that he recognizes a long-time Liberal platform plank. The plank might be weathered and silvery at this stage but it is far better than Harper’s miserly handouts to parents, telling them to solve their own day care problems.

Luckily, Michael’s Liberals are having a policy super bowl in Montreal in January. It will be like the Kingston Conference of Lester Pearson and the Aylmer Conference of Jean Chrétien but more fun. At least, we hope so. Anyone who has spent time in Montreal in January knows it is usually no fun. Americans are smart in that they hold their super bowls in the south or in covered stadia.

I expect I will want to go, if only in hopes of keeping the party in tune with its electorate. There is a real danger that the right-wing MPs in the party will pull Michael into the trap of exorcising Harper’s minions for the budget deficits they are creating. We finally get those Conservative ideologues into admitting there is an economic problem and laying out some money to help solve it and now they want to castigate the Conservatives for running a deficit. Somebody has to tell them, we cannot have it both ways.

Liberals need to remember that it was Paul Martin as Finance Minister under Jean Chrétien who fumbled the ball on Employment Insurance in the first place. Getting the unemployed back a few lost downs from Stephen Harper took the NDP’s Jack Layton and the threat of an election. If Harper believes today’s polls, he might just tell good ole Jack to take his game ball back to the stands and support the Liberals, ending up with an election, the Conservatives hope to win.

While Harper has done some stupid things since taking office, his advisors would tell him not to trust those polls that show the Liberals unlikely to last four quarters. They are still in fighting form. They have candidates on the line of scrimmage and ready to go in about 90 per cent of the ridings across Canada. After the January policy super bowl and a new Red (Play) Book ready to go in March, Michael will be just laying in wait for Finance Minister Flaherty’s budget.

If Jim Flaherty has a brain in his head, which he has, he is not just an ideologue like his leader, he will phone Gilles Duceppe, the erstwhile boss of the Bloc and see what is Gilles’ current wish list is for Quebec. That way the Conservatives can jilt Jack and his NDP and win the Bloc’s blocking without necessarily appearing to be in bed with them. They would be hoping that by taking the momentum away from Michael that his quarterbacking of the Liberals would be brought into question and cause dissension.

Michael can make sure that this will not happen by staying his course on the left side of the field. That is where all his fans are cheering him on. It is where he uses Jack Layton as the Liberal water boy, throws a few blocks at the Bloc and mops the field with Harper’s sycophants. Harper will draw a lot of penalty flags from the referees with his dirty tricks and in the final quarter Michael will need his team’s Hail Mary play. It takes guts. It takes planning. There are naysayers who will talk of the risks. It is also done when there is nothing to lose.

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Football tips available from peter@lowry.me

#42 – Fall is more than the colour of leaves in Babel.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

It’s a busy time in Babel. Fewer tourists mean that it is mainly locals who get lost on Babel’s confusing streets. Those fishermen are back out on the bay. You hardly care about those fishing from shore. They might need dinner. The ones out on the bay are the ones you watch, wondering if they are going to drown today. They even stand up in their boats to fish knowing that the minnows they catch are unlikely to pull them overboard.

Our flocks of Canada Geese have already formed their squadrons for their flight south to annoy the Americans in their winter homes. Nobody has told these perennial snowbirds that there is going to be a bounty on their beaks if they keep defecating in the wrong places down there. Southerners understand where poop belongs.

Here in Babel, we need to get our poop together. Since early spring the wife and I have been giving our city councillor what for because of all the crap in our front yard. Let me explain: we have the poop works being extended south of our habitat for the past two years and that is coming along well. The general contractors’ people are nice guys and they try to maintain friendly relations with the neighbourhood.

Not so the people hired by the city to put in the main sewer line, fix the creek routes and move the roads. These bozos are slobs. Complaining has done us little good. They must think they are doctors who can just bury all their mistakes. Throw around pop cans and bottles, discard your lunch wrappings, detritus from work such as pieces of wood or pipe, whatever, they have a solution: they bury it.

The other day, doing their final clean up in front of our place, they actually had the nerve to run a huge Caterpillar excavator through their laydown area and bury everything that they did not want to take home. It was a shallow grave and we will be having that garbage and methane leaching their way to the surface for years to come. Mind you, none of the workers gave a damn about all the crap they had just thrown into the bushes. Probably from ground level, you cannot see it too well. Just look from the 15th floor.

And yet we even saw the blue heron the other day. It looked like he just stopped for a bit of rest and a snack in our pond. The muskrats must already be in hibernation because they do not believe in flying south for the winter. Either that, or the hawks got them.

Babel turned off the Centennial fountain the other day. That means summer is really over. Christmas is coming. The city has finally replaced our eight-metre Christmas tree that used to sit on the triangle at the corner of Tiffin/Bradford/Essa/Lakeshore. Mind you, they have replaced the one beautiful old fir tree with three three-metre shrubs. We are waiting to see if the city decorates all three or arbitrarily picks the tallest?

Babel’s councillors will be out ingratiating themselves with their voting public this winter as they launch a year-long fight for council positions. The contest that promises to be most interesting will be to see who can oust the guy currently occupying the mayor’s chair. There is even talk of bringing back Babel’s biggest loser. The characters in the diorama of city hall remind me of a chapter from The Wind in the Willows. (My wife forbids me to tell you which one is the Squire from Toad Hall.) We will have to see if Ontario Lottery and Gaming wants to take book on the outcome in Babel. It would be illegal for this space to do it. I am going to vote for the tallest candidate.

Do you have a better way to choose?

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Comments may be sent to peter@lowry.me

#41 – Making sense of the broadcaster vs. cable/satellite wars.

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

The following material is intervention # 114054 to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for its hearing No. 2009-614 beginning December 7, 2009 in Gatineau, Quebec:

The CRTC has asked for comments on a) affordability of cable and satellite services, b) availability of local television services, c) adapting to a digital communication environment and d) evolving business models facilitating access to local television stations. This paper will briefly deal with the four requested topics and then provide some additional comments.

a) AFFORDABILITY

In looking at the affordability of cable and satellite services, the only comment is that the constantly rising costs of services from broadcasting distribution undertakings (BDUs) and their complex packages of channels are denying many seniors on fixed incomes and younger adults working at retail and/or part-time wages, access to these services. Another mandated charge on cable and satellite bills such as the Local Programming Improvement Fund will just engender further resentment and more cut-backs in services. One solution to this is to require that BDUs price their service at a base cost that includes a specified number of channels, of the customer’s choice, and the balance of channels be available individually, cafeteria style, at listed prices. The CRTC can hardly mandate that certain broadcast channels be carried on basic BDU service if the broadcasters want to charge, through the BDUs for receiving those channels. Private enterprise has the right to charge for its services. That is their choice. The Canadian consumer must also have the right to decline to receive them without having to forego other BDU services.

b) AVAILABILITY

In discussing the availability of local television services, it is assumed that ‘local’ is defined politically, not geographically. Municipalities, with their elected councils, community programs and services and often professional sports teams, create a viable base for local communication needs. Television broadcast contours do not conform to this ‘local’ definition while cable can more easily pinpoint delivery to specific municipal boundaries. Local needs can be better met by improved cable and microwave production capabilities than by today’s broadcasters.

c) ADAPTING TO DIGITAL

In a sense, digital broadcasting capabilities have reversed the roles of broadcasters and BDUs. While digital broadcasting cannot provide the extended coverage, it does solve the poor signal quality problems that encouraged the broad deployment of cable distribution 40 to 50 years ago. Why should the consumer pay a BDU an additional monthly amount to receive geographically local stations that can provide a much better quality high-definition picture with improved sound through an inexpensive digital antenna than the compressed signal carried on satellite or cable? If broadcasters really believe local TV matters, they would be promoting the use of over-the-air antennae to their local viewers.

d) EVOLVING BUSINESS MODELS

Evolving business models are a serious problem for both broadcasters and BDUs. These corporations have become too big and too heavily invested in the past. If the ability to send live or recorded pictures and sound (at today’s standards) was invented last year and there was no government regulation involved, it is most likely the family entertainment centre model that has been with us since the 1950s would be fighting it out for audiences with hand-held personal communication devices. The television networks would be as they were originally intended—smaller, independent sources of news, sports and/or entertainment programs. The world of advertising would be learning to deal with consumers as individuals and not just as gross rating points. The main distribution mechanisms would probably be a combination of cellular-based multicasting and satellite.

DISCUSSION

In the current, quite vehement but little understood advertising tirades between BDUs and broadcasters, there is very little light being shed on the issue of compensation for local television. The broadcasting networks say, for example, that, for years, cable and satellite companies have been charging their customers for local programming that the stations provide. The inference is that the BDUs are selling something that does not belong to them.

This is not true. In its inception, cable television and later satellite television services were modelled on community antenna services. Community antenna services were the solution for apartment buildings that did not have room on their roofs for individual antenna required by residents to receive television signals. Community antenna distributed the signals through coaxial cable. This is how cable became and still is very much a delivery service for television. Simply put, they are there to deliver the pizza, not make it. The charges are for delivery.

The rapid success of community antenna service was not just the elimination of individual household antennae. In the beginning, it was broadcasters who benefitted the most from the relationship. Cable companies went deeper and deeper into debt running cable everywhere, while providing expanded signal coverage for television broadcasters. Broadcasters gained larger audiences, with what, at the time, were enhanced analogue signals. And since advertisers want to buy large audiences, the broadcasters enjoyed many very fat years.

But over the next 50 years, that original model has changed. It should be noted that many of the changes have been promoted by the CRTC. Today there are broadcast channels, high-definition channels, super channels, news channels, movie channels, sports channels, foreign language channels, shopping channels, time-shifting channels, local cable channels and specialty channels available through BDUs. There is broadcast and cable delivery and satellite delivery and microwave delivery and delivery of television entertainment on compact discs. At any given time, day or night, the consumer has many hundreds of choices of channels and entertainment material.

Today’s broadcasters are the people who seriously need to rethink their business model. They complain to us that “the environment has changed, advertising is down, program expenses are up, and audiences are fragmenting, along with the economic downturn.” Yet who made the rule that they do not have to change, to adapt, to be meaningful in today’s environment? In a digital world, does ‘broadcasting’ of a single channel even make sense? Digital broadcasting has opened up new broadcast spectrum, new quality standards and new broadcasting opportunities. To ask the consumer to pay for their last century ‘local’ channels can only be considered a callow act by people bereft of creativity and business acumen.

And surely there was no Moses who promised the TV networks they would never have any lean years. Today there are more than 30 million Canadians facing tough times. Are television networks high on the list of those deserving of a hand out? While Canwest Global is drowning in debt of its own creation and the CBC always cries poormouth, there is absolutely no excuse for CTVglobemedia to be standing in front of this commission with a tin cup.

The broadcast networks tell us that local TV matters but do not explain: what is ‘local’ TV? They have no reason to care about local television. CBC/Radio Canada used to have wonderful local/regional news across Canada. The politicians starved the public broadcaster out of that idea. The private networks are not interested in anything ‘local.’ They provide regional news because it is the only way to justify the costs. I live in Barrie, Ontario and I find that Rogers Cable does a better job covering what you need to know about that city than the television station located there—that is owned by CTVglobemedia.

Before anyone thinks I am carrying a brief for the BDUs, let me assure you that they also have buckets of sins on their backs. You would not believe the numbers of times I have wanted to call a Rogers executive and give him a heads up on his company’s poor quality service and the unconscionable prices charged for it.

But all you ever get if you call Rogers Cable’s listed numbers is ignorant, poorly trained and underpaid call centre employees who have to follow foolish scripts instead of providing intelligent answers. They call me regularly to use their voice-over-Internet-protocol telephones but they cannot run decent quality cable to my apartment suite. And Bell Canada is no better. Every year Bell service continues to deteriorate as more employees leave the company to be replaced by cheaper and cheaper call centres.

If local TV meant anything, I would use an inexpensive digital receiver to get the signal from the CKVR tower that is a few kilometers away. I would get a far better quality, high definition picture with a digital signal than Rogers Cable can currently deliver to my television set.

But I forget. The CRTC has exempted CTV from converting CKVR to digital!

CONCLUSION

The most serious concern we should all have is that despite the many discussions about the question of compensation for local television signals, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has announced that the Cabinet will make the decision and not the CRTC. One does not need psychic powers to connect the dots as to why parties involved do not trust the CRTC to make the decision they want.

This Commission was created 31-years ago with the honest intent to forestall political interference such as this. Despite the very clear statement by the Conservative members of the Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, earlier this year, of their “most fervent and rigorous opposition to any potential fee-for-carriage system, either negotiated or imposed,” we can make a very good guess at what the Cabinet wants to do.

Never in world history has a government had the opportunity to win the hearts, minds and editorial approval of so much of the country’s news media without having to use troops.

The anger of Canadians who will pay for this will be ignored by the broadcasters and the newspapers they own as they will be much too busy counting their profits.

I do hope though that when the Cabinet announces its decision, this Commission will have the grace to resign. The CRTC will have lost all authority to do its job.

Respectfully submitted, October 2009,

Peter Lowry

#40 – It’s my turn to dump on eHealth.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

There has been admirable restraint involved. After many weeks of news in newspapers and on TV about eHealth Ontario, something more really needs to be said. There needs to be discussion of what eHealth is all about. What is the purpose of eHealth? How could our provincial government spend over a billion dollars of our money with no accountability and nothing to show?

There is absolutely no excuse for the costs involved. Over 20 years ago, I was running a company that created massive searchable databases for fees between $50,000. and $150,000 depending on the input quality. If the data was clean and well organized, the job was easy. If there was a lot of garbage to clean up, it became expensive. There are all kinds of database frameworks on today’s Internet that could easily be adapted for a database of health records? What are eHealth’s problems?

There are two concerns that are critical. The first problem is security. The last group of consultants could not even figure out how to hide their tea and cookie charges from the auditor so how do you expect them to understand the need for privacy of health records.

The second critical need to make a project such as this happen is leadership. What it had instead was a ‘possible’ under Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement, a tentative ‘maybe’ under Liberal Health Minister George Smitherman and a guaranteed disaster under an incompetent David Caplan. It has always seemed axiomatic that to accomplish any task, you have to know what it is you want to accomplish. The problem was that eHealth and its predecessor, Smart Systems for Health, never had properly stated program objectives.

And you will never solve problems such as this with consultants in any event. A consultant without incentives to complete the project is always going to run in circles, drawing fees and expenses and making the project last.

What Clement or Sitherman should have done is make a deal with a company that understood the objective. There are some out there. A proper search for companies capable and then a proper bidding process, could have addressed the problem.

Privacy for the patient and security can be guaranteed by simple expedients such as the government’s assurance that records for an individual can never be accessed without a medical-emergency override or health card with signature. The reason for the medical override is when there is a life-dependent need for speed in a trauma centre situation. Doctors’ offices only need the patient’s written permission.

Queen’s Park should stop playing politics with our safety, wasting our money and get the job done.

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Comments may be sent to peter@lowry.me

#39 – Eugene Whelan and his stupid stetson.

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Writing about political oddballs recently, it is logical that the name of Eugene Whelan should surface. This space would be devoted to nothing else if once we start to recount fond memories of Gene. Member of Parliament, Minister of Agriculture and later Senator, Gene Whelan is actually a shy and charming gentleman. He is well into his 80’s today but this is not a eulogy.

While that stupid green stetson might have become some kind of a signature, it was actually a crutch of a sort for him to hide behind. While travelling around Ontario for the Liberal party in the 60’s and 70’s BS (before Stetson), I cannot say how often I bumped into Gene at Liberal party meetings. I most often found him in a corner, by himself, just watching and absorbing what was going on. I always made a point of stopping to say ‘hello’ and enjoying hearing his insights into the event. I will never forget our first meeting after Mr. Trudeau appointed him Minister of Agriculture. Gene was in the usual corner, by himself, doing his thing. I shook his hand warmly and congratulated him on Mr. Trudeau’s remarkably good sense.

“But,” I asked him in mock concern, “did Mr. Trudeau think to put one of those boot scraping thingees outside the cabinet room for you?”

“Nope,” was his sardonic reply, “I jus’ tracks it all in.”

I am not privy to the reasons Gene chose to run against John Turner for the party leadership in ’84 but I suspect it was because Gene was not as forgiving of some of the nasty things insiders had heard John say about Mr. Trudeau. Gene was very loyal and I was pleased that Mr. Trudeau insisted that he be made an ambassador after John refused to have him in his cabinet. That rotten Brian Mulroney cancelled the appointment as soon as he took over the Prime Minister’s office. The Italians almost had the rare treat of having Gene Whelan as Canadian ambassador.

I have a couple favourite stories about Gene. The first was when the party president asked me to cover a nomination meeting for the party in Hanover, Ontario. It was immediately after the convention had selected Pierre Trudeau as the new leader and nobody wanted to take time to go to this particular meeting. It was for a by-election that we knew would never take place because by then we knew Mr. Trudeau would shortly call a general election. I was surprised to find a couple thousand people in the Hanover arena when I arrived. And it was a very enthusiastic crowd. The second surprise of the evening was when Gene Whelan showed up and told me he was the guest speaker.

It certainly surprised the attendees but they were all enthusiastic Liberals and greeted Gene loudly and warmly when he was introduced. The introductory remarks in Gene’s speech were classic Whelan:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Liberals, I betcha you expected Pierre Trudeau to be here.” (A roar of agreement.) “Maybe you thought Mr. Trudeau would send John Turner.” (Another roar from the crowd.)

“But he sent me.” (A smattering of applause from the crowd.) “You wanna know why he sent me?” (A murmer of agreement from the crowd.) “Wull, he sent me, cus he wanted you to see that anybody can get elected to Parliament.”

Another favourite story about Gene was the time I was sitting in the lounge at the Ottawa airport reading Richard Gwyn’s new book at the time: The Northern Magus. The room was full of Conservative MPs and senators but I had noted Gene come in and go directly to the bar to get a Creme de Menthe that I am sure they kept there just for him. I continued to read, I was at a good part of the book. Next thing I know, someone is poking rudely at the book. It is Gene and that dreadful green Stetson and his worse liqueur. “Whatcha reading Peter?” he asks.

“Oh, it’s Richard Gwyn’s new book about Mr. Trudeau,” I told him.

“He’s a liar you know, that guy from the Toronto Star,” he responds.

Having read Richard’s articles for many years, I asked: “What does he lie about?”

“Bout me,” Gene almost whimpered. “He calls me a pig farmer. You know I wus always in mixed grains.”

Gwyn was probably not aware that in Southwestern Ontario referring to anyone who is not in the hog production business as a pig farmer is not considered flattering.

I had noticed that the room had become very quiet while this dialogue went on so I came up with a simple closer. “Gene,” I said, in something of a stage whisper, “that just proves that Richard really likes you. We certainly don’t want him telling the truth about you.”

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Please send comments to: peter@lowry.me

#38 – Every blog has its reason.

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Have you ever asked a blogger why? Did you get an answer? Did you get an honest answer? You wanted to know why they did it. You cannot believe that so many people have that big an ego. Could they really consider their pontificating so profound?

Or is the answer very simple. Take the case of this blog. What is it all about? Why does it cover so many subjects? Why call Barrie, Ontario Babel? Simple answer: I am a writer. As a writer, I am available for hire. I write for people who pay me. If someone needs a writer to produce a speech, a lecture, a presentation, a brochure, a résumé, a book, a script, a poem or a posting for twitter, I am your ghost. The web site babelonthebay.com is a sampler. It showcases my wares.

It helps that I love writing.

I also make it easy for my employer. Take a speech, for example. All you need to tell me is to whom you will be speaking, what is the subject and if you for it or against it. You can tell me more if you wish but I am mindful of the time a client gave me a two-hour explanation of a 15-minute speech he needed. He was angry when he read my first draft. “That is just what I told you,” he blustered. “What have you contributed?” I thought I had done an excellent editing job.

And then there are clients who are not interested in your view. I was once offered more than twice my normal rate for a 50-minute lecture a client was giving at an American university. The reason for the higher rate was that the client was extremely rightwing politically. The client might have got a standing ovation for his speech but I deserved every penny of that fat fee for fiction writing.

Hands up everyone who thinks all business people write their own presentations. Those of you with your hands up; I bet you also believe in the tooth fairy. When I started writing presentations for others, we were still using slide shows. PowerPoint makes life much easier.

Modern low-cost, on-demand publishing has given impetuous to the world of business book ghost writing. It has reached a point that if you open a restaurant, the opening can be shared with the introduction of your new book of recipes that is a regular reminder of a good place to eat out. You have an auto parts firm, so you produce a book of tips on doing minor auto repairs. No matter what your business, there is a book that can be written that reminds people that they should deal with you because you are the expert. Just leave the writing to an expert at writing.

I am not sure I want to resume writing résumés. I used to brag that nobody I wrote a résumé for ever failed to land a suitable job. Today, I have to qualify that bravado. One problem is that younger people do not trust someone my age to know their audience. And they might be right. Today, there are many barriers to getting your résumé to the person with whom you really need to communicate. I still believe in my résumés but I am losing touch with those barriers. It is becoming more of a team effort.

You might never see any of my poetry in this blog. I tend to inflict it only on friends and family. While they are not always enthusiastic about my poems, they are kind.

What some people say is missing from this sampler blog is humour. I apologize for that. I do not write humour. I have been accused of being a bit capricious with whimsy. That is the reason that I refer to Barrie as Babel. I think Barrie gets a bad rap. Babel is a more whimsical place, more open and accepting. Babel seeks challenges and opportunities. Barrie is a harsher, colder environment, full of potholes and bars, hockey players and hookers. (Yah, I know, your sister plays right wing.)

But I love twitter. This is a venue where writers can shine. Effective tweets are full of alliterative allusions, weighty words of wisdom and devoted to doggerel. It is a medium that eschews whole sentences while demanding clarity. It is in twitter where everybody knows your name but not the name of your writer. Can you imagine a writing gig that pays you to write less than 280 characters a day? It’s golden!

And one last comment about the art: Writing to precisely fill a column is a big part of a writer’s training. A column is usually limited to an average of 800 words. As is this one.

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Enquire about rates and deliveries to peter@lowry.me

#37 – Hazel McCallion cannot sing.

Monday, October 5th, 2009

One of the things my wife has noted over the years is that I seem to accumulate the acquaintance of some unusual people. This includes political people and, it should be obvious, politics produces some very unusual people. We are reminded of this by seeing my old friend Hazel McCallion the other night. Hazel has been mayor of the City of Mississauga for more than 30 years. What was most unusual about the event was that Hazel was doing a duet with television personality Regis Philbin.

When she and I first met, Hazel was mayor of Streetsville. I was connected with a company that wanted to build an assembly plant nearby. Our meeting had nothing to do with my interest in politics. I was simply there to further good relations for the company with the community. Hazel and I liked each other. I found her easy to work with. She found that I willingly accommodated her love of publicity. We were a good team.

Hazel has come a long way since then. The plant in Mississauga was in full swing when she became mayor of the much larger municipality of Mississauga in 1978. And she was no spring chicken then. I remember many fun times when I would give her a call to take part in some function or other and she would show up, chain of office at the ready, for the photographers I always had for her.

I expect she considered me a supporter as she made prodigious efforts to get me to move to Mississauga. Her blandishments failed though as I was too committed a Torontonian.

I could go on about the friendship but this is about Hazel and Regis Philbin. Regis is harder to explain than Hazel. He is not a friend. He was on stage at Casino Rama and in a weak moment I agreed to take my wife to his show. This was a political move on my part as I wanted to stay in her good graces. I have sometimes caught my wife watching Philbin’s daytime television thing with Kelly Ripa. If the show at Rama had featured Kelly Ripa, you could not have kept me away.

The biggest surprise when we took our seats for Philbin’s show, in that awful barn of an auditorium at Rama, was that there was a sizeable symphonic orchestra on the stage. I was not aware that Regis Philbin considers himself a singer. It turned out the orchestra was there because, as a singer, he needs all the help he can get. Later in the program, he brought out his wife Joy. She also fancies herself a singer. It is my humble opinion that singing does not run in the Philbin family.

But the treat for the evening was Hazel and Regis’ duet. To put it as politely as possible, the word ‘awful’ keeps coming to my mind. You can probably guess why. Here is a dapper 78-year old entertainer who sounds like he has post-nasal drip and is not much over five feet tall, singing along with an even shorter 88-year old politician. And they are doing this in front of a stage with a full-size orchestra playing their hearts out. His only comment on the effort was that he noted that the politician got more applause than he. It would have helped if he had practiced pronouncing “McCallion.” It rhymes with “scallion” Regis!

Shortly after the number with Hazel and while Regis was singing some ballad with his wife, we made our getaway. I thought of sticking around to say ‘hello’ to Hazel but it was obvious from the reception she got from the couple thousand people in the audience that she had many well-wishers there. While it might seem rude to some people that we left before the end of the show, it is sometimes necessary. One of the problems you often run into with free tickets for casino entertainment is that you get what you pay for.

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Please send comments to peter@lowry.me

#36 – An opportunity in la belle province for M. Ignatieff.

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Denis Coderre quit as Quebec lieutenant for Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff earlier this week. It is a minor story. It changes few votes. For the Liberals in Quebec, it is really an opportunity.

To fully understand the reasons, you need to start with the ugly truth that, in Quebec, federal politics is a blood sport. It is not democratic. It is not honest and it is that way because Quebec voters are used to it that way. Nothing is more ingrained in the Québécois psyche than the desire to make sure that the pur laine (real Quebeckers) get everything possible from the blockheads (les anglais).

Once you know that about Quebec politics, life becomes much simpler. And please do not get me wrong. I love the part of my country that is Quebec. I regret I will never be as bilingual as I would like to be but that takes living for some period of time in a French-speaking environment and I have never had that pleasure. We were in Quebec recently and I was delighted to find during the visit that there were less of the antagonisms that used to worry me about relations between our two language groups. In politics it is not so much antagonisms as it is leverage. And you do not have to be a Bloc Québécois politician to make use of it.

What we in Ontario would consider cynical, in Quebec is considered merely practical. For example: What if Denis Coderre flipped a coin with his rival for the Quebec leadership of the federal Liberals, Martin Cauchon, to see who would support Michael Ignatieff and who would support the other likely Ontario contender for the national leadership, Bob Rae? Denis Coderre probably feared he had lost when he drew Ignatieff. In the long term, he won. Now, as Quebec lieutenant, he uses the opportunity to tell his old friend Martin that he cannot have his old riding back when Cauchon decides to return to the game. Denis was deeply affronted by Ignatieff’s office telling him that he cannot do that. His authority has been compromised, so Denis quits, complaining in a news conference about the blockheads in Ignatieff’s office.

That might be considered by some to be a Quebec version of the middle finger. What it really does is give Michael Ignatieff a chance to clean house in Quebec. It will give him a chance to find a less dictatorial Quebec Lieutenant. It might just give him an opportunity to find a new breed of Quebec lieutenant who can bring some democracy and honesty to Quebec Liberal politics. That might not be what is really wanted by all Liberal politicians in the province but it really has to happen sooner or later.

The idea that the Bloc Québécois is going to benefit from Denis Coderre’s complaint is quite unlikely as Denis is only complaining about something Bloc voters already believe. There is nothing new about the complaint that the federal Liberals are run from Toronto. (You just have to listen to Alberta Reformers to learn that.)

What Coderre knows is that the coming election campaign is going to be won or lost in Ontario. The strategy for the Liberals in Quebec will be to hold traditional seats and to target weak Conservative seats and the one NDP-held riding. If the swing occurs, Ignatieff will get the credit, not the Quebec lieutenant. If the swing does not happen, Denis gets another chance, with another anglo leader, probably from Toronto.

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Please send comments to:  peter@lowry.me