Archive for November, 2009

#52 – A gambler wins the jackpot at Ontario Lottery and Gaming.

Monday, November 30th, 2009

As hard as it is to believe, they have finally found someone to run Ontario’s gambling corporation who is himself a gambler. Profound congratulations to Paul Godfrey. Taking over Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) must have been one of Paul’s life-long ambitions. He is not only the first non-bureaucrat in the position but he is definitely the first conservative to hold the post for a Liberal government, as well as the first person in the role who understands gamblers. He is one himself.

Knowing Paul as a gambler was knowledge picked up at a formal dinner at a downtown Toronto hotel in the mid 1970s. We were in the reception for the head table and I was enjoying a drink and a conversation with a provincial cabinet minister on the subject of casinos for Ontario. Paul overheard what we were saying and he joined us and said we were talking about one of his favourite subjects. He admitted that he had very recently returned from one of those all-expenses-paid trips to Las Vegas where you guarantee the people arranging it that you will gamble at least so many dollars.

At the time, Paul was the Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto. With a wink to the cabinet minister (a Conservative, I should add), I asked Paul why we do not have a casino in Toronto to save him the bother of having to fly all the way to Las Vegas just to gamble. “Oh, we couldn’t have that,” was the reply. “The people in Toronto don’t need that type of temptation.”

That is the worst kind of paternalism from politicians. It was also his obvious reply. It reminded you of the Toronto where the swings in the parks were padlocked on Sundays to keep the children from temptation and there was only one cocktail lounge and you had to fill out an order form in the liquor stores. Times can change but not politicians. Temptation is alright for you and me but not for the ‘little people.’

But now Paul will have his comeuppance. In taking over the OLG, he thinks he will be the all-powerful tsar of gambling in Ontario. He is either in for a surprise or else one hell of a power struggle. The people who really run gambling in Ontario are the bureaucrats at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) which comes under the Ministry of Consumer Services. Paul will be reporting to the more powerful Minister of Finance but the people at AGCO can hold their own kangaroo courts to fine transgressors in the various gambling sectors. They can also change the rules on a whim to delay and confuse the gambling processes, and they do. Paul might be able to order a new color of paint for the walls in the poker rooms at the casinos but the bureaucrats at AGCO can order the dealers to jump up and run around the table three times before each deal.

This system of managing the casinos might offer some small amount of assurance that nobody is stealing but it does tend to confuse the operators and the gamblers. It is sometimes difficult for them to determine what rules are in force this week.

The problem is the respective mandates of the OLG and the AGCO. To Paul’s chagrin, OLG is responsible to the government of the day for the management of the gambling businesses in the province while the AGCO has the paternalist mandate to “ensure that casino and charitable gaming is conducted in a manner that is socially responsible, and in the public interest.” I kid you not!

Lotsa luck, Paul!

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

#51 – A miscellany of corrections of past postings.

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

One of the advantages of the software used for this blog is the ease with which corrections can be made in individual postings. The occasional typo does occur and it is easy to just open the blog and fix it. It is less convenient when facts are under question and the posting needs major surgery. All the posts from #1 are still here and available for reading. I have therefore decided to, on occasion, post a series of corrections.

Re: Post #49 – Rumours of the death of the Liberal party are premature… My rumour of the saving of the party might also be premature. Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star wrote last Thursday about the party’s Thinkers Conference scheduled for March 2010. I wrote in blog #49 that the conference would be in January. I decided to find out what was happening. I e-mailed Alf Apps, president of the Liberal Party of Canada. I mentioned in my e-mail about this that Harper might just eat the Liberal party’s lunch if we delay the conference until March. All Harper has to do is believe the pollsters and call an election.

Alf confirmed that the conference has been rescheduled for March. I guess the thinkers were busy in January. Alf also pooh-poohed my concerns about an election call. He might just have Mr. Harper’s assurance that he will not call an election until the fall. I would hardly want to bet much on that.

Re: Post #47 – Parsing the body politic in Babel… A number of people had heard the old joke before about the rectum being the most powerful part of the body. I was having fun in the retelling.

Re: Post #45 – How city planners teach Babel drivers… The planners must be paying attention. They have painted all new traffic lanes and even put up overhead lane signs for when the road is snow-covered at the Essa – Lakeshore – Bradford – Tiffin intersection. It appears to have reduced the number of emergency vehicles servicing patrons in the intersection. Well done.

Re: Post #44 – Minutes of Meeting 23: Republican League of Canada, Babel Chapter… I have had a number of comments that my humour was weak in the ending of the minutes as nobody could imagine why the league would end its meeting with the singing of God Save the Queen. The reason is, as I understand it, was that there was an unholy row about it originally but nobody knew the words to O Canada, and still don’t. Not that it matters but I should mention that the snooty royals went back home to Ole Blighty without visiting Babel. They were not missed.

Re: Post #43 – Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals need a Hail Mary play… The argument over this blog is whether the Liberals need a few Hail Mary’s, the full Stations of the Cross or Extreme Unction. I guess it depends on your religious leanings.

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

#50 – Of turkeys and television and other thanksgivings.

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

American Thanksgiving always reminds me of my favourite episode of WKRP in Cincinnati that first aired in November, 1978. It is not everyone’s favourite. People who already knew about the non-flying habits of turkeys were profoundly shocked by the premise of the episode. It was the one where the station manager (played so well by the late Gordon Jump) decided to drop live turkeys from a helicopter. The ‘on-air’ reports to the station by reporter Les Nessman (played by Richard Sanders) were a comedy classic.

You’ve got to admit that American television has certainly given us a lot of turkeys over the years. Nothing like Ivan Fecan, president and CEO  of CTVglobmedia, did at the recent television hearings in Gatineau, Quebec. Mr. Fecan is that nice looking white haired guy who regularly shows up in a well-fitted tuxedo at gatherings of the Toronto aristocracy that are worthy of coverage by CTV news. It is occasionally mentioned by the newscasters who he is but those who count, already know.

Ivan was in Gatineau to have a chat with his friend Konrad von Finckenstein, chair of the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Ivan’s friend Konrad is the guy who regulates television, radio, telephone, cable and satellite companies. Ivan was there to tell the CRTC commissioners that they should tell the cable companies to pay something like 75 cents per month per subscriber for carrying his local signals. That might sound reasonable until Toronto-area viewers figure out that he is adding at least $8.25 per month to their cable or satellite bill. You might be willing to pay 75 cents each month for Desperate Housewives on CTV but you would also have to pay 75 cents each for channels you might never watch. That is when the turkey droppings get more serious.

Ivan is the guy responsible for all those annoying commercials on Canadian television about the TV Tax or cows stealing milk(?). Those advertisements drew more than 14 thousand letters and e-mails to the CRTV either supporting or complaining about the TV Tax. One of the complaints was my blog of October 14: #41 – Making sense of the broadcaster vs. cable/satellite wars.

It is quite unlikely that Ivan is worried about what the public might say. His writers are probably quite busy writing short (seven-minutes is all you get) speeches for all the pro-tax friends who will be appearing. The reason Ivan does not look worried is because I think he has the Ace up his sleeve. The Ace, in this case, is his friend von Finckenstein’s boss: the Prime Minister. There is no proof of this but, it seems very logical that Ivan is the only guy with the chutzpah to call his buddy Stephen Harper and tell him how serious he is about getting money out of the cable and satellite companies. Since Stephen Harper got where he is with a little help from Ivan, Ivan figures Stephen owes him this one.

Since the Prime Minister’s Office has told Konrad von Finckenstein that the Cabinet will be making this decision for him and his commissioners, Ivan has little to worry about. All those of us who are opposed can do is go to the public meeting and stir up whatever trouble we can with whatever news media can be stirred. I expect to be appearing for my seven minutes of infamy late on Wednesday morning, December 9. If you want to watch and have broadband Internet service, I suggest you watch on the CRTC video feed through www.cpac.ca It should be a fun event.

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

#49– Rumours of the death of the Liberal party are premature.

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Pundits are reporting the death of the Liberal Party in Canada. That might just be wishful thinking by some. It is definitely premature. The Liberal Party is hardly dead. It even thrives in the congestive conservatism here in Babel. Not since the Conservatives were reduced to just two seats in Parliament in 1993 have the talking heads and the scribblers of the news media been so convinced of an imminent political funeral. Yet the evidence is that the party is on the mend. And it is growing stronger every day.

All the Liberal Party lacks for complete recovery at this stage is a renewal of its democracy. Democracy is the breath of life in a political party. Democracy is what assures continued renewal, fresh thinking, new blood, new ideas, challenge and vibrancy in a political organization. It is also what assures a political party a future.

Michael Ignatieff is a Trudeau Liberal and was too young to be part of the battles over democracy in the party that kept the party in turmoil in the early 1960s. These were the times under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson that issued in the Trudeau era. We were fighting for the very life of the party. It was the right wing of the party versus the left wing. When Pierre Trudeau joined the fight as a new Liberal Member of Parliament in 1966, he joined those of us on the left.

While he always respected the democratic principles that made the Liberal Party so effective, Trudeau became part of the problems that downgraded its democracy when he was Prime Minister. He often lost patience with the system in his drive to make things happen and he pulled more and more of the power of government into the Prime Minister’s Office. He gave Canadians their own Constitution and the democratizing Charter of Rights and Freedoms by finally running roughshod over his critics. He had determined that the less democratic route was the only way to make the charter happen.

After Trudeau, the party then had a revival of its right wing under the short term leadership of John Turner in the 1980s. This revival on the right was accompanied by opportunists using squadrons of ethnic workers to take control of local riding structures in and around the cities. Ethnic control of the ridings encouraged an oligarchical structure in the party. This loss of local democracy also blocked the left wing from any effective response. It was a fractured Liberal Party in the early 1990s with Jean Chrétien as the new leader. The only confidence he had was that Brian Mulroney’s days as Prime Minister were numbered. He could have kept the left wing on side if it had not been his support for the Charlottetown Accord. It cost him much of the left wing but they were at the time being replaced by the Eastern-Canadian right-wingers who were deserting Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives.

The one good thing from Chrétien was that he recognized the concern about how the Prime Minister’s office had concentrated far too much of the power under Mulroney. In an attempt to pull the party back together, Chrétien called for the party to have a thinkers conference at Aylmer and from that conference came the “Red Book” that carried the party through a sweep of the Conservatives in 1993. The Red Book made no bones about the “arrogant style of political leadership” that had permeated the Mulroney government.

But too much of the Chrétien era was window dressing. There was never a real effort to distribute the power of the Prime Minister’s Office and Finance Minister Paul Martin drove the Liberal government hard to the right. Outdoing his Conservative and Reform critics, Martin gutted social programs such as Unemployment Insurance and even changed the name to hide its purpose. Many of his other stringent financial measures left the former left wing of the Liberal party without a home. As Prime Minister after Chrétien, voters were faced with the choice between Paul Martin’s right of centre Liberal Party and right-winger Harper’s Conservatives. The voters went for the real thing. Luckily they held Harper back from a majority but they gave the guy a chance.

The one thing you can be assured is that Harper is no democrat. He wields a heavy hand in his autocratic rule of the party he crafted from the former Progressive Conservative Party, the dead Reform Party and its moribund Canadian Alliance successor. He was the Cassius to Preston Manning’s Julius Ceasar and finally savaged his mentor to aspire to his leadership of the right wing of Canadian politics. The bodies lie by the paths he took to become Prime Minister and there are many times when he shows his vicious side in trying to destroy potential as well as real enemies in Parliament.

But the Liberal Party has the chance to survive and thrive. Key to this will be the thinkers conference that Michael Ignatieff has called for January 14 to 16, 2010 in Montreal. It is Michael Ignatieff’s chance to bring his party into the Twenty-First Century as a vibrant, socially-oriented party.

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

#48 – Pete’s Tweets

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Don’t expect me to Twitter

Because it doesn’t matter.

My thoughts of every day,

Are not that long, anyway.

___

My gay friends are atwitter

The right-wing are so bitter

George is going to city hall

He will paint it pink next fall.

___

Jack reported in his twitter

That guy Harper’s a quitter

Hasn’t said anything polite

Since Ignatieff lost his fight.

___

Heard from a Babel twitter

Babel MP’s a counterfeiter

Writes a really big cheque

And he don’t give a heck.

___

Sure wish I invented Twitter

And wouldn’t be a quitter,

I would live as a zillionaire,

Now wouldn’t that be fair?

___

I never really liked a Twitter

No point to it to being bitter

Average reader’s attention,

Ain’t really worth a mention.

___

Can’t earn money on Twitter

I’d do better as a steamfitter

But I’m taking up all this time,

Proving I know how to rhyme.

With apologies for the lack of perfect metre, other complaints can be directed to peter@lowry.me

#47 – Parsing the body politic in Babel.

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

It is almost 200 years ago and Westminster is seething in the aftermath of the Mackenzie Rebellion in Upper Canada. Lieutenant-Governor Sir Francis Bond Head has been recalled from the colony in disgrace. Lord Durham has been shipped off to the wilderness to provide direction for those Frenchmen in Lower Canada but nobody will brook delay in resolving the problems in Upper Canada. They can hang a few of the rebels if they wish but, after all, these people are British Subjects, loyal to Her Majesty. The Family Compact days are done.

It is in light of these serious events that there is a gathering of the heads of the families bequeathed land by the Mother Country around Kempenfelt Bay (named by Lord Simcoe for the Royal Navy Rear Admiral of that name who was famous for steadfastly going down with his ship—when it sank off Spithead whilst undergoing repairs). As is their custom, the landed gentry, heads of the five families, meet at a convenient tavern, order tankards of the best ale, light up their clay pipes and discuss the serious considerations of the future governance of Babel.

Squire Harrison always chairs these meetings, as he is the smartest. He explains to the others that the body politic is passing from them to the franchised voters. “Luckily, these are only men,” he explains. “But we all know that Babel men will always vote the way their wives tell them.

“That means we must carefully choose who will lead the Babel rabble. We should each choose the part of the body politic that we best represent and explain why that part should lead. I, to start off, represent the brain. It is the natural leader and nothing happens unless the brain tells others what to do,” he says.

“I am afraid I must disagree,” exclaims Squire Byrd, as he puffs on his pipe. “I choose the heart. Voters always make their decisions from the heart and that makes me the better leader.”

“No, no, gentlemen,” says roly-poly Squire Harper, “It is the stomach that is the natural ruler. It is the stomach that nourishes the rest of the body and gives it the strength to carry out its tasks. Voters always vote from their stomachs.”

“Yer all full of it,” chimes in Squire Aspergun, as he waves his tankard for the publican to refill. “I choose the mouth because someone has to tell them voters what to do. It’s the mouth that leads.”

“No gentlemen,” quietly says Squire Brown, with a knowing smirk. “The only vital part of the body politic you have left for me is the rectum. What you all seem to forget is that if the rectum shuts down, the brain will be far too woozy to lead anywhere. The heart will be racing and in danger of going into arrest. The stomach will have no outlet for digested food and will be extremely busy sending it back to the mouth where it will have to be projected with disgusting results, leaving the mouth unable to speak. The only part of the body politic still able to function and remain in control is the rectum. You have no choice but to let me run things in Babel.”

And that is why, dear reader, since the City of Babel was founded those many years ago, it has been run by assholes.

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Send your comments to peter@lowry.me

#46 – Beginning a better Babel babble.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

The jury has been in for a while. Time has not changed the verdict. So you might as well know: people prefer Babel. It is what they read. Google blog statistics are quite thorough. They say that people read the stories about Babel. Politics comes second. I hate to admit that American politics gets better readership but that is only because there is more of them guys than us guys.

The comments have not been huge in numbers but they sure make the point. I have been flattered when referred to as the poor man’s Stephen Leacock or a poorer Canadian cousin to Garrison Keillor. I think Babel is a more serious place than Mariposa or Lake Wobegone but I am honoured by the comparison. Quite honestly, it never occurred to me that people would compare Babel to those mythical places. Babel is a city that has never been designed or planned. It is an unfortunate accident of middle Ontario. (Something like a troubling tummy ache where you know you just need to relieve the gas.) I find Babel interesting because it still has much to learn about itself.

Babel is funny whether you live here or not. It is people. The women of Babel are not as strong as the women of Lake Wobegon and the men are definitely not as handsome. Hell, the men in Babel are hardly fit to be taken out in public and rarely are. And there is definitely no comparison between Babel and the Mariposa Stephen Leacock immortalized a hundred years ago. Mariposa was a Sunshine Town from a gentler era. At the time, it was cultured and refined. People were kindly, if not understanding. Mariposa was definitely a different world. The differences, I expect, are quite similar to the differences between Barrie of today and summer-time Orillia of 1912.

Despite the preponderance of Babel enthusiasts, readers are not going to get me to stop writing about politics. That is a life-long love of mine. One reader left me flattered but cold when I asked him specifically what he thought of my piece for the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission. It took him a while to come back with an answer. (This is a person with some of the technical background needed to appreciate the complexity of the questions I was addressing.) “Well,” he said, “It is certainly erudite.” That is definitely the last time I ask for his opinion.

Someone I am doing some writing for called the other day after he had received a draft and told me that I was a wonderful writer. What can you say to a compliment such as that? I explained very patiently that, as kind as his comment might be, I did not send the copy to him for him just to admire. I needed his analysis of the direction in which it was headed and whether we agreed that it is on the right track.

I guess what bothers me about this direction by readers is that I have a just completed a 6000-word blog entry on the condominium where I live in Babel. It does not belong here. It is an orphan story and it will never appear in blog, web site or in print. It belongs in a court. Maybe it also belongs at Queen’s Park when they decide to rewrite the oppressive Condominium Act.

The good news is that, in the year ahead, there will be wonderful opportunities to write about the politics of Babel. I expect there will be a federal election and the voters of Babel will want to share their passion for upsetting the electoral applecart. The municipal election will be its own comedy of errors and even my readers in other countries will appreciate the silliness as our municipal Wise Men of Gotham try to figure out how to describe a voter when each is trying to parse a different anatomical component of the body politic.

So now you know what to expect. People seem to like the frequency of a couple entries a week. It certainly is no strain on me. I guess I would not do it, if it was.

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Send your complaints to peter@lowry.me

#45 – How city planners teach Babel drivers.

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

In training pets about doing their business outside, there is a technique known as newspaper training. It may not be the one you are thinking of. The method in mind is the one where you roll up the entire metro edition of the newspaper and swat the dog with it when the poor creature has made an error. I, of course, am apalled by such treatment of man’s best friend but it came to mind watching how Babel’s city planners teach Babel drivers to use the correct roads.

Admittedly, Babel drivers, as a group, are not the world’s best drivers. While, hopefully, there are some quite competent drivers among their numbers, there is not much hope for most. They desperately need remedial training.

Babel’s city planners teach with a version of rote learning. As opposed to the endless debates of the Socratic method, rote learning does not care if you understand why you should do something but forces you into a pattern acceptable to those creating the lesson. The secret to the success of the method is that you are forced into the pattern one step at a time and, in the end, you are trained.

In this manner, Babel drivers are learning that using the Lakeshore to go downtown gets you the rolled up newspaper treatment. Using Bradford to drive downtown is the city planners’ plan. Bradford, is a mainly unused, four-lane road, between used car dealer lots that leads the driver from the confusion of the Bradford – Essa – Lakeshore – Tiffin intersection to a traffic jam at Dunlop or direct to Hooters across Simcoe Street.

This small commentary on city planners (or lack thereof in Babel) is not intended to bore non-Babelite readers but to provide a cautionary forewarning of the dangers of giving city planners any leeway. Use rolled up newspapers on them if necessary!

Babel’s city planners are now in the process of gradually redirecting Lakeshore traffic. This is a slow and painstaking process. One road is opened at a time. Plan one is in effect in that downtown-bound drivers now turn left from the Lakeshore to go to Bradford. Alternatively, they can, very slowly, make a hard right to go around a curve back onto Lakeshore. The opening of this new and modern highway system on the bay has been the cause of the biggest traffic jams in Babel’s history. They will get worse as the locals find out where the different roads will take them.

The only other comment on this matter is that we should advise all tourists to stay away from the Bradford – Essa – Lakeshore – Tiffin intersection. It may not be working the way the Babel city planners hoped. Unless, of course, they planned the intersection to demonstrate the equipment carried on the city’s emergency vehicles. The paramedics, firemen and police seem to spend an inordinate amount of time there blocking traffic.

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Enquiries about safe driving in Babel can be directed to peter@lowry.me