Archive for May, 2011

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Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Pinocchio is in Kandahar visiting our military might,

If next he is in Libya, he can get into another fight.

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The Democracy Papers.

Monday, May 30th, 2011

This is the fifth of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform.  The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle.  We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference.  Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering.  For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.

Chapter – 5  Proportional voting comes at high cost.

If ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) voting comes to Ontario, it is taxpayers who will pay, and pay, and pay! The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform that came up with this aberration seems to have ignored the costs.   And you do not just multiply the number of appointed members (39) by $110,775 per year that we are now (2007) paying each of our MPPs. The salaries for the unelected supernumerary legislature appointees will only be the beginning.

To $4.2 million in salaries, you have to add far more for the care and upkeep of these party stalwarts.   For example, if you have not parked a car in downtown Toronto in the past few years, you might have no idea how much it costs to park all the MPPs’ personal autos at Queens’ Park.   Suffice to say, if they all travelled to the legislature by Toronto Transit Commission, we could probably buy each of them a nice compact car every couple years from the savings.

And do not forget that they have a subsidized lunch room and paid meals if the legislature sits late.   This is even a better deal when the legislature is not sitting.   Our MPPs collect additional pay and expenses for each day of committee meetings they attend during these times.   If the chair of the committee can arrange it, they also can get excellent perks by holding meetings at luxury locations with a decent golf course.

Nobody should complain about the cost of constant travel by members of the legislature if they are going to and from their ridings.   They represent the people in those ridings and need to meet with them on a regular basis.   The proposed political appointees to the legislature will only represent their party.   Can we hope the 39 political appointees will all be from Toronto?

The really expensive travels for our MPPs are on what are called ‘fact-finding missions.’   These are often arranged by the party whip after the doors are locked at party caucus meetings.   Imagine, if you will, the whip or party leader asking, “Who hasn’t been to Europe yet this year?   We have a lovely cruise down the Rhine for those who want to look as though they are checking on municipal sewage solutions.”

The party stalwarts get their pick of these plums.   Conversely, the caucus bad apple who made the mistake of arguing openly with the party leader will get offered a fact-finding mission to examine policing for unauthorized weapons on the streets of Baghdad.   (This probably explains why so few politicians are seen to argue with their party leader.)

As the 39 party appointees would obviously all be good party people, we can assume that they could get first pick at the travels if they are not kept busy with cabinet appointments.   That is its own expense item as cabinet members are not only paid more but do not have worries as mundane as parking problems.   They are driven at the taxpayers’ expense by government-paid chauffeurs.   No cabinet member is allowed to worry about things such as having toonies and loonies for parking meters.   (That is outside downtown Toronto where what you really need for parking is a paid-up, no-limit American Express card.)

The good news for party leaders with the citizens’ assembly proposal is that they can list all their potential cabinet ministers at the top of what the citizens’ assembly calls ‘list seats.   (Political people are calling them ‘loser seats’).   That way, if the cabinet hopeful loses in his or her riding, the leader still gets a chance to get them into the legislature.

Mind you, if out of the 90 members to be elected from ridings, your party gets 50 seats, you would expect to feel like a winner.   Yet, you might be a loser if you do not get as high a percentage of the party vote.   If the voters perversely only gave your party 40 per cent of the party vote, the complex formula might refuse you any list seats.   You need to have 65 members in total for a majority government.

Obviously there is endless speculation among political junkies about what could happen under MMP voting.   It is a potpourri of ‘what-ifs?’   Luckily for them, the citizens’ assembly did not have to worry about any of this.   The assembly members were chosen by lottery on the basis (one voter from every electoral district in Ontario) that they probably knew nothing about politics or voting systems.   And it appears that they really knew nothing.   They were indoctrinated and since they did not want to appear to be wasting the taxpayers’ time and money, they chose one of the options presented to them.  An expensive one!

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

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

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Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Tim Hudak gets most of Dalton McGinty’s wrath,

It might be a mistake to ignore Andrea Horwath.

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Where hookers wear hardhats.

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

Welcome to Babel.  This town is an adventure that lurks in waiting for the unwary.  You think it is a sleepy little rural way station on the way to Muskoka.  You are wrong.  It is a bustling place where happenings happen and nothing ever gets finished.

From the vantage point of our aerie, 15 stories above all, we see it all.  From the condom-wrapped historic Allandale train station to the scurrying streams of cars and trucks on the provincial highway, we are witnesses to Babel.

For the past seven years we have been in the midst of the action.  Next door at the Water Pollution Control Centre, they spent years driving piles into the marshy soil to hold the settling tanks for our night soil.  In front, down the Lakeshore, they buried the mother of all sanitary sewers—as though for a re-enactment of the Phantom of the Opera.

Not content to gift wrap the old Allandale station—which they have absolutely no idea what to do with—they are building a new GO Train station on the other side of the property.  As it is on the other side of the property, the new station seems to require a tunnel to get you to and from where you have been or where you are going.  Why they cannot convert the old train station into a new train station is not considered a fair question by Babel politicians.

In all this construction over the years, there has been something of a bottleneck in logistics.  The constipated thinking of the planners has often left the town with very few routes between the north and south and anywhere else.  Thank goodness for the provincial highway.  As congested as it might be, it is a reliable connection for the town.

The main street of Babel, Dunlop Street, has been undergoing construction and destruction for years.  Babel is the only town in Ontario where the hookers have to wear hard hats to ply their trade.

Nobody seems to care about the retail businesses trying to make a living in Babel.  Our barber has a small shop near the new GO Train station.  For the past month, her customers have had to climb mountains of earth and risk life and limb to get a haircut.

Babel is still building the Taj Mahal of community theatres in the main intersection of town.  It will replace the auditorium at Central High that Simcoe County School Board is so intent on closing down.  (Nobody has ever explained why Babel is not considered competent to have its own school board to make these decisions.)

If there were one thing that is really bugging us currently, it is the lackadaisical attitude of the town and its contractors who left a deep ditch between the Lakeshore and the Water Pollution Control Centre property.  The water in that ditch is stagnant and produces some of the biggest mosquitoes we have seen in a long time

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

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Friday, May 27th, 2011

Imagine Harper?  A senior member of the G8?

Telling world leaders that his majority’s great.

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You can have communication or speculation.

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

There is a line in the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke when first the villain explains that the problem is a failure in communication and then, towards the end, it is repeated by the film’s star.  In the first case, the line is used as a replacement for an apology.  In the second use, it expresses hopelessness.  And a failure to communicate is both.

What some people do not understand is that a lack of communication from a person or organization says a great deal about that person or organization.  It allows others to speculate on their intent, motivation, capabilities, manners and fortitude.  The truth is replaced with rumours.

Some time ago, Babel-on-the-bay received a complaint that something we had written annoyed this individual.  The person told us that they did not have time to read what we write but someone had told him what we had written.  Since he failed to communicate what specific item was not to his liking (or his informant’s), we were left very much in the dark.  All we could do was thank him for his communication.  He had failed to communicate.

This is not to suggest that communicators will always win kudos for what they communicate.  There is still a tendency to shoot the messenger.

While we do not always listen to our own good advice, we do have some tips for the neophyte communicator.

First and foremost, you must always know your audience.  Woe onto him or her who takes the wrong approach with the wrong audience.  If you do not know the audience are you going to speak down to them or accidentally use words they might not understand?   A writers’ tool such as the Gunning fog index can help a writer by ensuring that you are communicating to as broad an audience as possible.

And if the audience does not know you, it is strongly recommended that you refrain from telling jokes.  Joking can get you in trouble.

If you have not been introduced in a way that emphasizes your authority with the subject, try to work in your qualifications (as modestly as possible).

Keep your communications brief.  Keep your sentences short.  Keep your paragraphs short.  Keep your items short.  Keep your speeches, newsletters and letters short. One, two-sided sheet of paper makes a reasonable length, general information newsletter.  Lengthier material will be set aside to be read later and never read.

In addition, stick to the subject.  There always seems to be that urge to stretch a newsletter with material that has nothing to do with why you are communicating.  And when you are done, stop.

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

Comment for today.

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Should Alf Apps be told to fall on his sword?

For the Liberal loss in the last voting discord?

He was not one to tell the leader what to do,

Party president, Apps wasn’t Michael’s guru.

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The Democracy Papers.

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This is the sixth of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform.  The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle.  We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference.  Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering.  For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.

Chapter 6 – Examining proportional voting.

Have you wondered why those who support proportional voting in the October referendum only mention two examples of legislative bodies that are elected by that method?   There are other examples and some of them have important lessons to share with Ontario voters.

The poster child of proportional voting is New Zealand.   That country has had mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting for the past ten years.   All most Ontario voters know about New Zealand is that the people speak English, the South Island has the mountains and the small country exports a lot of frozen lamb.   The Ontario voters who could name the prime minister of New Zealand might not be more than two in a thousand.

The other example, only mentioned in passing, is Germany.   Proportional voting has existed in some of the German states and in that country’s federal government since the days of the Weimar Republic.   MMP was just a temporary compromise after the Second World War.

Proportional voting is one of the most common voting systems in the world as many third world countries use it to overcome low literacy rates among voters.   It is much easier for an illiterate voter to choose a party symbol rather than deal with the complexity of candidates’ names.   Ontario does not have a major problem with voters’ literacy.

There are many variations of proportional voting.   The best example of pure proportional voting is the system used to elect the Knesset of the State of Israel.   This has been the system used since the first election in the new state in 1949.   The number and make-up of political parties shift as the do sands of the desert areas of the country.   The large cabinets are usually made up of representatives of various parties.

An important example of mixed-member proportional representation is the House of Representatives that forms part of Japan’s Diet.   The appointed members and elected members do not always enjoy friendly relations.   Riots in the Diet are an embarrassment to their countrymen.

A closer example of proportional voting is in the United States where the system is used to select the President.   The Electoral College, charged with selecting the President, is elected state by state on a proportional basis.   If the Americans used FPTP voting for President, Al Gore would have won the election in 2000 against George Bush.

A number of cities in the United States have also experimented with proportional voting systems.   Most notable was New York City.   It implemented proportional voting in 1936 in an attempt to clean up imbedded corruption in the city government. This voting system was revoked after a decade by what many claimed were the elites who were unhappy about the number of radicals, blacks and communists who were getting elected.   More importantly, the proportional voting system earned the enmity of the major newspapers and the experiment ended.

Most of Europe, as well as the European Parliament, use proportional systems of one sort or another.   One notable exception is France.   The French instituted proportional voting after the Second World War but switched back to FPTP in the late 1950s.   With the exception of the federal election of 1986, the French have preferred their system of run-off elections that ensures all successful candidates have a majority of votes.

The mother of parliaments, Great Britain, has held onto first-past-the-post voting in single candidate ridings.   Despite this, the country has gone along with proportional voting on representatives to the European Parliament.   The devolved governing bodies of Scotland and Wales which could be looked on as provincial bodies (unless you are a Scot or Welsh) are using MMP voting.

While the majority of countries in South America use proportional representation to elect their governments, only Bolivia and Venezuela use mixed (both constituency and list candidates) representation similar to what has been suggested in Ontario.   Closer to home, the next major country to use mixed representation is Mexico.   It is possible that those promoting MMP have decided not to say to people in Ontario: “Let’s have a government just like Mexico’s.”

What becomes clear as you examine the various countries and their electoral systems is that the dynamic countries that offer the leadership to the rest of the world are mainly those countries that have retained first-past-the-post electoral systems.   The countries that have opted for proportional systems are mainly countries that are trying (though not always succeeding) to develop a consensus approach to governance.

For all the weaknesses and frustrations of first-past-the-post, the conclusion is that North Americans like it.   They know it is a system that forces candidates to take the time, make the effort and show the determination to win.   Our first-past-the-post electoral system challenges the candidates, not the voters.   It is the voters who benefit.

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

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

Comment for today.

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Mr. Harper is said to have built a coalition,

Much better than Mr. Mulroney’s creation.

Mr. Mulroney had Quebec in the equation.

But Mr. Harper’ll borrow from Mr. Layton.

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To your health.

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

We were listening to Deb Mathews, Ontario Minister of Health and Long Term Care, the other day.  She was in town through the wonders of modern telephony.  She was having a telephone version of a town hall meeting with Babelites on the subject of health services in our province.

We do not recall ever meeting Dr. Mathews but have heard good things about her and wanted to hear what she had to say.  Being home alone for the evening and having not yet eaten, we put the program on the kitchen phone speaker and prepared a light dinner while listening.  That was a mistake.

We have never having been good at multi-tasking.  The Minister was talking about meeting community health care needs when we inadvertently sliced our thumb instead of the dinner roll that was being held so carelessly.  We were standing there getting blood all over the counter and thinking how much we hated those commercials by the Ontario Government about health care options.  That is where you see someone do something such as burn their hand in the kitchen and then stand there and consider all the health care options instead of heading for the medicine chest.

Since we have not been able to get a family doctor in Babel, that listed option was out.  We have no idea where to find a nurse practitioner and phoning the local MPP’s office to find one seemed like a slow procedure.  Going to the local hospital or a clinic for a four to six hour wait among all those germs, while real emergencies were handled, also seemed impractical.  After all, two stitches and a hand painted with antiseptic were hardly worth the wait time.

We finally stemmed the flow of blood and, with a one-handed application of a couple band-aids, resolved the problem.  Sure, there will probably be a scar on our thumb but it will help us to remember to always hold knives properly.

Regretfully, somewhere along the way, while doing our first-aid bit, we hung up on Dr. Mathews.  We really wanted to discuss finding family doctors with her.  It sounded like she was full of ideas and maybe she could help.

We occasionally get new doctors in Babel and they take on new patients.  The problem is that they do not want any older patients with chronic health concerns.  Why would they?  The payment system is devised for doctors to process their patients rapidly and efficiently.  That does not work with the older patients.  These people want to spend the doctor’s time talking about their various ailments.  Some of them are intelligent and, having had much life experience, want to discuss the options for their treatment.  Many have chronic conditions that challenge the doctor’s knowledge of their trade.  These people obstruct rapid, efficient processing.

The Ontario Medical Association has made it clear to doctors that they should not discriminate against these older patients but nobody seems to be paying any attention.

In Babel, the doctors get around the OMA brass by letting the hospital front for them.  The hospital controls the paperwork for people who want a family doctor.  They demand information such as age and ongoing health concerns and then stipulate that patients will be barred from the practice if they lie about anything.

We tried to take the hospital to the Ontario Human Rights Commission for this discrimination but the lawyer-adjudicator claimed that the hospital did not control the doctors.  When we pointed out that the hospital gave the doctors the right to practice at the hospital, the lawyer ignored the connection.  We lost.  And, not being a lawyer, we could take the case no further.

We really wanted Dr. Mathews to suggest a way around this discrimination but missed our chance.  We are also trying to remember not to use our left thumb on the space bar while typing.  That thumb is not healed yet.

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