Archive for July, 2011

Let’s hear it for Babel’s Impresario Brown.

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

You have to admit, Patrick Brown is far better at being an impresario and promoting fund-raising events for some of our local charities than at being a Member of Parliament.  It figures that the Conservatives had to find something for him to do.

The only question we have is whether this is a very expensive way to help these select charities?  Is the job he is doing worth the $157,000 per year we pay him as a Conservative Member of Parliament?  Over the past several years, he has set new records in taxpayer funded mailing costs to promote himself.  He even has the distinction of being censured by the House of Commons Speaker for spending federal taxpayers’ money to promote the re-election of a city Councillor.

Another of those grey mailers from Patrick arrived in the mailbox the other day.  It is for another fund raiser for our favourite hospital.  This time it is for an upcoming half marathon (first annual, it tells us) for more Royal Victoria Hospital expansion.  (If they keep expanding that hospital, we are going to have to move Highway 400 over to give the hospital more room.)

Brown wants us to run a marathon or at least half a marathon or maybe just five kilometres on August 14.  We will pass on that, thank you.

But what concerns us is that Brown keeps spending taxpayers’ money on these selected charities.  Is that fair?  What about our favourite charities?  Do they always have to be his favourites?  After all, it is our money he is spending to promote these events.  And there are lots of worthy charities.

That leads to another concern.  Impresario Brown has been promoting a hockey night event for a few years.  It makes money for the hospital.  We would like to know who else benefits.  Does Mr. Brown benefit or does he figure he gets all that publicity for free?  Are there tax receipts given to sponsors?  We would really like to see an audit on that event.  Mr. Brown does not seem to be above playing fast and loose with our tax money.

We hate to raise these questions but sometimes, we are not sure that Impresario Brown really knows what he is doing.

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

The obduracy of the right.

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

The first inclination was to refer to the pig-headedness of the right wing in our North American society.  Since ‘obduracy’ means the same, we can sound a bit more refined.  What it does not preclude is the opportunity to rail against the ham-fisted idiocy of those people on the right-wing of politics whose destructive obduracy causes so much trouble in our society.

We can see the obduracy at all levels of government.  We can see it in Canada and in the U.S.A.  It starts at the municipal level.

The Ford brothers in Toronto are an excellent example of the ignorance on which obduracy can be based.  The Toronto Mayor and his lieutenant brother think they can casually close libraries and daycare facilities while laying off police to meet their imagined tax savings.  They offered a frustrated electorate a chance to end the gravy train and now they learn that they are the gravy train.

It is a lesson that Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak has yet to learn.  It is an ignorant elector that will go along with the bad economics of Hudak’s foolish promises.  The problem is there are lots of ignorant people who vote.  People believe what they want to believe and logic does not trump emotion.  Hudak can only be defeated by a stronger emotional appeal.

And what can you really say about Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  The anger, chagrin and frustration with him will build to a crescendo over the next four years.  We have barely scratched the surface of his government’s right-wing paranoia.

The American right-wing adherents are also hardly wallflowers.  The Tea Party supporters in Congress have tied that government in knots fighting for their economic plans.  The fact that most of their plans cannot work does not seem to bother them.

But the truth in all of this right and left fighting is that nobody has all the answers.  The voters have the power to end the nonsense by forcing politicians to sit down with each other to discuss the issues.  Cooperation makes for poor media headlines but it certainly makes for better government.

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

Adversity becomes Jack.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Jack Layton has always been a strong opponent.  It was 26 years ago when we first seriously campaigned against him in downtown Toronto.  At the time, the City of Toronto councillor was managing the provincial campaign in Fort York Riding for the NDP.  He is one heck of a scrapper.  Our Liberal beat his candidate in that election but he came back stronger the next time.  That area now is a big part of his wife, Olivia Chow’s, federal electoral district of Trinity-Spadina.

We were probably as surprised as he was when he easily won the leadership of the federal NDP in 2003.  He had come a long way from his roots in Montreal.  Mind you, it was his facility with Quebec French from those roots that made him a natural for the NDP leadership.

Jack performed well in his national role.  That tenacity of his paid off with increases in seats in 2005, 2006 and 2008.  He initially supported Liberal Paul Martin’s minority in 2005 and then brought him down, opening the door for a Stephen Harper Conservative minority.  His recent fight with prostate cancer and then a hip operation did not seem to slow him down.

It was only when we saw the teleprompters he was using at the NDP set pieces during the election this year that we realized that he was not as well as he was making out.  We expected teleprompter use for Stephen Harper to stay tightly scripted but Jack Layton and Michael Ignatieff were experienced lecturers and did not always need this type of aid.  We watched him more closely and while he used the cane as an effective prop, you could see that he needed it.

His colloquial French was what won him approval during the 2011 election.  The slipping away of Bloc Quebecois support in Quebec and the endorsement by the Toronto Star in Ontario were the critical factors that put him into the position to win second place and the role of Opposition Leader.  His splitting of votes with the Liberals also gave Stephen Harper his majority government.

In wishing Jack a speedy recovery from the new cancer concern, you could almost imagine some sincerity in the Prime Minister’s voice.  With Harper’s wooden style, it is hard to tell.

But we can sincerely wish Jack well.  It is always better to compete with the opponent you know.

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

Where is the leadership in Ontario?

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

It never really pays to analyze leadership.  It is there or it is not.  It can fit the diagrams of psychologists or it can be beyond their patterns.  You can use their diagrams to define a leader but the diagrams cannot produce a leader.  The secret is more in alchemy than in chemistry.  When there is no leadership, the fate of an election becomes more dependent on the interplay of the protagonists and the perceptions of the voters.  That is certainly the case in the Ontario election fixed for this October.

Neither of Premier McGinty’s previous two elections was won through any perception of leadership.  In 2003, McGinty became Premier of Ontario because of the lack of leadership by Conservative Leader Ernie Eves who had been too long in the shadow of the discredited Conservative Premier Michael Harris.  Eves could not defend himself in the demonizing of Harris.  McGinty offered a strong caucus, few promises and the fact that he was not Harris.  That was not leadership. It was being there.

The 2007 campaign was McGinty’s to lose as by this time the Conservatives had corrected their error and picked a leader who had strong leadership characteristics.  John Tory was charismatic, in tune with the times and brought solid values to the provincial Tories.  What he lacked was the key leadership need: direction.  He tried to solve this lack of direction by trying to expand the conservative base vote in Ontario by appealing to the right wing religious vote.  He offered this segment of Ontario society financial support for their parochial schools.  What he gained in the religious communities, he lost in the deeply affronted older W.A.S.P. vote across the province.

For the 2011 campaign, the Ontario Conservatives have fielded a manufactured leader.  Tim Hudak, a young Member of the Legislature from Fort Erie, was an acolyte of Michael Harris.  Deb Hutton, whom many considered the brains(?) behind Harris and certainly his platform, not only picked Hudak but married him and groomed him for the provincial leadership role.  He is a pit bull on the campaign trail but no leader.

Andrea Horwath of the NDP is the wild card in the 2011 election campaign but has yet to show what she can do.  She is the only one of the party leaders with a sense of humour and she also has more street smarts than either of her opponents.  It is too early to say how this will play out.

What we know for sure in this provincial election is that the voters in Ontario are wary of this lack of leadership and are looking for change.  At this stage, we have no idea what that change could be.

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

Senator Kenny sings Yankee Doodle.

Monday, July 25th, 2011

On June 29, 2009, the entry on this blog was an item entitled: Let’s not praise border bungling. It was about an article Senator Colin Kenny had written for the Toronto Star in support of American’s restricting our mutual border.  “Johnny one-note” Kenny is back at it today.  Similar theme, same support, some grovelling but he does seem to understand that the Americans might not live up to their side of the deal.

What is different is that the Senator does ask plaintively for a more fluid and efficient border.  Regrettably, he believes that Canadians should also pay another $3 billion toward beefing up Canada’s security on our side of the border.  That is very generous of him but he fails to make the case on why we would want to do that.  Paying to keep Americans happy is not high on the agenda of many of us.  Canadians naively think that free trade should be fair trade.

Kenny points out that it used to be—when the Canadian dollar was worth about two-thirds of the U.S. dollar—easy for Canada to attract investors who could enjoy lower production costs and easy access to the U.S. market.  The problem is that with the Canadian dollar now more than its American counterpart, the line-up of trucks crossing the Ambassador Bridge at Detroit does not seem to be any faster moving.

He thinks it is a good thing that American Homeland Security tsar Janet Napolitano and Harper Public Safety Minister Vic Toews are having ‘friendly’ planning sessions for tighter border security while supposedly easing the congestion.  Easing the congestion—that they have created—is not on the American agenda.  Why would they want to do anything about it?

But Senator Kenny is still faithful to his dream of the North American hegemony.  Not all Americans would understand that the word hegemony means a confederacy of states lead by one of them.  They would expect it to mean dominance.  We already have that.

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

Mr. Harper, meet the provincial premiers.

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

“You need a crisis to get movement on that.” This was the advice we got the other day when discussing our blogs on constitutional reform.  This person thought it was amusing when we said that we hoped to see something develop on constitutional reform within the next six years.  There is no question but that the movement toward constitutional reform in Canada is best described as glacial.  Even Mr. Harper’s attempt at limiting the terms of Senators has hit a stone wall with Canada’s provincial premiers.

Harper thought he could work around the premiers by the permissive wording of his legislation as opposed to changing those areas within provincial jurisdiction.  For example, instead of specifying how senators would be selected, his legislation allows the provinces to use whatever method they wish. In effect, provinces wishing to hold an election could recommend the winner(s) of an election and the Prime Minister would appoint the person(s).

But that ruse fails as soon as you get to Prince Edward Island.  The Islanders are extremely protective of their four seats in the House of Commons that are tied to their four seats in the Senate.  They will take the federal government to the Supreme Court if necessary to maintain the provincial prerogatives and Harper can hardly stuff the Court with supporters the same way he has already stuffed the Senate.

It will probably be a challenge to Quebec sovereignty that will trigger the next constitutional crisis.  That area is quiet at the moment but it always has the seeds of a potential flare-up.  The lack of support for Harper in Quebec is one factor that can trigger discord, the lack of identification with their constituents of most of the NDP’s Quebec caucus is another and the frustration of the younger federal Liberal Party support is the third.  We are assured that into that tinder, the necessary spark will fly.

What our country will need in that crisis will be the leveller heads in the rest of the provinces to accept the idea of a constitutional conference made up of people selected for that purpose.  Two or three persons from each federal electoral district can be elected to meet and discuss the constitutional needs of our country.  They will buy the time for the country to come to grips with the crisis that has been created and then a national referendum can affirm or undo what the constitutional conference has concluded.

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

Our industry minister flunks basic accounting.

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Stephen Harper appointed Christian Paradis Minister of Industry after the federal election in May.  This has turned out to be a very bad idea.  While Mr. Paradis is a lawyer and Minister of Industry, he obviously knows nothing about corporate balance sheets. Mr. Harper might not have a wealth of talent available to him among his Quebec members but Mr. Paradis is an embarrassment.

Paradis authorized a news release this week that actually said that a $4.5 billion purchase of Nortel patents did not reach the value necessary for a review to be required.  He said the deal was really only worth $312 million because that was the value for the patents showing on Nortel’s balance sheet.  One wonders if Mr. Paradis is kidding.  Does he really think that the figure companies carry on their books represents anything like the true value of the company’s patents?

Accountants use arbitrary figures for this area to show a balance on the books.  They have no idea what patents are worth unless they hold some sort of sales event.  That is hardly practical to do on a regular basis.

What Nortel is selling is Canada’s heritage in telephone technology.  Those patents represent more than 100 years of leading edge technology in the inner workings of the telephone networks and cellular telephones.  The consortium that includes Apple, Microsoft, Ericsson, Sony and RIM are not buying a pig in a poke, they are ensuring their companies’ futures.  For $4.5 billion, they are buying Canada’s telephony heritage.

Since Alexander Graham Bell spent his early years in Brantford, Ontario developing his ideas for the telephone, Canada has been very lucky in how previous governments protected our Canadian rights.  From its beginnings as Northern Electric Company and then with the leadership of Bell Northern Research (BNR), Nortel assured Canadians of a leading position in world telephone markets.

But now Mr. Harper and Mr. Paradis have sold us out.  Canada’s telephone heritage is lost.  Canada’s leadership in telecommunications is just another export to them.  They can care less about our past while they forsake our future.

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

“Let business do what business does best!”

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

One of the many mantra of the political right wing is to pay obeisance to potential supporters in business.   They believe that if they tell business that there will be less regulation, business owners will reward them with political donations.  This is why the phrase “Let business do what business does best” rolls so easily off the lips of right-wing politicians.  They might not know what those words really mean but they say them anyway.  It sounds good.

They are obviously not aware of the extremes of that statement as happened in Italy in the 1920s and 1930s under fascist rule.  The rampant corruption among the corporations that were effectively running Italy at the time would have embarrassed the most backward of third world countries.  All anyone conveniently remembers is that the trains did run on time but they never consider the cost.

What causes these thoughts to surface is a business page story today about the extra vehemence of people who used to believe in a business.  This would not surprise psychologists who understand how easily a strong feeling of love can become a stronger feeling of hate.  Any marketing person can tell you that you can spend millions building ties between customers and your company and one careless corporate act can turn these supporters into enraged enemies.

There was a time in North America when business actually discussed the concept of corporate social responsibility.  They never understood that either.  Today, they tout their donations to various causes and call that social responsibility.  Nobody wants them to stop giving to charity but it is incongruous in a climate of outsourcing staff for cheaper labour costs.

There was a list published recently of Canadian businesses that are considered socially responsible.  It was a short list.  Someone asked us where Bell Canada might make it on that list.  We suggested that of the top 500 responsible companies in Canada, Bell Canada might be number 898.  Bell Canada is hated by many consumers and the company could care less.

Bell discovered many years ago that its publics were all in Ottawa.  They were politicians and regulators.  The company realized if it could create a tension between those two groups it could pull off just about anything it wanted to.  We understand that the company has more people in its government relations office in Ottawa than its total consumer relations office at its headquarters in Montreal.

Bell pulled the greatest coup in Canadian corporate history when it decided to buy complete control of the CTV network.  CTV has become the stick that Bell can hold over the head of any government to get what it wants.  It no longer needs us stupid consumers.

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

There is good news for McGuinty: Caplan’s gone.

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

It is a good news-bad news scenario.  Every few days we learn of another retirement from the benches at the Ontario Legislature.  With his foolish decision to combine fixed elections periods in a parliamentary system, Premier Dalton McGuinty has only himself to blame.  There is little he can do about the water torture he is going through, losing experienced members in the long run-up to the preset election day.

But for every needed and valued member such as stalwart Gerry Phillips who retires with honour, there is another deserting the ship such as David Caplan.  Gerry Phillips has given the Liberal Party in Ontario over 40 years of outstanding service.  David Caplan, like his mother before him, finds the heat is too much and his welcome less warm.

While you try not to visit the wrongs of the parent on the child, there seems no question that a similar political paranoia that eventually ended Elinor Caplan’s political career, has ended her son’s career at Queen’s Park.  He started his career with flunking out of business at the University of Western Ontario and has yet to find his forte.  He shared his expertise in education as a North York school board trustee from 1991 to 1997 when he took his mother’s Toronto area riding and got elected to Queen’s Park.

David Caplan was following in his mother’s footsteps as Minister of Health in the Fall of 2009 when he resigned because of the billion-dollar eHealth boondoggle.  His mother was heading for the same type of crash and burn situation as Minister of Health in the Peterson Government back in the late 1980s.

Elinor Caplan was headed for serious trouble over how the government was handling the AIDS crisis at the time.  The only difference was that she had a friend in the Premier’s office who could fix it.  She never knew who it was that planned the events and wrote the news releases and speeches that turned that impending disaster into a win-win situation for the Peterson government.

To us, Elinor always represented the worst of politics.  She never seemed to trust anyone.  If you did anything to be helpful, she assumed you wanted something.  She appeared to make few friends.  She left politics in 2004.

With her son also gone from Queen’s Park, one can hope that politics will continue to improve in Ontario.

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

What being an MPP is about…

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

They are describing Niagara Falls Member of the Provincial Parliament as a maverick.  The two-term Liberal MPP is angry.  He is angry on behalf of his constituents.  He has a right to be angry and it is his job to do something about it.  If that is being a maverick then we need more mavericks in all the parties.

There is a very serious C. difficile outbreak in the Niagara area hospitals in Ontario and people are dying from it.  Craitor felt his constituents were being stone-walled by the Ministry of Health about the outbreak and they were not being given the facts they needed.  He wanted daily briefings for the local media by the Ministry so that the media can keep the public informed.  If that is being a maverick then we certainly need more mavericks like Kim Craitor.

Clostridium difficile or C. difficile or C. diff is a bacterium normally found in bowel movements.  When other bacteria normally found in the bowel are killed by antibiotics, the C. difficile can create toxins that can cause watery diarrhoea.  It is the most common cause of diarrhoea in hospitals and seniors’ residences and can cause death.  At time of writing, 21 patients have recently died of C. difficile in the Niagara Region of Ontario.

This disease is the best reason you will ever have for washing your hands.  Frequently.  When you visit a hospital, wash your hands going in, wash your hands while there and wash your hands when leaving.  That also goes for seniors’ residences.  You hardly want to be responsible for anyone’s death because you did not bother to wash your hands.  The life you save might be your own.

The other important item in this story is MPP Kim Craitor.  We need more mavericks at Queen’s Park.  We need MPPs of all parties who recognize that their first and foremost responsibility is to the people who elected them, the people of their electoral district.  Believe it or not, the political party does not come first.  The MPP who believes in putting party first should never be elected.

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