Archive for August, 2011

Killing trees to merge the left.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Print media in Canada either spend their editorial efforts on appearing thoughtful or on being shallow.  Both efforts—the honest one and the dishonest one—needlessly kill a lot of trees.  The subject de jour for the thoughtful media is the merger of Canada’s Liberal and New Democratic Parties and the leadership of each or the one that is produced by the merger.  It is certainly going to use a lot of ink and newsprint.

Speculation about potential leaders will be the saviour for harried editors when they have no fires to report.  The first leadership will be for the NDP and that is expected to be in the early part of 2012.  The Liberal Party intends to wait until 2014.  The Liberals will give editors a chance for speculative stories on all 34 current Liberal MPs, several dozen provincial Liberals and assorted others in that time.

The most amusing pseudo think piece so far was the one today in the Toronto Star by left-leaning writer Thomas Walkom.  He is touting Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae for the top NDP post.  He thinks it would be a natural for Rae but admits that it might be tough to swallow for some of Rae’s former NDP cohorts.

Rae’s Liberal leadership hopes are also a stretch for many Liberal Party members.  What Rae proved as Premier of Ontario in the early 1990s was that he is a good campaigner, a so-so premier and a lousy politician.  If he will just stick to his promise the other day to keep Stephen Harper’s Conservative’s feet to the fire about jobs for the next two years, he will earn an honoured position with the Liberal Party.  It will just not be the top job.

The NDP has its own problems.  If you read Jack Layton’s last letter in its entirety, you will discover it is not an NDP document.  Find where it mentions the Canadian Labour Congress which shares control of that party?  Where are the class struggles and the collectivism that built the NDP?  The letter has been crafted as a social democrat document and left-of-centre Liberals would have no cause to disagree with what it says.

An early front-runner in the NDP race to replace Jack Layton is Deputy Leader MP Tom Mulcair from Montreal.  Mulcair was a Quebec Liberal cabinet minister until he split with Premier Jean Charest over a purported environmental issue.  He should ask Stéphane Dion, the former federal Liberal leader, what being an environmentalist gets you in Canadian politics.

Bear in mind also that there are active Liberals and NDPers who will never take the possibility of a merging of the two parties seriously.  A merged party will not include a sizeable number of right wing Liberal members in that party.  This includes Liberals such as former leader Paul Martin and MPs such as Ralph Goodale.  A merged party would also be an uncomfortable place for some of the older, embittered NDP socialists who think of Liberals as the enemy.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Doctors first: House calls second.

Monday, August 29th, 2011

And here we thought Deb Mathews was one of the brighter lights in the McGuinty cabinet.  We all make mistakes but Mathews offer of doctors providing house calls for seniors could be a serious stretch.  While we all understand the logic and economic sense she is making, there is no question that she has things backwards.

First you have to have doctors who will accept seniors as patients.

This is not just a problem in Ontario, it is a disgrace that is impacting millions of families.  While the Ontario Medical Association has said that doctors are not to discriminate against seniors, nobody enforces it.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission ignores it.  Hospitals not only allow doctors to discriminate but they actively support them in it.

While tens of thousands of seniors, the people in greatest need for properly controlled health care, lack a family doctor, McGuinty runs around the province touting his government’s accomplishments in more families getting doctors.  Why he wants to take the credit for the new doctors who made the decision to go into medicine during the Harris Conservative government years, is not clear.

What is clear is that these new doctors only want to serve young, healthy families.  Why?  Because that is how they will be paid the most by the government.  There is no percentage for a new general practitioner to take on seniors.  The old people have complex problems, take up far too much time and are a strain on a new practice.

The McGuinty government deserves the credit for coming up with the sensible arguments for an ‘Aging at Home’ policy.  It seems to be the steps needed to make it happen that are tripping up the government.  In the meantime, there are probably more than 10,000 seniors in Ontario on the waiting lists for nursing home beds.  The Harris government might be blamed for the problems in the system but the waiting list has become almost three times as long since McGuinty took over.

The person who wrote the dialogue for the 1949 Humphrey Bogart-John Derek movie Knock on any door certainly spoke for Ontario seniors when he advised people to live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Halleluiah, Halleluiah Brother.

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper might not have thought through all the potential effects of a state funeral for Jack Layton.  This was the first state funeral for an opposition leader in 100 years and that last one was for Wilfrid Laurier who was a former Prime Minister.  Where Harper might have miscalculated was that he provided Stephen Lewis, a former  Ontario New Democrat leader, with a national audience for a highly partisan eulogy.

It was a beautifully crafted speech that contained standing ovation after standing ovation.  It went way beyond a celebration of the life of Jack Layton.  And how often do you have standing ovations at a funeral?  When the wandering cameras came to rest later during the service on Stephen Lewis and his wife Michele Landsberg, you were seeing one of Canada’s best orators with one of its best writers.  That is a powerful combination.

You could see the effects of the speech on the faces of people in the crowds outside Roy Thompson Hall.  They were rapt, they were cheering, they were involved and they believed.  It was hardly just an NDP audience.  Federal Cabinet Ministers Tony Clement and John Baird were sitting there looking a little shell shocked.  Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty looked like his seat did not fit him for some reason.

It was too bad that, under election rules, the NDP could not pass the hat at the event.  It could have been a good haul.

But they will look at the memberships they pick up in the weeks to come and that should give the party a boost across Canada.  It was especially telling that there was repeatedly strong representation at the event in French.  There was a particularly striking rendition of the song Croire (Believing) that left no doubt of the importance the NDP is placing on the party’s Quebec breakthrough in the last election.

While there is adverse reaction being voiced about the excesses in the news media over the past week, there is no question but Jack Layton’s common man approach struck a cord with the Canadian people.  Whether the New Democrats can fly to greater heights on that image remains to be seen.  Ask that question again in October.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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BC Referendum results are trouble for McGuinty.

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

You had to know that the Harmonized Sales Tax was going to come back into the limelight and bite Ontario’s Premier McGuinty on the ass.  Now there is going to be a call for referendum legislation in Ontario to enable people to challenge the government’s tax laws.  Just six weeks before the provincial election, the timing is bad for McGuinty.

It is the fault of those people out in Lotusland.  The British Columbia electors voted almost 55 per cent against the harmonized tax that had been implemented out there.  They not only voted to change back to separate provincial and federal sales taxes but they are going to lose the $1.6 Billion bribe that the federal government paid to get them to do it. This will cost B.C. voters more than they have bargained for.

But nobody has ever accused B.C. electors of voting in their own best interest.  This is the province that voted in various forms of provincial Social Credit governments.  It used to totally confuse pollsters as when the experts would ask people why they voted as they did, nobody would admit they voted for their new government.  In federal elections, all bets are off west of the Rocky Mountains.

You would think that McGuinty would have a free pass with both opponents—Horwath and Hudak—admitting that they would not cancel the HST.  He does, in effect, but not with the voters.  His problem is that he and his Finance Minister are going around insisting that the HST is good for business in Ontario.  The reaction to that is voters are saying: “That’s all very well.  Let business vote for you!”

What nobody seems to understand is that the HST in British Columbia and Ontario was never planned nor dreamed up by the provincial governments.  It was conceived by the Harper government and sold by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and carried out by the two provinces, Liberal governments.  They bought Flaherty’s blandishments.  They accepted Flaherty’s bribes of our money.

If Ontario voters had given the proper level of government credit for the HST, the Harper government would still be a minority government.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Hudak dumps on municipalities.

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

This will be known as the Hudak error of the 2011 provincial election.  At this crucial stage of the campaign, you hardly want to shaft your key supporters across Ontario.  Former Conservative Leader John Tory’s gaffe, four years ago, was to promise full funding to parochial schools.  This week, Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak told municipal politicians that he would not promise to keep taking former provincial costs back from property tax.

While Hudak could hardly choose the timing of the Association of Ontario Municipalities meeting, the timing of his announcement will undermine his hoped for campaign momentum.  Conservatives have traditionally dominated the municipal scene in Ontario.  He was causing major problems for his own supporters.

His announcement will not change any municipal Conservative’s voting pattern but some of the enthusiasm for his election will suffer.  It can drop the active support among some municipal Tories down a few notches and that can be felt in many of the close electoral district races.  Races where one or two hundred votes could have changed the district’s outcome will not have the extra push that is needed.

The extreme right will agree with Hudak but the more middle ground Tories will see it as a repeat of one of the major mistakes of the Mike Harris regime.  The Harris Tory government, of which Hudak was part, saw the dumping of provincial costs on municipal ratepayers as an easy out to their budgeting problems.  They failed to recognize that the municipalities are the responsibility of the province and that there was no panacea in transferring costs to them.

The McGuinty government had made a deal with the municipalities that they would—over time—take costs that should properly be paid by the province back under provincial responsibility.  The entire program was priced out at $1.5 Billion.  The government kept its word and to-date some $1 Billion has been transferred.  It is the remaining $0.5 Billion that Hudak said he would not promise to pay.

The earlier Tim Hudak showed that he could be consistent and stick to his script.  Lately he is losing that ability, he appears rattled and he has had to backtrack.  This latest gaffe will not help.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Jack Layton: ‘The Ordinary Man’

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

If you and I should chance to meet,
I guess you wouldn’t care;
I’m sure you’d pass me in the street
As if I wasn’t there;
You’d never look me in the face,
My modest mug to scan,
Because I’m just a commonplace
And Ordinary Man.

Robert William Service

Jack Layton’s secret weapon in the May 2 federal election was that he was Jack.  Jack was an ordinary man.  He was a Quebec anglo from Hudson but Jack was alright with ordinary Quebeckers.  He was also alright with ordinary voters across Canada.  For he was Jack.

Jack Layton’s party could not win the federal election but he took second prize with obvious delight.  He earned it.  The fates then conspired to rip that prize from his weakening hands.

Americans would see it as Jack being Mr. Smith, the ordinary man storming the gates of Congress.  In Canada, he was that quiet guy from down the street who was there to help his neighbours. The reality was that in the 2011 election he was every professional campaign manager’s dream, the perfect candidate: who could only do as he was told.

It will be extremely difficult to replace the mix that was Jack.  Here was a political science professor talking the talk of the ordinary man.  Here was a municipal pothole fixer discussing federal government issues.  Here is that regular Joe, married to a Chinese-Canadian lady who is also a Member of Parliament.

Jack was one of the toughest opponents you could ever face in an election campaign simply because he could look so innocent.  There was a very telling camera shot of Jack in the English-language television debate with the other leaders last April.  The camera angle was high and it looked as though he was looking up at Prime Minister Harper with a slight smile on his face.  It was the kind of smile that on a politician says somebody is going to get nailed.  Surprisingly it was not Harper but Michael Ignatieff Jack went after.  It was an attack on Michael’s attendance in the House of Commons that Jack knew was a cheap shot.

The willingness Jack showed in doing that told us he was not running his own campaign.  He had to agree with his team that he could not beat Harper but he could beat Ignatieff.  The fact that Michael Ignatieff did not respond told insiders even more.

Jack’s only problem was his party.  His illness shielded him from the worst attacks of his political enemies.  His illness meant props were used to help him through the ardour of the campaign.  It kept him free of the minutia demands of the party and its candidates.  And the strategy worked.

Canada will miss Jack Layton.  The New Democratic Party will miss him much more.  Without that ordinary man perspective, the party will slide back to its third party status.  Even when the Liberal Party moves more convincingly to the political left, there is little likelihood of a merger of the parties.  Jack Layton never seemed to want to preach the collectivism that the NDP represents.  It was because he was unique.  He was the ordinary man.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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George Orwell shows the way.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Prime Minister Harper is going to fill his new prisons one way or another.  And, if he has to borrow a page or two from Orwell’s 1984, he just might do it.  He has already started. If you have read George Orwell, you know that Big Brother loves you and will look after you.  He will rewrite history for you.  He will watch you and have all your neighbours watching you.

Mr. Harper’s government has already published pictures of people so that their neighbours can report them.  Harper’s Cabinet minions have been quite pleased with the results.  They immediately expanded their ‘most wanted’ postings from international criminals to people who might be in the country illegally.  You just have to start with people it is easy to hate. The Tories will quickly find they can target child pornographers and sex perverts.  They could include oil company executives charged with price fixing.  With luck these people would be picked up by the R.C.M. Police before our usually mild mannered citizens lynch them.

The government will go on to expand their searches. Eventually they will find out about that parking ticket you forgot to pay.  Your own children will report you to the police for that infraction.

This is how Big Brother operates.  He starts slowly.  He gets you agreeing with him.  It becomes insidious.  When he has you up doing callisthenics in front of a webcam on the television every morning, it will be too late.

There is no question that Big Brother wants you to think right.  He wants you to be right.  He wants you to be just like him.  He wants you to love him.

We can all join the principal character at the end of Orwell’s 1984 and say it in unison: “I love Big Brother!”


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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‘The Middle Cannot Hold.’

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

In his American Empire Series of alternative histories, American author Harry Turtledove used the title, The Middle Cannot Hold. It also serves as a title for a discussion of the Liberal Party of Canada and why it cannot continue as a pseudo centrist political party.  The simple reason is that there is no middle.  The only clear direction for the Liberal Party is to the left of centre.

And left of centre is very comfortable ground for real liberals.  It is the only ground for people who believe in the rights of the individual in our society.  The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the legacy Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau left to Canadians, is the essence of that liberalism.

Individual rights have always been the keystone of liberalism.  And the status quo is anathema.  Humans are on this earth in a window of time.  No person can forecast the length of that window or the opportunities that will be offered.  Only liberalism offers the visitor the unfettered opportunity to experience and to achieve

The defence of individual rights by the Liberal Party is what has attracted millions of Canadians to the liberal banner for more than 100 years.  It is why women in our society know their rights are always protected by liberalism.  The party is a party respected by minorities because it protects individual rights.

Liberalism is in contrast to other parties.  On the right is conservatism which is based on the past.  In preserving the past and the status quo, conservatism resists change or reform and puts property and privilege ahead of individual rights.  Further to the left of liberalism are the socialist parties who see humans as collectives.  It is within these collectives, they seek strength with numbers.

Today, liberals must take back their party.  A renewed liberalism must come from the party roots.  Electoral districts must show the way.  A new leader must be chosen by the party, to serve at the pleasure of the party.  The party executive must be chosen to serve the party.  The policy of the party must be determined and articulated by the party members.  Party candidates must be chosen by each electoral district.  Nobody outside the electoral district has the right to determine that district’s candidate.

To deny this basic right is to deny liberalism.  Nobody can lead a democratic party unless they support and encourage democracy within the party.  That must be the basic qualification for any potential leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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The choice in Ontario on October 6.

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

It is hard to imagine voting in the October six election in Ontario for anyone other than the Liberal candidate.  It is not a happy vote.  It is more along the lines of a defensive action.  Have you looked at the alternatives to McGuinty?

Hudak and friends simply cannot be allowed to happen.  The Conservative leader and candidates such as the one running for that party in Babel would be a disaster for the province.  And why would Babel voters want another nebbish like their federal MP?

“But what about Horwath?” is the question.  The answer is that just because she is the only leader with a personality hardly makes her and her party an option.  Any business person who tried to work with the Bob Rae NDP government back in the 1990s would remember how awful an experience that was.  You had to deal with cabinet ministers who had no concept of the job required from them and their advisers who seemed to be chosen for their equal level of ignorance.  This is no time for another amateur hour.

That is the only thing Premier McGuinty has got going for him: incumbency.  If he could ever get his priorities right, he could make a fair to middling premier.  He is in nothing but trouble on his healthcare file.  Deb Mathews, as Health Minister, has been covering well but nobody can possibly juggle all those problems for too long.  When she misses one of those balls, there is no telling where it will land.

One of the least understood problems with healthcare is the discrimination doctors are practicing against seniors.  Throughout the province, seniors are learning that they can no longer choose their doctor and they will be lucky to find one who will be concerned about their health needs.  And they have every right to feel angry about it.

The energy file in Ontario seems more like a ponzi scheme than an honest attempt to promote renewable energy.  How long can we pay 60 cents per kilowatt hour for energy we resell for about 10 cents per kilowatt hour?  No wonder Samsung loves us and will build four new wind and solar energy plants for Ontario.

All-day kindergarten is wonderful program for children.  It is the timing that sucks!  Who said we can afford it?

This is one of those times that we have to admit that the cure for McGuinty is worse than the disease.  We have no choice on October six.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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The hollowness of political promises.

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

You have to love political promises.  They cost the person promising them nothing.  They are only creative when the voters do not recognize instantly that they are being bribed with their own money.  Take the recent promise by Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty to make GO Transit give you your money back if your commuter train is late. It was a brilliant offer.

The offer was also meaningless.  It played to a demographic in which McGinty is neither warmly nor overwhelmingly approved.  Suburban commuters using GO trains tend to be upscale in income, small-C conservative if they have a political leaning and are not overly interested in the political scene.  Almost all have families waiting for them when they get home and if only four per cent of their trips are delayed, that is too many.

These commuters are going to see the money-back guarantee as their right and you would have a hard time getting them to understand that it is a false promise.  First of all, the exceptions covered in the small print are going to mean very few of these refunds will ever be made.  There might also be a tendency among GO employees to see if they can blame one of the exceptions before paying.  And even if you do get your money back a few times, the increased expense for GO will be paid with higher fares.

The people unhappy with this election promise are GO executives who recognize that this offer will be a pain in the ass rather than good customer relations.  Since they work for the politicians, they know to keep their thoughts on this to themselves.

The only other people who might be displeased are New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath and Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.  They will be glaring at their staff people who are supposed to be coming up with these ideas and asking why McGinty got there first.  If they come back at McGinty with promises of giving double the cash back, the GO Transit execs will really start to worry.

McGinty can claim that the point he was making is that GO Transit is much better than the old Canadian National Railways passenger service.  We always used to consider CN to be on time if it arrived on the right day.


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