Archive for November, 2011

The Babel Whigs are vanquished.

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Writing about “Politics in Babel: Strange happenings” (Nov. 20, 2011), it was noted that the former Member of Parliament as well as former Member of Provincial Parliament—and our favourite Whig—was running for the presidency of Babel’s local federal Liberal association.  Not only was it the largest Liberal Party gathering we have ever seen in Babel. It turned out to be the longest.

The former MPP and her coterie function in a manner similar to a pride of lions in the wild.  It is the lionesses who are the most vicious and determined.  The males in the pride are just there to shake their manes and look good.  And those she lions came to the Liberal meeting for the blood sport.

But they miscalculated.  They were hard, fast and strident on the challenges but these were obvious delaying tactics.  They had the chair—who was from another riding–confused and perspiring as he tried to figure out what was going on.  When the Whigs started arguing about a proposed new constitution for the local party organization, older Liberals in the crowd, who had been through those arguments before, groaned.  They had visions of the meeting lasting into the next morning.

But that was the reason.  The Whigs knew they did not have the numbers and felt that they could hold their voters longer and counted on the newer federal members being less able to stick with it.  It would have worked if they had more supporters and better arguments on the constitution.  As it was, the chair finally put the constitution to a ballot vote to be counted at the same time as the executive ballots.  Mind you, people were so confused on the constitution, most of them probably voted “no” when they meant to say “yes.”

There was no confusion on the executive vote.  The only contested positions were those for the president and vice-president, fund-raising.  The former MPP was running for president and her husband for the fund-raising job.  They both gave strong speeches.

The key was the nominators.  The current president had asked one of the members of the revitalized youth wing to nominate him.  The former MPP had a long-time employee nominate her.  If the nominator had not been one of the more strident objectors on the constitutional argument, she might have got a better hearing.

While there was some concern about the former MPP’s husband being an easy winner in the fund-raising spot, they should not have underestimated his competition. There were many people there who felt that the attack on the federal association was really an attack on the candidate the party had as a standard bearer in May of this year.  As there is not much you can do about an ex officio member of the board of directors, it was his girl friend, running for the fund-raising spot, who was their target.  They forgot that she is a school teacher who travels around the world working for charities.  She handled that mob as though they were a class of grade four children.

The disappointing speech was the one by the former MPP.  She talked about the job as though she was running for Member of Parliament.  It was a political speech but had little to do with the job for which she was running.  The only challenge she threw at her opponent was that she made a better spokesperson for the party.  As that is rarely the role of a riding president, that appeal failed.

The Whigs failed.  By about two to one, the votes rejected the former MPP and her husband.  The lions went home to lick their wounds.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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The grace and charm of Rob Ford.

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Rob Ford is mayor of Toronto.  As former mayors have noted over the years, it is not an overly rewarding experience being mayor of Canada’s largest city.  As someone mentioned this morning, “Do you know Ford’s approval rating is at 29 per cent?”

That seemed high.  We are sure that buyers’ remorse set in the day after Ford was elected more than a year ago.  He has not endeared himself with Toronto voters since that fateful day.  The only thing that might be keeping his approval rating artificially high is his ability to work the telephones.  When a constituent telephones Rob Ford, they get a call back.  Ford prides himself on doing that.  Anyone can call him.  His only problem is convincing many recipients of his calls that it really is the mayor calling them back.

In Babel, the first time we called the new mayor, we were grilled by a secretary who did not know us.  She wanted to be sure we were not going to waste the mayor’s time.

Rob Ford not only calls people back but if he can do something to help them, he will.  He learned the trick in business a long time ago to immediately get a problem off his desk.  Give the problem to somebody to fix and woe betide the flunky who drags his or her feet in getting it done.

This also seems to be Ford’s budgeting theory.  He does not believe in using a sharper pencil to do budgeting.  He just uses a larger bludgeon.  This guy does not believe in subtlety.  One of the few city departments to get away with more money this year was the police department.  This seems to have happened after someone explained to him what would happen if the police caught him one more time using his cell phone while driving.

Admittedly, Rob Ford is distinctive.  He is not a handsome man.  Compared to the chief of police in his natty uniform, Rob Ford comes across as a bit of a slob.  He is one of the few men in public life in Canada who must have a barber who hates him.  His haircut usually looks like somebody got even.  Not only does it look like a bad cut but he must use some type of gel to keep it spikey.

But we hear his mother loves him.  His brother seems to be his buddy.  He has drawn together a motley crew of right-wing councillors to help him control a large and unruly city council.  Could he be all bad?


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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The economics of Social Democracy.

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

The late Tom Kent was practically raised to sainthood by the Liberal Party of Canada.  It was Kent’s ideas that fuelled the rebirth of the party in the 1960s.  His ideas also spurred the growth of the left wing of the party.  And it was the growing and vocal left wing of the party that pushed through Medicare and welcomed the leadership of Pierre Trudeau.

Yet we never thought of Tom Kent as a social democrat.  That idea is being promoted by former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent.  It seems that Kent wrote a paper on the future of social programs for the Broadbent Institute.  What is unusual about the paper is that it advocates refundable credits in federal income tax to combat poverty and further other social democracy objectives.  He uses the example of the Baby Bonus cheques that went to the mothers that were replaced by the supposedly more sophisticated child tax credit in the federal income tax.

But the monthly child credit still goes mainly to the mother or to her bank account.  The tax system is then used to claw back the money from families with better incomes.  Not even Stephen Harper has been able to find a more effective system to distribute these funds.  And it is hardly an example of the use of refundable credits in the tax system.

Refundable credits are the ones where the taxpayer spends the money and then claims the refund in the subsequent year’s income tax.  That system was used for the home repair credits in Harper’s economic stimulus plan and seemed to do no more than ensure people got receipts and paid the GST for their home improvement expenditures instead of keeping them hidden.  The real amount of economic stimulus was probably limited.

The most serious basic social need in this country is a guaranteed annual income for every person.  This is a basic income to keep a roof over their head and a proper diet on the table.  It is neither generous nor fun but it does ensure survival and an opportunity to earn more.  It is not something that can be paid in the subsequent year, based on your failure to earn an income this year.

That is what a Liberal believes in: basic dignity for the individual in our society.  That is also what a social democrat should believe in.

We are not too sure what point Ed Broadbent is trying to make with Tom Kent’s paper.  The way it was said in the version we saw, the refundable tax credit system was a roundabout way to make social programs work under our current government system.  The time is long overdue to change that system.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Making book on Dr. Zamboni.

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

It came up over lunch in a private dining room at Toronto’s National Club.  It seems that people think there is a good book that can be written.  It is not only a story of medical mystery but of politicians, avarice, ethics, irresponsible journalism and people who prey on the sick.  It is also a mainly Canadian story.

But it starts in Ferrara, Italy.  It was introduced by an Italian vascular surgeon, Professor Paolo Zamboni.  Dr. Zamboni had a theory.  He had noted that his wife and other patients with multiple sclerosis seemed to have restricted drainage of blood through the veins in their neck.  He thought this lack of good drainage was causing a build-up of iron in the patient’s brain, either causing or exacerbating the MS patient’s neurological condition.  He called his theory, Chronic Cerebrospinal Venous Insufficiency, or CCVSI.

As a vascular surgeon, Dr. Zamboni not only established a diagnosis of the problem, he and his team developed what they thought might be a cure.  He initially used balloon angioplasty techniques to open the veins. Later, he introduced the use of metal stents to keep the veins open.  Similar to the stents used to keep open the arteries of heart patients, Dr, Zamboni used them in neck veins.  This procedure was dubbed the Liberation Treatment.

The only problem was that Dr. Zamboni was not doing this as a research study.  There were no controls or double blind protocols.  He was touting a procedure that had neither been determined to be safe nor been submitted for peer review.  His only support for the theory was anecdotal reports of individuals who had the treatment and felt better.

It was not until the treatment was tried by a neurological team at the University of Buffalo in New York State—an area of the world with maybe ten times the incidence of multiple sclerosis than that of Ferrara, Italy–that Dr. Zamboni’s treatment was noticed by the news media.  They were medical researchers from CTV television network in Toronto, Ontario, working on the network investigative program W5.

It was not so much the fault of the W5 program people that the story was blown out of proportion and caused the controversy that ensued. Canada’s CTV network constantly inserts self-promotion for its programs into its regular newscasts.  It was the news programs on CTV that, in our view quite irresponsibly, sensationalized and promoted the Zamboni treatment.  They did far too good a job of promoting the CTV W5 program.

Part of the reason for the success is that the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada is made up of chapters that are actually MS support groups in every major town and city across Canada.  People with multiple sclerosis and their families in these support groups keep in constant communication.  Because of this high level of communication, the CTV news programs attracted thousands of MS patients and their families across Canada to watch the W5 program that weekend.

After the first very enthusiastic W5 program was aired, the demand for this supposedly miracle treatment was immediate and overwhelming.  The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada was caught in the middle.  It could not retreat to acting responsibly.  It was hammered by patients and their families, by contributors, by politicians and the public on both sides of the question.

And there were two sides.  The medical profession saw the treatment as foolhardy and dangerous.  They wanted to study it and test it before coming to a conclusion.  Try to convince a person with an uncontrolled and debilitating disease that they have to wait!

As we said at the time to the heads of the Canadian MS Society: “That is your mob out there.  You better get out front and lead it.”

And, to their credit, they did.  Despite the controversy costing them large amounts in donations, the society set aside money to fund studies.  In combination with the U.S. MS Society, some $2.4 million was immediately earmarked for studies of CCVSI and the proposed treatment.   Within the year, studies were underway in Canada and the U.S.

But the controversy would not go away. Simcoe County in Ontario became the entire argument in microcosm.  While no surgeon would face the ethical problems of putting a stent in neck veins, there was a local doctor in Barrie promoting  CCVSI.  Since the examination was not covered by the Ontario health plan, he would do the study for for a figure believed to be between $200 to $400.  If he determined that you needed the Liberation Procedure, you could buy that off-shore for anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 plus air fare and hotels.

Patients returned from these trips with stents in place.  There seemed to be no post-operative procedures to follow.  Some patients raved about the procedure.  A few died.  (Veins do not have the same characteristics as arteries to hold a stent in place.)  Some complained that Canadian doctors were reluctant to treat these patients with stents in their neck veins.  The controversy in Simcoe County split the chapter in half.

Simcoe County also is an area of focus for politicians.  The Member of Parliament for Barrie has never met a charity that he would not use to promote himself.  That person jumped into the fray with both feet.  He is a Conservative but that did not stop other parties from getting in on the publicity.  When two Liberal MPs, who were also medical doctors, from Toronto were in Barrie for a political event, they also jumped in, arguing for use of the Liberation Procedure.  They got scorched by an annoyed local Liberal who realized they did not know what they were talking about.

After a year of controversy, W5 did a follow-up program and admitted that they might have been a bit too enthusiastic.  Even the news programs, promoting W5, have been less eager to say that Dr. Zamboni’s cure is the answer.  They now say the jury is still out.

Despite the recent agreement of the federal government to go along with the provinces and assist in testing the theory, the Canadian MS Society studies are well under way.  Some answers should be available by summer of 2012.  It is unlikely that Dr. Zamboni is going to like the answers.

(Note:  The author of this article is a past president of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and served on the management committee and as chair of public education for the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies.  He is not writing a book on this subject.  It is a story in which nobody wins.)


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Tony Clement: An ideologue in Parliament.

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

The federal New Democrats do not seem to like Treasury Board President Tony Clement.  This dislike might be because of Mr. Clement’s hard right wing stance, his distain for any opposition and his seeming lack of concern for taxpayers’ money or taxpayers.  Since his days at the University of Toronto, Clement has shown a propensity for annoying people who might be more fair-minded than himself.

We first heard about him at the U. of T. when he tried to promote a debating event with the South African Ambassador, at the time, a known advocate of apartheid. It was more an attempt to goad than to promote free speech.

That chip on his shoulder seemed to reveal what was probably a deep-seated inferiority complex during his political career.  An Ontario politician, Clement, allied more with the Western Canadian Alliance, wrote policy for Michael Harris’ program-slashing plans in the early 1990s under the strange title of the “Common Sense Revolution.”  He was elected provincially in 1995 and in 1997 became part of the Harris Provincial Cabinet and its successor government headed by Ernie Eves, until defeated along with the Eves government in 2003.

Clement won election to the House of Commons in Parry Sound-Muskoka by 28 votes in 2006 and was appointed to the new Harper Government as Minister of Health.  He was immediately in hot water because of a drug company conflict and then his stand on providing AIDS-related drugs to the Third World.  He went on in that portfolio to cause a Supreme Court ruling on safe injection sites for addicts.  This was in addition to his trying to enforce draconian treatment of drug users instead of going after drug dealers.

After two years of annoying people in Health Care, Clement was moved to the supposedly safer Industry Ministry in 2008.  In this role, he made many controversial remarks.  The most note-worthy that applied to his job for Harper was to refer to the danger of the City of Sudbury becoming a “Valley of Death.”  His interference in Statistics Canada being able to provide assistance to Canadian industry led to the angry resignation of the Chief Statistician.

The G8 $45 million spread-the-wealth fiasco that he arranged for his own riding in 2010 was a classic of pork barrel politics.  It certainly got him re-elected with more votes this time.  His only problem is that he keeps trying to correct things he has said and, if he had a Pinocchio nose, it would be a foot long by now.  The NDP opposition smell his fear and have now accused Clement of falsifying parliamentary records.

Prime Minister Harper is watching his minister squirm.  Harper has a majority now and he knows that Clement is disposable.  Fix it or fail, Tony!


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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In resolution of the red sky.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

The time of the occupy movement has ended.  Reality and the Canadian winter are reclaiming our parks and streets.  Despite the large amount of empathy for the frustrations of the so-called 99 per cent, further occupation can achieve nothing.  The time has come for the protesters to realize that lazing around and pontificating can never replace the hard work of the real world.

There might be the occasional anarchist left for the police to evict but the smart ones will be developing a long-term plan of action.  In their planning, they will find there are many routes to the levers of power.  Some will take the way of community activism.  This is a fast, effective route to being noticed and to work your way into the municipal scene.  It can include work for charities, community services, and local news and information media.  Building a solid base in the community provides that place you can back up to.

Going directly into the political arena provides only a tenuous base of operations.  For every winner in this venue, there has to be losers.  For every opportunity, there are many pitfalls.  When one person moves forward, others have to step back.

You have to serve a political apprenticeship.  Nobody starts at the top.  There are no training wheels.  Ask former Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff how it feels to be out there in the top job and turning to find nobody behind you, nobody to trust.

And start by ensuring your livelihood outside the political sphere.  It can be fun to live hand-to-mouth when you are young with no commitments.  It is no fun when you are older and have responsibilities for others.

Making things happen all comes down to finding the point of leverage.  You can change the world.  You just have to remember that there are irrefutable laws of physics that apply to politics too.  For every positive action you take for change, there will be equal and opposite reactions against change.  And, sometimes, they do not feel all that equal.

Our only advice to the participants in the red sky is to go peacefully when asked.  That will keep your enemies off guard and confused.  Never do the expected.  Make your point and go on.  That will enable you to make the point again.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Santa Claus comes to Babel.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

The City of Babel should stick to fireworks.  It does good fireworks.  It has work to do on its Santa Claus parade.  The city is so embarrassed by its parade for Santa that it holds it after dark.

Tired, hungry and cranky children should not have to wait until after dark for an all-to-brief view of dear old Santa.  In the dark, you have no way of reading the signs saying who sponsored what.  Nor do you really see many floats at their best.  The only one that was well identified was the one for the new Member of Provincial Parliament for Babel, whose name was almost as big as the old fire truck on which he was riding.  And we had no flowers to throw.

It was just as well we could not read who was sponsoring what because we would have liked to talk to the people sponsoring the truck load behind the small pipe band.  The pipers were doing their best but the stupid truck driver behind them kept adding his discordant air horn to the cacophony.

There was another very large marching band in smart yellow capes and we could not tell if they were from the Knights of Columbus or the Loyal Orange Lodge.  It was suggested that with the size of the band, the two organizations might have got together this year.  In any case, we enjoyed the piece they were playing.

The organizers of Santa’s float had gotten smart this year.  There were high intensity lights mounted on the front of his sleigh so the little tykes could see Santa.  He was a good one too and he talked to the children as he went by.

It was a fair crowd on the Lakeshore considering it was after dark.  The parade had to wind its way downtown to the tree lighting ceremony and fireworks.  The fireworks were brief but excellent, as always.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Politics in Babel: Strange happenings.

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Writing about politics is fun.  Being part of the game is hazardous.  You never know from where the next missile will come.  That thought was present the other day when we found out that the upcoming annual general meeting of the Barrie Federal Liberal Association would not be as uneventful as these events usually can be.

Instead of just considering dull constitution changes, there will be a contest for the party presidency.  The role of president is no easy job.  It requires a lot of work, a considerable amount of time and dedication. When you get a good one, you like to keep them for at least a few terms.  It helps build a strong association.

And the local party has a good one at this time.  He has been in the job over the past year.  He helped bring the party together.  He provided strong organizational support during a tough federal election campaign in the spring.  He has been doing an excellent job in building the riding executive.  He not only worked hard through the federal election but he helped ensure good support to the new provincial candidate this fall.

And now he is being challenged—not by a newcomer–but by a former Member of Parliament and the now retired Member of the Provincial Parliament.  Why she wants the job is not clear.

She hardly needs the position of riding president to be influential in Barrie.  It is actually a step backward.  She would never put in the work that the current president is doing.

And where was she during the federal election earlier this year?  The federal candidate could have used her help.

When people run for a position such as president of the riding association, you expect them to explain why.  When they decide to run against someone who has been doing a good job, you expect them to have a very interesting explanation.

To help her campaign for the party presidency, the former MPP has enlisted her husband to run for the association position of fund-raising chair.  The riding association would have sent a brass band to welcome one of Canada’s more prominent lawyers if they had known he was willing to do that job.

But what is her agenda?  She should explain.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Liberal demise: A premature report.

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Peter C. Newman has done it again.  As the lead drummer and chronicler of the Conrad Black Memorial Marching Band, Peter has again announced the death of the Liberal Party of Canada.  Peter has been wrong before.  He is no prophet.

The first problem with Peter’s report is that his conclusion was based on interviews with former party leader Michael Ignatieff.  One can well understand that Michael is a bit down at this time on the future of the Liberal Party.  We can only hope that Michael will be the last person chosen to lead the Liberal Party without knowing where it wants to go.

There is no question but the Liberal Party of Canada does have some self-destructive tendencies.  As does any political party.  It is a safety mechanism for the voters.  Our voting system of first-past-the-post also provides wild swings in party representation.  In comparison, proportional voting would provide glacial change and the country would stagnate politically.

As gloomy as Michael and some others might be about the Liberal party, its current condition is really an opportunity.  Political parties have to be able to renew themselves.  New ideas, new solutions are available to those who seek them.  An open and democratic party can not only refresh its direction but lay out a better future for Canadians.

What the Liberal Party might never find is a way to rid itself of those who would hold it back.  To admit that naysayers are necessary is to admit that you need internal checks and balances on your arguments for a future.  And you accept the inevitable.  You let them stay because you need the early warnings on the arguments of your enemies.

But they have to be open to change.  That is part of being liberal.  Liberalism should never be a fixed target.  It moves with the times.  It has to be in the current century.  While liberalism in Canada might have its origins in the muddy streets of  19th Century Toronto, it has embraced a country stretching from Labrador to Vancouver Island.

In his book When the Gods Changed, Newman concludes that Canada no longer needs a Liberal Party.  In the same manner, one can also conclude that Canadians no longer need a Conservative Party.  And while Canada very much needed a Tommy Douglas, the union-dominated New Democratic Party has proved itself an anachronism.

We certainly need a new Liberal Party.


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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Is fear alone derailing our future?

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Franklin Roosevelt said it best in his 1933 inaugural address that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  That certainly helps explain the pitiful excuses from both Ottawa and Queen’s Park to again shy away from high-speed train service in the Windsor–Quebec City corridor.  These so-called politicians do not serve us well.

When something is so vital to the political and economic future of our country, why are we letting it be blocked by the callow, the myopic, the self-serving and the ignorant?  “It’s time for us to pause and reflect,” says Ontario Premier McGuinty in answer to questions from reporters about the high speed train service.  If he had told Ontario voters that, during the recent election campaign, he would have been doing his reflecting today back in his law practice in Ottawa.

Neither Prime Minister Harper nor Ontario’s Premier understand that, in times of adversity—such as today’s economic problems—the country needs clear, non-partisan direction.  It needs determined and understandable leadership, not ideology.  It needs bold moves forward, not quavering inaction.

They think of high speed trains down the Windsor–Quebec City corridor as train tickets. They have little understanding of how those rails of steel can hold this country together.  If they keep letting Quebec isolate itself from the rest of the country, they will never notice when it leaves.  It is important to remember that the Quebec government also wants this high-speed rail service.  We have to build for togetherness, not separation.

Today, we know that the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal part of the scheme is doable, economically viable and essential to our nation.  The only people who will hate it are the people who own Porter Airlines.

The right of way exists, the train stations exist, the dire need exists.  All this country really lacks is leadership.

And with all the electricity that the two provinces generate, the trains have to be electric as an example of Canadian engineering to the world.  At 300-plus kilometres per hour, Canadians could even learn to enjoy on-time rail service


Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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