Archive for November, 2011

Worrying the Whigs in Ontario.

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Referring to Ontario Liberal Party members as Whigs is not entirely derogatory.  There were some very progressive Whigs in their time.  The only problem is that their time was in the 1800s.  They were the grouping of like-minded lawmakers who became the Liberal Party in Great Britain and the name came into use in Canada.

The Ontario Liberals were created when George Brown of  Toronto cobbled together the Clear Grits, a coalition of farmers from Southwestern Ontario, with left-wing Reformers, originally formed by William Lyon Mackenzie to fight Ontario’s Family Compact.  From these honourable roots, the Ontario Whigs are determined to stay locked in the ideas of the 19th Century.

Someone asked recently, how can you be liberal when you complain so much about Ontario Premier McGuinty and his government?  We did some thinking.  We came to the following conclusion:

It is not the harmonized sales tax.  That was just bad judgement.  And how can you blame the Whigs for accepting federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s $2 billion bribe to do it?  Mind you, we have not had enough to say yet about the HST on energy costs!

It is not the ponzi scheme the Whigs are using to pay for renewable energy.  That is, at least, an attempt to do something positive.

It is not the bad management decisions on the health file.  When Ontario citizens get back the right to choose their own family doctor, we can start to feel a little more comfortable about where things are going in health.

It is not the unconscionable loopholes that allow contributors and third parties to drive a truck through the Ontario election expense rules.  Any candidate or third party not spending far too much on the recent campaign was not trying.

What it was, was watching police trample the flowers beds and human rights at Queen’s Park on a rampage during Prime Minister Harper’s G20 events in Toronto.  That is something McGuinty and company can never live down.  As the province’s lawmakers, they did nothing to help Ontario citizens.  That was their disgrace.

Obviously they have no competition but why are the Whigs waging war on us?

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Defining 21st Century Liberalism.

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Liberal Party of Canada President Alfred Apps is a brave guy.  In his paper Building a Modern Liberal Party, he tries to define modern liberalism.  He roots around in the muddy middle ground of politics attempting to assemble a representation of the big red tent of Liberalism.

When you consider that this is the party of Mitchell Sharp, Bill Graham and Paul Martin Jr. on the right as well as Herb Grey, Lloyd Axworthy and Paul Martin Sr. on the left, you can be excused for thinking the party covers a broad spectrum of ideologies.  Today, this broad spectrum is the party’s weakness.

It is our opinion that Canadians are getting tired of the Liberal Party posturing in a fictional middle ground.  We need to pick a path to the future.

Apps touches on where we should build on our strengths when he says, “We believe in the ‘servant state’.”  There is an entire philosophy to be built around that statement.  It is one that we need to believe in beyond anything else.  And yet Apps is wrong when he says, “We are capitalists, not socialists.”  To be an effective servant, you must be both.

To serve, to engage and to lead is a long road that liberals need to travel.  It has little to do with modern technology and has much to do with our beliefs.  Believe first.  Earn the trust and then the mechanics are easy.

Alf needs to learn that there is no such thing as a “balanced middle road.”  The question always has to be: Are we effectively serving the needs of our people?

Liberals are not the natural government of Canada.  That is arrogant.  You have to earn the right to be the government.  Or you could learn how to lie and steal and cheat your way into government the way the Conservatives have learned to do it.  If you can earn peoples’ trust, you could come up with programs people want to make life better.  Or you could just run scurrilous attack ads against your opponent and not offer anything positive.

Alf admits that he does not understand the emotional rationale of how people vote.  It is probably just as well that he is not likely to run for the party leadership in 2013.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Toronto Star needs better research.

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

There are people who consider Toronto Star editorials as gospel.  Their numbers will be decreasing if the editorial writers do not pull up their socks and do a little more research before pontificating.  The editorial (Nov. 13, 2011) on the delay of Trans Canada’s Keystone XL pipeline is a good example of the lack of research.

The headline was that the pipeline delay was a shabby rebuff from a friend.  They could have started with a little better understanding that ‘the friend,’ by the name of Barack Obama, is fighting for his political life and Trans Canada Pipelines is not even in his vocabulary.  What President Obama saw was a concerted effort by major environmental groups to derail a plan for a pipeline to get Alberta oil-sands crude toTexas Gulf coast refineries.  Those environmentalists are Obama’s supporters and he needs them to help keep his job in the 2012 elections.

The Star editorial writer just sees this as another rebuff from Obama after the ‘Buy America’ provisions of his $447 billion American Jobs Act.

Has the Star writer even considered that Canadians might not want to ship their expensive, polluting crude from oil sands to American refineries?  Maybe Canadians think that there should be enough refinery capacity in Canada to handle what crude we have to produce from oil sands.  That would at least keep some of those refinery jobs in Canada, if not the profit from doing the refining in Canada.

The Star writer thinks it is just rotten, crass American politics that Trans Canada Pipelines is not being allowed to go ahead with the creation of 20,000 jobs (mainly in the United States of America) to build its pipeline.

What that writer should read is the posting in Bloomberg News about Mr. Obama’s decision.  Bloomberg, in case the writer does not know it, is a well respected business news network that pays attention to matters such as U.S.-based pipelines and new construction plans.  Bloomberg says that Trans Canada’s loss is probably Enbridge’s gain.  Enbridge is a Calgary based energy company that runs pipelines from Alberta down through Illinois.  Enbridge would like to compete for the contract to ship the oil-sands crude through Illinois and, from there, down to the Texas Gulf coast.  Bloomberg’s conclusion is that Trans Canada’s loss is Enbridge’s gain.

It seems Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is also unaware of the Enbridge plan.  When he heard about Obama’s delay of the Trans Canada proposal, he suggested a pipeline to the West Coast so we could ship all that crude to China.  Flaherty must also be an environmentalist.  It seems nobody wants to refine Canadian crude in Canada.  The Toronto Star writer never thought of it.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

“If there were ever a time for Liberals to be bold,”

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

“It is now.” The headline and those three words are from a discussion paper released by Alfred Apps, a prominent Toronto lawyer and President of the Liberal Party of Canada.  The title is “Building a Modern Liberal Party” and we think that Liberal Party members should certainly be bold and tell Alf Apps to stuff it!

The document is supposed to provide warm-up thinking for the Liberal Party of Canada’s biennial conference in January of 2012.  While we had some trepidation in trying to read a 79-page document by a lawyer, it turned out to not be a lawyer’s document.  Somebody with a marketing background was involved.  It is a pure marketing.  It is a treatise on how to sell the Red Tent of Canadian Liberalism.

Judging by the definition of liberalism in the document, that red tent would have to be made of spandex.  And that is only its first mistake.  By trying to be all things to all people, his visions of liberalism come to nothing.  Alf’s big red tent goes nowhere.

And where was our party president when he points out our failures in the last federal election?  What was he responsible for in that lacklustre performance by the party?  There was no forgiveness for poor Michael Ignatieff.  Who decided that Alf Apps gets a pass?

There is far too much in Alf’s document that needs to be discussed and even more that is not there.  In the run up to the January convention, it is obvious that the party ‘bosses’ are heading off the growing demand for party democracy that is coming from activists throughout the party.  The basic step of returning power to the electoral districts is being brushed aside in favour of another ‘commission’ and the commission’s recommendations are to be vetted by the council of party electoral district presidents.  Nothing will change.

Alf’s paper does not recognize that the top down management of the party is what has left the party with almost a third of the electoral district associations becoming moribund and more about to join them.

We will come back to this subject but in the meantime, Alf Apps needs to understand that before you market something, you need to understand the people who might buy it.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Those environmentalists are Obama’s voters.

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Give them marks for creativity.  It was a group of environmental lobbies that targeted the Trans Canada Pipelines’ XL Pipeline that was designed to take Alberta oil-sands crude to Texas refineries. President Barack Obama finally got their message.

Their best visual was actually a bit of a bust but the idea of hundreds of people holding up a pipeline around the White House was the winning visual—even if the television shots of it were in disparate pieces.  That, combined with the concern for the aquifer nature of the Sandhills of Nebraska, did the trick.  President Obama had no choice but to stop the process.  The delay is likely to ensure that Trans Canada Pipelines cannot make the deadline to start shipping oil-sands crude in mid 2013.

But the bad news for the environmentalists is that their work has just begun.  With Trans Canada Pipelines on the mat and the referee counting, Enbridge, Trans Canada Pipelines’ competitor has emerged as the saviour for the Texas refineries.  As Enbridge already has pipelines running from Alberta into Illinois, it does not have to get U.S. State Department approval to build an extension down to the Gulf Coast of Texas.  President Obama cannot just call the State Department to stop Enbridge as easily as he was able to stop Trans Canada Pipelines.

And while the Enbridge route is a bit round about, it does not come close to Nebraska.

The environmentalists will have to beat their ploughshares back into swords and take the field again.  And this time they are going to have to be wary of the Canadian Government.  The Harper Conservatives want to sell oil-sands crude in volume and moving it by pipeline will give them a solid market for many years—certainly longer than they will be in power.

It is not as though more enlightened Canadians really care about the oil-sands.  As long as the recovery of oil from them is a serious pollution problem, they would prefer that they just go away.   And, if the pollution problem is solved, why do we not want to refine the oil in Canada?

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Bob Rae does not do economics.

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae spoke to the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto this Wednesday.  We know it was a Liberal speech because he quoted Wilfrid Laurier.  Anyone looking for a liberal insight into solving the current world economic situation was bound to be disappointed.

The last lesson in economics that Rae ever listened to was from Thomas d’Aquino, when d’Aquino headed up the Business Council on National Issues in the 1990s.  At the time, Bob Rae was the New Democratic Premier of Ontario.  After listening to d’Aquino, Bob Rae soon became the ex-premier of Ontario.  He tried to sell his Social Contract to NDP supporters and they turned on him.

As economics and socialism are not compatible sciences, Bob Rae became a Liberal and offered to replace Paul Martin as Liberal leader in 2006.  The road from Martin to Rae was fraught with too many hurdles and Rae came third to Dion and Ignatieff.  When he won a seat in Parliament in 2008, he again put his name forward for the leadership but the party executive chose Michael Ignatieff.  When Ignatieff’s leadership garnered fewer seats than the NDP in the 2011 election, Rae won the interim leadership by default.

But being interim leader does not guarantee instant liberal wisdom.  It did him little good to heap praises on Paul Martin’s management of Canada’s books in the 1990s.  Martin balanced the country’s books on the backs of the poor, the unemployed and by cutting provincial transfer payments.  While he was at it, Martin burned the red book and blocked all the liberal promises of the Chrétien Liberals.  Some role model!

Rae’s speech in Toronto called for a simpler, clearer tax code.  And he wants to have a comprehensive review of tax spending to make sure we are getting value for the money.  He does not think we are right now. You can hear that in any Conservative economic speech.

Rae complains that the Liberals find they are competing with two other parties with simplistic messages.  Bob needs to keep thinking.  Eventually, he will come up with some simplistic messages for us.

It was very much a kitchen sink type of speech.  There were not many economic clichés left out.  One good idea that was lost in the speech said we had to support innovation.  It was too bad that Rae had no idea how to do that.  Instead of beggaring our municipalities with debt through infrastructure programs, Canada should have realized that it could shovel more liquidity through the economy faster by a mix of programs that put money in the hands of entrepreneurs.  You do not do that through tax credits alone.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has a revelation.

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

It must have come to him in the middle of the night.  It was an insight that said, “Jim boy, you are not going to get the country’s books in the black as soon as you have been telling people you will.”

It was not one of those hard and fast Word-of-God kind of things.  It was more in the form of friendly advice.  It just said, in a kindly way, that he had better stop lying to Canadians about their excellent financial position because of their wisdom of having him drive the economy along with his good friend Stephen Harper.

The only problem is that Stephen is busy travelling around in a Canadian government A300 Airbus solving world economic problems.  Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney is in Europe straightening out the eurozone crises.  And here, the Canadian economy has gone into the toilet.  This is Jim’s mess to fix.

The first thing he did was order a new backdrop for when he made his speech.  “It has to be positive,” he told his staff.  “Base it on the old Action Plan backdrop, people liked that, and make sure it is Conservative blue and has lots of arrows going up.  That always makes things sexy and positive.”

Next Jim looked at the programs he is proposing and decided he would give employers a tremendous break.  He would only increase Employment Insurance premiums by half of what he intended.  He thought that would please them.  At the same time, he decided another sop would be to extend a minor work-sharing program that did not cost the government much.  He was ready.

They also had decided to make the announcement in Calgary.  They knew that there was no Occupy Calgary demonstration allowed in that town.  And the media is kinder to Conservatives there.  After all, it is Stephen’s adopted city and, because of the annual stampede, it is used to horse manure.

So that was what Jim Flaherty gave the news media.  The only problem was that while the staff had done a perfect backdrop, they had forgotten the box behind the podium for Jim to stand on.  He looked like a little boy, peering over the podium with a surprised look on his face.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

GO would rather pollute.

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

As a child, the electric trams of the Speed River Railway were a fascinating experience.  At one time, that electrified railway ran from Port Dover on Lake Erie, up through what is now Cambridge and on to Kitchener/Waterloo.  The system was fast, non-polluting and on-time, serving Ontario citizens and their packages on a regular basis.  Today, GO Transit, owned by the Ontario government, runs slow and polluting diesel engines in a vain attempt to provide a similar people moving function.

GO does not get there.  GO is slow.  A diesel train engine, weighing about 100 tonnes, takes a long time to get up to speed and a long time to stop.  And that is why it takes almost two hours for a one-hour trip from Babel to Toronto’s Union Station.  That is why people are not lined up ten deep to take the GO Train from Babel to Toronto.

Admittedly, it would cost a great deal of money to build and maintain overhead electrical connections for GO trains.  You have to compare that cost with the ongoing health costs to Ontario because of the pollution caused by diesel.  You also have to consider the cost of maintaining tracks for 100-tonne locomotives versus self-propelled electric cars at about a fifth the weight.

People can argue both sides of the question.  Electricity costs are rising, they will tell you.  Have you checked the cost of diesel fuel recently?  Electric train cars cost more.  With an electric system, you do not need a diesel engine.

It all boils down to the pollution concern.  Diesel engines put nitrogen oxides and soot into our air.  That is not worrying the farmers around Bradford yet but if a diesel engine keeps going into Toronto, when there is one of those atmospheric inversions over the city, that diesel pollution helps kill people.

In the United States, diesel engines are believed to cause about 50 per cent of the total harmful airborne emissions.  There are no comparable statistics for Canada.  GO (which stands for Government of Ontario) Transit continues to pollute.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

How do you like the Harper agenda now?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

It hardly took long.  Mr. Harper does not take too much time to get to the business at hand.  There is little warm-up or foreplay involved.  He is an ideologue with an agenda and he only has four years to change this country into what he wants.  And the country he wants is not particularly caring, nor safe, nor trusting, nor kind.

He started by taking public funding away from the political parties.  He hardly wants a level playing field for politics.  He can pander to rich and let the other political parties scrape for pennies.

He is already ensuring that environmentalists do not interfere with selling oil sands crude to the Americans.  He is sending jobs to the Americans to build a vast pipeline to transport Canadian oil to the refineries in Texas.

He can now sweep the excesses of the G8 and G20 under the parliamentary rug of a majority government.

He can now restrict infrastructure support to ridings that voted for his party.

He can now pass his omnibus crime bill.  The one that is a crime!  He is not even allowing his own party time to digest it.

He is cheering on his friends at Sun Media who are trying to destroy the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.  Harper has been hoping to do that for years and did not have the nerve.

While Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission Chairman Konrad von Finckenstein has only tried a few times to show the Conservatives that the CRTC is supposed to be independent of politics, they have told him to get lost.  There is expected to be a new Conservative lackey taking over the CRTC’s top job in January.

As a sop to his western farmer base that they will probably regret, Mr. Harper has told us he will be getting rid of the Wheat Board that has been doing such a good job for all Canadian farmers over the years.

Another sop to Canada’s red necks is Mr. Harper’s removal of long guns from the Canadian Firearms Registry.  You might not have expected Mr. Harper to be working for the American’s National Rifle Association but by including the destruction of the long gun records, he is catering to their kind of ignorance.

By speeding up the passing of his current ideological bills, Mr. Harper is expected to prorogue Parliament as soon as possible and bring in a new Throne Speech.  It should be full of goodies for happy Conservatives.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Every blog has its reason.

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

The following was originally run October 8th, 2009.  We need to run it more than just every couple years.

Have you ever asked a blogger why? Did you get an answer? Did you get an honest answer? You wanted to know why they did it. You cannot believe that so many people have that big an ego. Could they really consider their pontificating so profound?

Or is the answer very simple. Take the case of this blog. What is it all about?  Why call Barrie, Ontario Babel? Simple answer: I am a professional writer. As a writer, I am available for hire. I write for people who pay me. If someone needs a writer to produce a speech, a lecture, a presentation, a brochure, a résumé, a book, a script, a poem or a posting for twitter, I am your ghost. The web site babelonthebay.com is a sampler. It showcases my wares.

It helps that I love writing.

I also make it easy for people who wish to hire me. Take a speech, for example. All you need to tell me is to whom you will be speaking, what is the subject and if you for it or against it. You can tell me more if you wish but I am mindful of the time a client gave me a two-hour explanation of a 15-minute speech he needed. He was angry when he read my first draft. “This is just what I told you,” he blustered. “What have you contributed?” I thought I had done an excellent editing job.

And then there are clients who are not interested in your view. I was once offered more than twice my normal rate for a 50-minute lecture a client was giving at an American university. The reason for the higher rate was that the client was extremely rightwing politically. The client might have got a standing ovation for his speech but I deserved every penny of that fat fee for fiction writing.

Hands up everyone who thinks all business people write their own presentations. Those of you with your hands up; you must also believe in the tooth fairy. When I started writing presentations for others, we were still using slide shows. PowerPoint makes life much easier.

Modern low-cost, on-demand publishing has given impetuous to the world of business book ghost writing. It has reached a point that if you open a restaurant, the opening can be shared with the introduction of your new book of recipes that is a regular reminder of a good place to eat out. You have an auto parts firm, so you produce a book of tips on doing minor auto repairs. No matter what your business, there is a book that can be written that reminds people that they should deal with you because you are the expert. Just leave the writing to an expert at writing.

I am not sure I want to resume writing résumés. I used to brag that nobody I wrote a résumé for ever failed to land a suitable job. Today, it is necessary to qualify that bravado. One problem is that younger people do not trust someone my age to know their audience. And they might be right. Today, there are many barriers to getting your résumé to the person with whom you really need to communicate. I still believe in my résumés but I am losing touch with those barriers. It is becoming more of a team effort.

Poetry is something else. I tend to inflict it only on friends and family. While they are not always enthusiastic about my poems, they are kind.

What some people say is missing from this sampler blog is humour. I apologize for that.  I have been accused of being a bit capricious with whimsy. That is the reason that I refer to Barrie as Babel. I think Barrie gets a bad rap. Babel is a more whimsical place, more open and accepting. Babel seeks challenges and opportunities. Barrie is a harsher, colder environment, full of potholes and bars, hockey players and hookers. (Yah, I know, your sister plays right wing.)

But I love twitter. This is a venue where writers can shine. Effective tweets are full of alliterative allusions, weighty words of wisdom and devoted to doggerel. It is a medium that eschews whole sentences while demanding clarity. It is in twitter where everybody knows your name but not the name of your writer. Can you imagine a writing gig that pays you to write less than 280 characters a day? It’s golden!

And one last comment about the art: Writing to precisely fill a column is a big part of a writer’s training. A column is usually limited to an average of 800 words. As is this one.

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