Archive for December, 2011

Think as a loser: be a loser.

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

One of the resolutions that will be debated at the Liberal Party of Canada gathering starting January 13 is to promote preferential voting.  This is a system where voters indicate their first, second and third choice and the tally of votes is based on who would (mathematically) win more than 50 per cent of the vote, should the last place candidates be dropped and their second choices be given the vote.  The idea is to ensure that the final victor is someone who is preferred by more than 50 per cent of the voters.  And yet, they are really indicating who they do not want.

It is a losers’ strategy.  It says that those voting for the resolution think our first-past-the-post system does not work.  In reality, it works too well for losers.  If Canadians were voting for the Prime Minister (President or whatever) on a one-person-one-vote basis across the country, there could be a very good case made for a run-off election if no candidate received at least 50 per cent of the vote.  The voter could then (maybe reluctantly) vote for a second choice.

But no matter how you do the mathematics of the voting, the preferential ballot is just a step away from proportional voting.  Proportional voting is the anathema of our electoral system.  From the time when voters had to shout out their preference at a town meeting to the coming time of Internet voting, our system has been built on the assumption of the knowledgeable voter.  It has also been based on the interaction of politician and voter.  It is an ignorant and lazy voter who will vote for a person not bothering to learn about them or to meet them.

The trend towards voting for the party leader without caring who the local candidate might be is also in defiance of the opportunities offered by our system.  Better than any other political system, Canadian politics has long offered the citizen direct involvement in choosing candidates and choosing the elected member of municipal, provincial or federal government.  And we can do it without fear of corruption or coercion.

As we said, those voting in favour of preferential balloting at the Liberal January conclave are supporting a losers’ strategy.  It is saying that you want to be elected—even if by being the second choice of the voters.  Would you really want to hold your head high and serve in government for four years because you were second choice?  What shallow person would want that?  If you think as a loser, you will be one.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Political polling is not what it used to be.

Friday, December 30th, 2011

It was our late friend and former Senator Keith Davey who provided the name.  It was called Polar Research.  It was the only research firm we trusted.  It was ours.  We never really trusted the mainline firms.  We knew their weaknesses.  We also knew better than to release our conclusions.

Our major weakness was the availability of skilled interviewers for Polar Research.  We had to work with the political volunteers who were available.  There is little time in a political campaign to train and motivate your callers.  It was for that reason that we developed a weighting formula that was based on a known factor within the polling sample.  It was only when we applied the weighting to the gross results that you could get a picture of what was happening.  Maybe we were just lucky but our polling—with its good or bad news—was always on the nose.

Today’s pollsters are probably more frustrated with call display than anything else.  Sure, you can overcome call display but too many people let the unknown go to voice mail.

The silliest survey technique to be developed in recent years is the automated telephone calls rudely asking a single question.  The call will ask you to press “1” for this candidate and “2’ for that candidate, etc.  By the time people get the third or fourth of those calls, they are punching a number at random to get rid of the call.  And these calls are only to people who have land lines.

No matter what technique is used, nobody today does really good surveys of political opinion.  The news media promote the foolishness because it is an opportunity for them to create a story.  These stories fill newspaper pages and air time.  They are biased by the media opinions.  (You thought they had no opinions?)

Not even the well proved reliability of door-to-door canvassing is as effective today as it was 30 years ago.  It is only when you go out door-knocking yourself that you realize that there are many people who will not answer the door to a stranger.  And you can be doubly rejected if it is obvious you are a political canvasser.

The added problem today is that one in three of the people you want to speak with are not even interested in going to vote.  Maybe these people could perform a public service by putting a plague sign on their lawn or door that says “I don’t vote.”  That could certainly save time.

But the facts are that no pollster can match the accuracy of the poll done at the election’s end by the Chief Returning Officer.  It is the only one that matters.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Should we kill all the lawyers?

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Having been active in business, charities and politics, one gets to know many lawyers.  Some of them are quite civilized and likable people.  Despite this, there is a strong tendency to agree with William Shakespeare’s character in Henry VI, Part 2 who suggested that (to have an effective revolution) first we have to kill all the lawyers.  In Shakespeare’s time, the line probably had even the lawyers in the audience laughing.

At a neighbourhood get-together the other evening, a lawyer made the mistake of claiming that lawyers are put on earth to assure us less fortunate people of access to the law.  The reaction to his claim was spontaneous and bordered on the rude.  Of course, in his field of law, he has every right to feel proud of what he is able to do for people.  It is just that lawyers themselves are often guilty of promoting bad jokes about lawyers.

To many of us, the lawyer is seen as someone with their hand out, waiting for the rest of us to pay our tithes for access to the law.  Without legal training, your way is barred.  Even in small claims court in Ontario where having legal counsel is not always necessary, we have noted that court-ordered settlements tend to be more generous when lawyers are involved—probably to pay their fees.

But lawyers have been with us since before the days of Cicero in ancient Rome.  In Robert Harris’ wonderful novel Imperium, he showed how inseparable lawyers were from politics as far back as Cicero’s time.  Mind you, assassination was one of the alternatives to having more votes back then, so you would have expected politicians to be a bit more cautious in making enemies.

Politicians in our day need not be quite as concerned.  If they are also lawyers, they can look after themselves quite nicely, thanks to the voters.

If, for example, you have ever struggled with condominium law in Ontario, you can quickly learn what an ass, the law can be.  Condominium law, in this province, is probably the best example of lawyers looking after lawyers you will ever see.  The elected board of directors of a condo community is treated in the act as though they are incompetents—and can be.

Of all failures of Ontario lawyer-politicians, the most offensive was the response to Toronto Police Chief William Blair when he asked about laws supporting his expanded police force for the G20 in Toronto.  He was given the wrong and outdated act under which he was to operate that even he knew had to be wrong.  Nobody stepped up to take the blame.  Premier Dalton McGuinty (a lawyer) and his pack of lawyers at Queen’s Park disgraced our province!

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

In Carney we trust.

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

As children, we were always excited with the trips from Toronto to Chicago to visit mother’s family.  It was the American greenbacks—slipped to us by generous relatives—that impressed us the most.  What was of concern though was to note the American money seemed to put in trust with God while the stability of Canadian money was put in the hands of the Governor of the Bank of Canada.  Lately, the score in that regard has been Mark Carney: 1, God: 0.

As governor of the Bank of Canada, Carney has an enviable reputation.  He has even been loaned to the G20 members as chair of the Financial Stability Board by Prime Minister Harper.  It is his control of the Canadian dollar that has most impressed the member countries of the G20.

God’s currency, by comparison, seems beyond anyone’s control.  While supposedly under the stewardship of Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke, that economist finds that most days, the American buck has a mind of its own.  Bernanke’s main problem is that while he has used the money printing presses to try to shore up the American economy, he is much too right-wing in his political outlook.  It leaves the Fed Chairman in somewhat a conflicted position.

Mind you, Barack Obama had no alternative to Bernanke.  He knew it was guaranteed that he would never get a more left-wing Federal Reserve chair past a Republican-dominated Senate.  Being from Alberta did no harm to Mark Carney when Stephen Harper promoted the then Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada to the top job.

Bernanke and the American dollar are on a roller-coaster ride while he tries to find some satisfactory answers to the American economic problems.  The Canadian dollar has so-far withstood most of the pressures this causes on the smaller Canadian economy.

But the longer the world-wide economic troubles continue, both Bernanke and Carney will find they have fewer and fewer options left to them.  While Wall Street might have started all the problems with the American lack of controls and the uncivilized greed, it is Main Street in every country in the world that is paying the price.

What we must do is start to get ahead of the problems.  We must first protect our citizens from corporate gluttony.  Senior executives should not be making incomes over ten times that of the average worker.  ‘Buyer beware’ is no longer appropriate as a corporate slogan.  Corporate citizenship must go beyond the laws.  Corporate responsibility is to all countries where the company operates or sells its products or services.  Our corporate world serves people—we do not serve the corporations.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

A tough 2012 according to PM Harper.

Monday, December 26th, 2011

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter, 1872

And so Prime Minister Harper sat with CTV news anchor Lisa LaFlamme, to tell her of his concerns for Canadians in 2012.

It is all bad is what he told her.  The world economy is in the dumpster.  His government will make decisions that people will not like.  That will be easy for Harper’s government to do because Canadians, somewhat carelessly, gave the Tories a majority in 2011.

Mr. Harper explained that his government will make major reforms in 2012.  This will be a continuation of his program to do away with needless programs such as long gun registration, unnecessary statistical information for business, and early release programs for prisoners because he is going to build more prisons.

You could see the determination in Mr. Harper’s demeanour as he said there will be a lot of opportunities for Canadians next year.  He was obviously referring to the bottoming of the stock markets and that there are many good buys there for Canadians who happen to have any money left.

As for the government, it might have to cut back on the number of F35 stealth attack fighters it does not need next year,  He will, of course, leave this to junior Minister Julian Fantino who knows so much about military aircraft.  Mr. Harper has probably told senior Defence Minister Peter MacKay that it would be advisable to cut back on the number of times he can be ‘rescued’ from fishing camps next year.  He had no answer for Treasury Board President Tony Clement who wanted to move his Muskoka riding closer to the U.S. border so he could spend some more border money on it.  Mind you all of Mr. Harper’s cabinet ministers are in awe of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in how he negotiates with the country’s Premiers—he tells them.

But then, we all need to listen to Mr. Harper—what is he really telling us?

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

They want who to keynote?

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

That is it!  We are not going.  So what?  There is no way that we can agree to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty giving the keynote address to the federal Liberal biennual conference in mid January.  You need to be some sort of a real liberal to set the right tone for the conference.  Dalton McGuinty is not liberal.

Dalton McGuinty is a whig.  A whig is a liberal twice removed and 200 years behind the times.  If  Tiny Tim Hudak had a brain or Andrea Horwath a plan that could work, there is no way Dalton would still be Premier of Ontario.

The purpose of the Liberal Party of Canada gathering in January is to go forward, not backward. This is a meeting where we must deal with the needs of Canadians in the 21st Century.  Dalton cannot get out of the 19th Century.  He knows nothing about the 21st Century.  He thinks electricity is something that comes from windmills and sunlight.  He thinks gas fired generating stations can be loaded on a hay wagon and moved somewhere else. He thinks you can solve the province’s medical problems by giving the health portfolio to someone with an I.Q. of more than 80.

Canada needs to know that it is going somewhere besides all-day kindergarten.  It believes in our right to a family doctor—of our choice!  It wants medicare to mean something besides more user fees.  Canadians think adding HST to other gas taxes is pushing a bit too far.

Why were we under the impression that the keynote address at the convention was to be a scholarly discussion by Adjunct Professor Don Tapscott from the University of Toronto?  Anyone who could encourage the delegates to think ahead, think broader and advance the party’s position in the political spectrum is most welcome.  Not having heard a lecture by Professor Tapscott, we are open to finding out what he has to say.

What Dalton McGuinty has to say is another matter.  The other day we heard some talking heads on a news program speculating that the real opposition to the Harper Tories in Ottawa would have to come from the provinces.  That is a lot of pressure to put on Jean Charest and three new Premiers.  Dalton has his hands full in Queen’s Park.

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Who wants to be like the Conservatives?

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

How soon we forget our roots.  Outgoing Liberal Party President Alf Apps is asking the grass roots of the Liberal Party to approve a $2.5 million call centre in Ottawa.  Liberals will get to vote on this foolishness at their biennial conference in mid January.  It shows just how far from a reformer, Alf  has travelled since the 1980s.

When we first met back then, Alf was the angry young man, tackling the ‘non-elected’ managers of Liberal politics.  His notoriety assured, he slipped into the same conservative mould as what he was complaining about.  Alf  became ‘they.’

Alf now wants the Liberals to have Conservative Party style phone banks.  He wants to be just like them.  He wants a centrally controlled party to make the decisions, commit the funds and run the country.  And he is asking the people, whom he does not trust to do the job, to approve his plan.  He is like a dictator saying vote for me or else!

The party gathering should tell Alf to ‘stuff it.’

What Alf does not seem to understand is that the Liberal Party has—or can create—a call centre in every electoral district across Canada.  It has had them before and they work better than the call centres working currently trying to get the Liberals a million bucks for Christmas.  Liberals respond best when it is someone they know who is calling and is identified with that area of the country.

Does Alf want a call centre that, when it has nothing better to do, makes spurious calls to a riding telling people their MP is resigning? Does he think that is worthwhile?

Alf is concerned that the Conservatives have raised almost three times as much as the Liberals in the past year.  The one thing for sure is that Alf seems to have skipped his classes on basic marketing.  (Sorry, Alf is a lawyer.  They usually know nothing about marketing.)  The Conservatives had something to sell.

The Liberals are selling nothing but a big red tent that anybody who does not want to be identified as right or left can get under.  They have to get rid of the tent, move clearly to the left and stand for something.  That is what this biennial conference has to achieve.  At least the people Alf complained about in the 1980s were achievers!

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

Beatifying St. Stephen II.

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

There is a very elaborate and cautious process involved here and nobody rushes these things.  The Roman Church does not undertake the creation of a saint casually or in any way spuriously.  Saints are sacrosanct.  The process can take hundreds of years.  That is why the beatification of St. Stephen II will not be an overnight sensation.  It took a long time for St. Stephen I, the first King of Hungary, who brought Christianity to the Hungarians, to be recognized as a saint.  You have to figure it will take a lot longer for Canadians to really appreciate St. Stephen II, who brought the blessings of Western Conservatism to the benighted of Canada.

It all started with the musings of Rex Murphy of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation fame.  Speaking on the National news program a while ago, Mr. Murphy revealed that it might not be Stephen Harper who is the extremist on political matters.  Mr. Murphy posited that it could be Mr. Harper’s detractors who are the extremists in these circumstances.  Maybe it is Mr. Harper who is getting a bum rap.

It was because of this revelation from on high—and a most unlikely source—that the Roman Church sprang into action.  In a country such as Canada it is a serious problem to have such a paucity of saints.  In Italy, you have a saint for almost every 678 people while 33 million Canadians have to share a very small number who have made it into the charmed circle.

And while the prospective saint, Stephen Harper has not particularly proselytized Catholicism to Canadians, he has certainly done a fine job in scaring hell out of the godless naysayers, communists, gays, environmentalists, fallen women, liberals and other left-wingers in Canadian society.

And nobody appreciates this more than the Roman Church—the bastion of regression in Canada and around the world.  The public relations people have been telling the church leaders for years that they need more positive role models.  It is not enough to have Jesus on side; he is from too far in the past.  Who today wants to listen to a guy in a long flowing dress.  You need role models that people can relate to in modern times.

You need more Stephen Harper’s on side.  Make him a saint.  He will be dead when you do.  He can hardly object.  You could make his saint’s day around July 1 to stir a little patriotism.  This guy has potential.  So what if he is not Roman Catholic?

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

We are going to have a Jubilee.

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

It has been more than a century since the last Diamond Jubilee celebrating the reign of Queen Victoria.  We Canadians will be honoured with another Diamond Jubilee next year to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Victoria’s great-great granddaughter, Elizabeth II.  If the House of Hanover has proved anything, it is that boring works.

As proof of this boredom, are you going to gather the family around the radio or in front of the tely next Sunday, to listen raptly to a message to the Empire from our dear Monarch?  No you are probably not.  If it were not for the hard-working news media people trying desperately to find something quotable from the bilge, nobody would notice the broadcast.

During the Second World War, mother considered this broadcast an essential part of Christmas in Canada and she insisted us children listen quietly while George VI stuttered his way through another weary effort.  Maybe we were not supposed to notice when we heard his Queen Consort Elizabeth quietly correct him on something.  It was not as though mother was raised to the custom, spending her childhood in Chicago.

Luckily, winning the Second World War was not dependent on the oratorical skills of the British Royals.  Having heard earlier oratory from Adolph Hitler, even if you did not speak German, they were a chilling experience.

Regrettably Elizabeth II and her hubby are too old and frail to drop by and see all the peoples of their dominions during the Jubilee year.  We Canadians are getting second best with a visit by heir apparent Charles and his lovely wife Camilla.

If they should decide to visit Babel while they are here in Ontario, no doubt we shall do them up proud.  We could have all kinds of fetes to enliven the occasion.  For example, Babel could have a crockery painting contest.  This is in recognition of the very large market for souvenir crockery at these events, mainly hand-painted cups and saucers.

What we could do is have this crockery made with just paint-by-numbers designs and sell them to the loyal citizenry of Babel who could then have the fun of hand painting them.  There can be a contest as to who could add the most personality to the Royals depicted on the cup and saucer.  Charles and Camilla can be the judges.  It will be even more fun if the best hand-painted efforts are served full of tea, which the Royal couple could drink while doing their judging.

Will that be with milk or lemon?

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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

More seats, fewer brains.

Monday, December 19th, 2011

In the next federal election, there are going to be 30 more seats in Canada’s House of Commons.  Despite half of those seats being in Ontario, it will still not be fair.  The fact is that there is no way to have a fair distribution of seats unless there is a Constitutional Assembly that can address the basics of how we want this country to be governed.

As things stand, having 30 more Members of Parliament is a meaningless expense wasted on meaningless people.  Mr. Harper will make sure that the 30 new candidates for his party are servile toadies who will do what he and his party managers tell them.

It used to be that the party leader’s signature on a candidate’s information entitled the candidate to public funding based on the last vote.  Mr. Harper has put an end to that funding. It was fair and the last thing Mr. Harper wants to be to the Opposition is fair.  It is not in his vocabulary.

All that is left of the legislation, controlling who can be a candidate for any party, is the need for the party leader’s signature.  This denies the electoral district associations the right to choose their candidates.  It creates centrally controlled federal political parties.  It denies the basic democracy that used to ensure that all regions and constituencies across Canada were represented and had a voice in the governing of our country.  It has created a process that is destroying the political parties.

It has reached a point that people do not care that they are voting for an idiot—as long as the idiot wears the right color tie.  They would be better to vote by color, blue for the Conservatives, red for the Liberals, orange for the NDP, green for the Green, etc.  After all, that is what they do in countries where most of the voters are illiterate!  Act illiterate and you will be treated that way.

But Mr. Harper likes it that way.  He can fly around the world as a potentate in his military A300 Airbus and pontificate on his economic ideas.  He can leave his lackeys to lie to and confuse the voters.  He can turn the House of Commons into a sheep pen where political parties can trot out their votes as needed.  It is no longer a civil place.  It is no longer a polite place.  It is certainly no place to debate the needs of our people.  And we want to send another 30 people into that place?

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Copyright 2011 © Peter Lowry

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