Archive for January, 2012

Why we write what we want?

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Somebody asked recently why we sometimes write articles critical of individuals here in the city we call Babel. The person understood the criticism of Conservative politicians. He thought they were fair game. The concern was about people in Babel who might be upset about something written about them.  The question asked was, “Don’t you want those people to like you?”

This took some explanation.  First of all, the questioner needed to be reminded of why we write this blog.  Nobody pays us to write it.  It is written for fun and it is a sample of our writing skills. It produces an occasional writing assignment. We do not run advertising as we easily cover the cost of the blog and we like the cleanness of the appearance of Babel-on-the-Bay. To be effective in this, the material has to be a bit controversial. It has to be edgy. It needs to be noticed.

And anything written in this blog is written as what is called ‘fair comment.’ We are well aware of—and quite respectful—of the laws related to libel and slander and have kept abreast of recent rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada that have reduced the ability of people with lots of money to use what is called ‘libel chill’ to keep people from questioning some of their public actions. A former Canadian, publisher Conrad Black was quite expert at that until he ran afoul of a Chicago prosecutor who put him on the sidelines for a while.

And, yes, we do care if some public people in Babel are not pleased with our comments. They have our telephone number and are welcome to call us anytime to discuss what we have written with which they might disagree. We are also more than willing to discuss the terrible state of journalism in this community. It is quite shocking.

But we have more questions to ask than just about people’s feelings about our blog.  We would dearly love to hear from some of our readers in Beirut as to why we have had a twelve-fold increase in readers in that part of the world. (It could be a relay point for some recent spam.) Heck, we have never figured out why we have more readers in Kitchener/Waterloo than we do in Montreal.

The analytics that are available to bloggers are quite fascinating but the reality for the work we do on Babel-on-the-Bay is how much work we get from it. We rarely blow our own horn but we have been known as one of the best speechwriters in Canada for many years.  There are still a few companies that would not have any other writer work on their product catalogues. There is not much demand for literate newsletters in Babel but that was one of our mainstays for many years and we would love to do more.

That is one of the beauties of the Internet. It hardly matters where the customer resides.  We have easy and fast communication. We can be paid through PayPal and never worry if the cheque is in the mail.  We love to write. If you have the need, try us.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Playing the monopoly card with Olympics.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Bell could not wait. They had practiced their high-handed monopoly tactics on Canadians for years. Now they are taking on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the team owners of the National Hockey League. Bell had learned the tactics in the years when it was the only game in town.  Mind you, the previous management of CTV, that knocked the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation out of the Olympic ballpark for the Vancouver and London games, was no slouch at the monopoly game. Now Bell owns CTV, it invited the CBC in on the game and then low-balled the IOC.

For the package that included the 2010 Games in Vancouver and the London Games this year, CTV bid and won with its very generous offer of $153 million. They did not expect any profit on Vancouver and, with $100 million in production costs, CTV and Rogers are reported to have lost more than $20 million.  They expect to lose more on the London games this coming summer.  It is no wonder Rogers has bailed out on the Olympics for the next round.  Now that Bell owns CTV, it decided to invite the CBC back and play in a field in which the taxpayer-owned corporation had particular skills.  Canadians still remember the excellent job the CBC has done on international sports over the years.

The IOC officials were the ones in for a shock when they opened the one bid from Canada for the next set of games.  These will be the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.  The new Canadian consortium offered less than half of the Vancouver/London bid.  It is estimated at just $70 million.  The IOC took its marbles and went home in a huff.  They would rather take nothing.

The broadcasters will go back with something, eventually, but what they really would like to know is if there will be National Hockey League players on the men’s hockey teams in Sochi.  That makes a huge difference in the size of the Canadian audience and the profit from the commercials.  The networks could be in for a long wait to find out as the NHL is playing its own game. The NHL team owners want a share of the profits that their players produce and the IOC does not believe in sharing. This means three powerful monopolies are locking horns and seeing who blinks first.  To complicate matters further, the team owners have to negotiate with the players later this year and the players will also want some of the profits from their participation.

Unless somebody breaks the chain by acting reasonably, there will either be no NHL players in the Sochi Olympics or no Olympic coverage except from an American television network or the CBC could be trying to do the whole thing on the cheap itself without government support. Nobody really wants any of those scenarios.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Why surprise at Toronto casino?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

The ‘maybes’ as opposed to the former ‘no ways’ in regards to a Toronto casino should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the hypocrisy of the Ontario government over the years.  In an October 24 posting last year, this blog postulated that there really might be three casinos in the Toronto area.  That could be pushing the envelope but the Toronto Star now reports that Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan says the province ‘may try its luck with a Toronto Casino.’

It had to happen.  The province needs the money.  The city needs the money.  It is a match made in heaven.

The fiction over the years was that the government wanted to capture tourist dollars with its casinos. That was the supposed plan until easy access across the U.S. border became a thing of the past. A higher Canadian dollar made the casinos on the U.S. side of the border more attractive. And Ontario’s restrictive smoking and alcohol laws had already turned off many American gamblers. It makes it time to admit that the only market that can turn a substantial profit for the government is Toronto. All the government has to do is admit what we have always known: Toronto is the tourist destination preferred by most visitors to Ontario.

Mind you, Toronto Councillor Michael Thompson speaks for many Neanderthals when he says: “I wouldn’t want to hear about families losing their house or their life savings.”  Obviously, Mr. Thompson and like-minded people out of Ontario’s puritan past should have stopped Niagara Falls, Rama, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Skugog Island, Brantford, Gananoque and the National Capitol area’s Lac Leamy from taking the hapless gamblers’ money.  That horse has been out of the barn far too long.

The only conflicted Member of the Legislature will be MPP “Tiny Tim” Hudak, Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.  He will not only be against anything the government is for, but just think of the number of people in his provincial riding who work at the Niagara Falls casinos.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s study on “land-based gaming”—whatever that means—will be coming out soon and it will say whatever the Ontario government wants it to say.  The only thing that might be a surprise will be a move by Ontario into Internet gaming.  The government needs the money.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

When wielding words of worry.

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The cliché is that a picture is worth a thousand words. You can paint a picture with fewer.  You can bring pictures to mind as easily. You can evoke emotion, encourage prejudice, denigrate a people, challenge an opponent, demonstrate love, bring forth a memory and start a war with simple words. Words are the arrows in the speechwriter’s quiver. They are there for both the rich and the poor. They are used by both the political right and the left.  They are yours to use.

Why then are the political pundits so surprised at Prime Minister Harper and his Cabinet cohorts using words to denigrate those who challenge the Gateway Pipeline through pristine British Columbia? To denounce the so-called ‘foreign radicals’ who dare to involve themselves among the thousands challenging the pipeline is hardly worth a notice. For the news media to be suckered into using the words in their headlines and television leads is the disgrace.

The first realization of the young public relations person is that all your illusions of the gruff but kindly editor and the inquiring reporter are wrong. They are just people trying to do their job. It is your job is to make it easy for them to advance your client’s side of the issue. You have to remember that it is not the prose but the power phrases. It is not site for the shot but the backdrop. And emotion trumps logic.

The lie in Stephen Harper attacking the foreign-radical environmentalists challenging the Gateway Pipeline scheme is that there is far more foreign money on the side of the pipeline than there is supporting the environmentalists and B.C. native tribes. It is easy though for one to share the concern of the natives who are absolutely appalled at the vision of a spill along the beautiful inlets and shores of Northern British Columbia. Mr. Harper is only looking at the money the pipeline will earn.

And we should remember what the international oil companies want to ship through that pipeline. It is heavy crude oil from the Athabasca tarsands. They want to pump up to 500,000 barrels per day of this gunk through a twinned pipeline across and through the Rocky Mountains.  It will be through forests and over streams and rivers to Kitimat which is up a long inlet from the coast and the Pacific Ocean. They want to bring huge ocean-going tankers up that inlet to unload light weight petroleum which will be pumped up the smaller diameter pipe to Alberta where it can be mixed with tarsands oil to enable the heavy oil to be shipped to Kitimat through the larger pipe. The ships, will then load with the heavy mixture and then wend their way out the channels to the Pacific and head for China and points east.

The one thing for sure is that the rhetoric has hardly had time to ramp. There will be highly paid writers plying their trade for both sides. There is enough money involved.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Was it a successful Liberal convention?

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

The Liberal Party of Canada gathered in Ottawa this weekend for the party’s biennial convention.  This type of event is like old times to this writer.  It was 48 years ago that we helped organize our first Liberal Party event.  The fun times over the years were the conventions when we only had to deal with the news media.  The more onerous ones were those requiring us to be up all night, triple checking every detail for the next day’s events. We did not go to this one.  The only expectation of this Liberal convention was extreme frustration.

How would you feel about a convention that has been set up to obstruct real reform?  From the opening bell, you were presented with the dinosaurs of right-wing Liberalism of the past.  Can you imagine Dalton McGuinty keynoting the conference to tell you how to achieve electoral success? Thanks Dalton, we already had you to thank in part for the Liberal’s lousy showing in May’s federal election. The only thing that saved your sorry provincial Whig asses in the October election was the confused youngster posing as a Conservative Party leader.

This Liberal convention would have been embarrassing.  How would you feel about a convention in which nothing technical worked other than the automatic flushing of the urinals? Nothing was on time except your wake-up call.  And why, when everything was so damn predictable? Don’t you know that the Young Liberals have been passing resolutions to legalize marijuana since the 1960s? And how can you pass a stupid resolution to dump the monarchy without a clear explanation of the alternative? You need to understand that voting on resolutions that do not make sense, produces results that do not make sense. Why bother?

There were over 3,000 people at the convention. Nobody missed us.  Sure it could have been better run but then, who would notice? There were some small wins, here and there.  The only major win, we think, was the win by Mike Crawley running to be president of the party.  There is a promise from Mike that he will restore control of the party to the electoral districts.  We will hold his feet to the fire to make sure he delivers. When you consider how close the race was between Mike and Sheila Copps, you know how serious the schism is in the party between those favouring reform and the old guard on the right.  It makes one wonder just how big the membership loss will be when the Liberal Party of Canada moves to the left of the political spectrum and merges with the New Democrats.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The acquisitive Ma Bell.

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

You have to be a bit older than most to remember the days when Bell stock was the mainstay of widows and orphans. It was reliable. It was like working for Bell. People used to say with pride that they worked for Bell. It was always an honourable job and a job for life.

Not any more.  Times have changed.  Prime Minister Harper’s friends at Bell discard employees like used tissues.  Stephen Harper and the executives at Bell Canada seemed to be joined at the hip.  They even throw people out of work simultaneously.  The other day it was reported that while Bell was dismissing hundreds of employees from its Mississauga call centre, Stephen Harper’s henchmen were firing hundreds of security people from Pearson Airport which also happens to be in Mississauga.  We should send an appropriate condolence card to Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion.

Mind you, there is no such need to send such a condolence card to Stephen Harper or Bell chief George Cope.  Nobody they know would be working at such a low pay type of job.  They do not know nor do they care about the hardships those people face in today’s job market.  People at that pay level are the last hired and the first fired and they go through life with one discouragement after the other.

It was just a few people who know how to read the political tea leaves who were deeply worried when broadcasters (specifically CTV) and the cable and satellite distribution companies got into a fight over what was believed to be an argument for the distributors to pay for the local broadcast content they were distributing.  It became clear later that the argument was a smokescreen for the satellite distributor Bell to take over CTV and cable/satellite distributor Shaw to take over Global.  The only piece that is missing in English Canada is for Bell to take over Rogers.  Just be patient.

Nobody paid much attention to the new arrangement until recently Bell and its new friend Rogers bought the Teacher’s share of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE).  There is nothing that Bell cannot buy today if the company executives just put their minds to it.  And gather around sports fans, you can now get all your instant sports information on your Bell or Rogers telephones and ipads.

It is all about control. While the deal with MLSE Chairman Larry Tanenbaum might seem odd—they gave him a gift of stock worth about $80 million—they are certainly not treating him like an employee.  For $80 million it is a little easier to understand if you consider it as an encouragement to break off negotiations with other broadcasters.  It is hard to turn down $80 million.  The people George Cope and Stephen Harper fired could really live high off the hog if they had a share of that kind of money.

Someone asked the other day, where this acquisition spree of Bell is going to end? It’s a good question.  We suggested that we will have to wait to hear whom Mr. Harper chooses as the new CRTC chair before we can guess where it is heading. Bell is supposed to be regulated by the CRTC.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Somewhere Jack is laughing.

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Being a member of the United Church of Canada, the late Jack Layton never seemed to have strong religious beliefs.  We have no idea from what heaven, hell, purgatory or Elysium field that he might be observing his deification back in Danforth electoral district in Toronto. If he is, he certainly must be enjoying a heck of a good laugh about it.

As Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Canada’s House of Commons, Jack was so much out of his depth that that alone might have killed him. The news media liked to project him as ‘Just plain Jack,’ ignoring his doctorate and years as a professor of political science. Those of us who campaigned against him knew him better as a doggedly determined social democrat.  We also knew that he had few moves and little creativity in political manoeuvring. You knew what he would do.

Mind you, he must have been on strong pain-killers when he chose NDP MP Nicole Turmel as his stand-in when he once again tried to defeat the cancer that was ravaging his body. The choices made as to many of the NDP candidates in Quebec in the May 2011 election where, in turn, slipshod, careless, unorganized and undemocratic and clearly indicated that Jack had no expectation of any NDP breakthrough in that province.

The biggest joke of Jack’s last election campaign was that it heralded his return to campaigning in Quebec Province.  He campaigned as ‘Just plain Jack’ from Hudson, Quebec, not as a product of Anglophone Montreal.  He and his advisors in that province had no indication of the plummeting popularity of the Bloc Quebecois and the seriousness of the continued dissatisfaction with the federal Liberals.

You have to be a liberal to still be annoyed at Jack for the cheap shot he took at Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in the English-language leaders’ debate last April.  What was obvious was that Michael was in no way prepared for it and Jack got away with it.  It was the remark he made about the time Michael spent in the House of Commons.  Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has tremendous demands on his time and he has to balance his attendance in the House with all those other demands.  Jack knew that.

While you could appreciate the pomp and ceremony of Jack’s funeral and the opportunity it presented to the NDP, the truth is that Olivia and Jack are not saints and the NDP could never repeat the same stunt in Quebec.  The stars will never align like that again.

Jack never was much of a union guy.  He marched with them on Labour Day and accepted their support.  He was a social democrat and that is the nicest thing we can say about him.  He would have looked on the bringing together of the Liberal and New Democratic parties as inevitable.  Let us hope his successor is a like-minded person.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Stephen flies to China.

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Did you hear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is flying a commercial airline to Beijing next month? He wants to show that he is a man of the people. He is even flying tourist class. It will be an historic occasion. And the beauty is that he has absolutely no idea what he is getting in to.

It starts with his being awoke at 4 am at his taxpayer-provided Sussex Drive residence in Ottawa.  He is to be packed and ready to leave for the Ottawa Airport at 5 am for his 7 am flight to Toronto to board his 2:30 pm direct flight from Toronto to Beijing.  Grumpy and rushed, but with every hair in place, he is whisked to the airport where the limousine deposits him at the departures entrance.  From there, he and his nine pieces of luggage, piled on two luggage carts, begin their journey.

He is recognized by an employee who sometimes votes Conservative and is offered special treatment to ensure he catches his flight to Toronto on time.  While he insists on being treated like any other passenger, the security personnel decide to forego the cavity search in his case and he does make the flight.  This is despite the confrontation between the Prime Minister and the check-in clerk who said there was no way he was taking all those pieces of luggage to Toronto on the same plane.

The luggage problem was solved by slyly purchasing some empty seats on the flight and crediting the extra luggage to fictitious passengers.  It is when he has to take off his shoes to go through security that he used the bad language.  A Royal Canadian Mounted Police security guard, nattily attired in a brown RCMP uniform and a turban, tells him that if he does not present a more pleasant image to the other passengers, he will be barred from taking his flight. Flying places in Canada is a privilege, the officer tells him, not a right. He can either follow the rules or walk, he is told.

The Prime Minister’s staff see the all-too familiar ‘prepare to die’ type smile on the PM’s face and seek out the furthest coffee shop away in which to enjoy a cup of coffee.  They find him later in the boarding lounge, ruefully examining how a hole in his sock has allowed his big toe to peek at the world.  During the flight toToronto, he thoroughly annoys the businessman beside him with a discussion of how uncomfortable steerage class seats are in the aircraft.

It is when he arrives in Toronto and sees the line-up that laps twice around the terminal, to clear security, he understands why he has been told to allow six hours for his connection in Toronto.  He immediately identifies himself and demands to speak to the airport manager.  When that harried individual is finally brought to him, he demands to know what is going on.

“Well, sir,” the fellow explains, “Some idiot in Ottawa decided that we can handle security in this airport with 300 fewer people.  These people make about $10 an hour and a guy making more in a year than these people can make in a lifetime decided that they are too expensive. And if you think you are going to catch a plane today, you better take off your shoes and get back in line.  There are no exceptions.”

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

And what is that big idea?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

One of our favourite news people, Tom Clark, tried to corner Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae the other day on his weekly Global show: The West Block.  Tom knew before he asked how tough it is to corner a long-time politico such as Rae.  Tom asked Rae what really big idea the Liberals would carry into the next election in three years. He got a glib answer.  It was the politically right answer but it left no time for them to discuss where Canada’s Liberals really want to go.

That is hopefully a question that will be answered this coming weekend at the Liberal Party of Canada’s Biennial Convention in Ottawa. There needs to be at least three indicators to be a strong movement in any one direction.  The first indicator will be the choice of a new party president.  The second will be if the delegates really work at returning the power in the party to the party’s grass roots.  The third indicator will be a judgement call as it depends on how heavily delegates side with social democratic type resolutions. The betting is that coming out heavily on the side of a more democratic party, better party functionaries and a more left-wing policy stance will guarantee the party a left-wing leader two years from now.

Once the Liberal Party recognizes that it has to be a left-of-centre party, it can come up with the big idea that enables the voter to vote yes or no.  The party tried the middle road through to the last election and all that got them was third place.  Nor can the party just be an alternative to Stephen Harper’s miserable Tories.  To win the votes of the New Democratic Party and restore the Liberal Party to power, the party must have the new ideas, the confidence and the plan that will restore our country and our people.

Tom Clark knows very well how the Liberal Party functions best.  He has covered many party gatherings over the years and he has seen that when the party gets the bit in its teeth, the leader is in for a wild ride.  It was Pierre Trudeau and Lester Pearson before him who gave the Liberal Party its head and gained from the policy ideas that emerged and the quality of the candidates who came forward.  It was the right-wing leaders–Turner, Chrétien and Martin—who lessened party input and drove the party to its current poor representation in the House of Commons.

It is up to the delegates at this convention, starting Friday, to reset the stage.  There are many foolish resolutions on the table to try to distract them from where the party needs to go.  They need to choose their battles, choose the party functionaries and the direction that will rebuild the real Liberal Party.  We wish them well in their quest.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Will the Golden Arches rescue Babel mandarins?

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Babel’s train station to nowhere was true to its costly reputation at last night’s General Committee meeting of Babel city council. City staff was asking council to approve another $680,000 to pay for some interior work on the historic Allandale Station buildings.  They needed to make one of the building’s habitable for a single city employee to be able to work there.

It seems that the city staff had discovered that they cannot take over insuring the finished (outside anyway) project unless the building is used for some city purpose.  You would have sworn that the Keystone Kops of another era had come inside city hall for the winter.  Some councillors were stunned.  Some put on their thinking caps.  Some tossed out ill-considered solutions.  And a few tried to change the staff-written resolution to provide the money.  It could have gone on for quite a while if one councillor had not finally pointed out that maybe staff should solve their own problem.

City staff people, who were in attendance in the council chambers—there to provide ‘wise’ council—were horrified.  They looked at each other in dismay.  They had already missed one bullet when a councillor innocently asked what the total bill was for the restoration of the historic station.  There might be a small overrun, it was admitted.  It would still be close to the $4.3 million, the councillors were told.

But it was very disturbing for the staff flunkies to take the flack for this new problem.  They were given until February 6 to come back with a plan.  They were told find a better way to insure the buildings.  They were also told to find someone who can find a tenant for one of the buildings.  It was suggested that a commercial real estate person might be whom they need.

And that was when you knew that the whole thing would be derailed again.  They obviously are not familiar with how commercial real estate people work.  These are people you hire for their knowledge of a market, the relative costs for different types of facilities and where they might be found.  If you ask them to find a tenant, they will take the shortest route possible to a solution.  The shortest route in Babel would be to McDonald’s for a Big Mac.

But even if the Golden Arches rise over the train station, then the problem will be where can McDonald’s customers find places to park?  And how do you arrange the drive-through window without ruining the effects of the restoration?

Mind you, the councillor who asked for this bounce-back to staff said that he really wants to have a legacy tenant, maybe a museum.  That is an even more interesting challenge.

Above the fray in the council chamber, a lone spectator, who looked like Mark Porter, sat with a Mona Lisa smile observing all these deliberations.  He must have been waiting for the next item on the agenda.  The last item was his offer to solve all the problems if council just gives him a four-month exclusive opportunity to negotiate a deal for the other 4.1 acres of land around the station.  They gave him three months which was fair enough.

But all that time he sat there, he must have been thinking:  I have to negotiate with these people.  It will probably be like a battle of wits with people who are unarmed.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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