Archive for February, 2012

How did Mr. Brown miss that bus?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

While everyone was complaining about robo calls and Conservative call centres, we were busy trying to make sense of the local Conservative’s election expenses. Of a legal limit of $96,630.18 that could be spend on his campaign in May 2011, Mr. Brown claims to have spent $95,328.54. Someone obviously kept a close eye on expenditures to cut it that close but it appears that a bus might have been forgotten.

And how the heck do you miss that bus? It belongs to a local company and was provided to Mr. Brown for the duration of the general election last year. It was hard to miss. It was plastered with signs for Mr. Brown. In fact, since there was no out of town need during the campaign, it was a daily eyesore here in Babel.

Mind you an eyesore is just in the mind of an observer. As the bus normally parked overnight at the company’s premises just a block from where we live, it was a regular reminder of the in-your-face nature of Mr. Brown’s campaign. Obviously, we are not impressed with Mr. Brown.

But this bus was a movable eyesore. We never saw it full of Conservative party faithful joyfully going for a picnic. Its principle use was to be parked at spots that it would be illegal for Mr. Brown’s supporters to erect a billboard. These parking places seemed to be prominent and busy intersections in Babel and at polling places when people were voting. Mr. Brown was, of course, advised by the local returning officer that having a portable billboard at a polling place is illegal and Mr. Brown’s supporters had the bus moved.

The Babel supporters of Mr. Brown must have been disappointed with the returning officer’s interference but it made sense. Almost anyone who had ever worked in a federal election campaign before could have told them that election signs at a polling place are a no-no. We are only allowed to act stupid so many times!

But the point of this diatribe is that some how, Mr. Brown’s accountants appear to have forgotten to include the bus in his expenses. Since the company that owns the bus is not included in contributions in kind, we have to assume there is a bill somewhere for that bus. No matter what value the campaign placed on the bus, there is no place in those figures to hide that large an expense. It could not be accounted for in the sign expenses.

Realistically, nobody can rent a bus and driver for less than a couple hundred dollars a day—and probably more. Assuming it cost just $200 a day, that would be an expenditure of over $6,000 to have it available for the entire campaign.

Maybe more Babel residents should ask Elections Canada what happened to the bus.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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On firing over-achieving workers.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Interim Federal Liberal Leader Bob Rae fired a caucus researcher yesterday. The person stood accused of embarrassing the Liberal caucus by being identified as establishing the “Vikileaks” Twitter site. This site was designed to attack Conservative Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. The notoriety of the site made it doubly embarrassing when the Speaker’s Office discovered the culprit was in the Liberal caucus office as opposed to the original belief that it came from the NDP caucus office.

Bob Rae had to stand up in the House of Commons and publicly apologize. That can take a lot of wind out of your sails when you are trying to be indignant about possibly illegal Conservative Party activities. At a time when the NDP official opposition are busy with their leadership contest, the Liberals were enjoying the opportunity to appear as the real opposition. Their party employee did not help.

But do not feel to sorry for the miscreant in this case. He will reappear sometime down the road in another incarnation. Most young aspiring political apparatchiks do.

We all carry the memory and the scars from such events. It is part of learning the trade. In our case it was working for a certain cabinet minister, organizing events for him. One of the first events was a critical announcement in one part of a hotel and then the minister wanted to show the news media he was one of the gang by leading them to a bar that was set up in a suite. It would have worked but for a combination of events that had the minister standing, looking foolish, at a locked door. The minister did not like it when things did not work.

Luckily, the campaign manager understood what had happened and knew that it was not possible for his young organizer to be in three places at the same time. He asked us not to slash our wrists and to carry on. The minister took more time to be forgiving.

Bob Rae did not have that luxury. He needed a body to display for the Conservatives and the media. The fact that the researcher might now be enjoying an unexpected holiday on some sunny Caribbean beach is another matter.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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It is time to end automated telephone calls

Monday, February 27th, 2012

One of the least loved of the technological innovations in telephony is the ability to call thousands of people automatically and play the person answering a recorded message. They call them robo calls. They are an affront, annoyance, irritant and cheap. And being cheap is why they are heavily used by Canadian politicians. With a great deal of luck, they could even cost Prime Minister Stephen Harper his majority government.

When this automated ability was first developed, it was thought to be beneficial because telephone companies could offer subscribers the ability to call a group of telephone numbers to inform the subscribers of a church supper or a change in a little league schedule. It became a little silly when the son’s high school started using automated calls to inform the parents that Johnny had missed school that day. The reason it was silly was because parents rarely get to answer a call when teenagers are at home.

Certainly one of the most irritating of the more recent automated calls is the political survey. This is the one that asks you to tell the unnamed call centre how you will vote. It gives you a number for each candidate that you can press and hangs up when you press a choice. Since we always press a number at random, we have to reassure the local Liberal candidate occasionally that we have not switched party allegiance.

If everyone would just press a random number, we could soon end the foolishness. The most accurate answers on those surveys are probably those entered by four-year olds when they get to the phone first.

The recent revelation that the Conservative Party has been using these automated systems to discourage voters from going to the polls is a far more serious subject. These are not simple pranks by low-level party people. This is direct interference in peoples’ right to vote and is a criminal act.  While a lot of Conservative apparatchiks will have to fall on their swords for it, there is enough cause for there to be some by-elections in closely contested ridings.

If the Liberals and New Democrats could just agree to stay out of each others’ way, we could have a good chance to take away the Conservative majority in Ottawa. Now there is a cause, we can all agree on.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Destroying Canada’s world image.

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

Have you met Canada’s parliamentary Bobbsey Twins? They are representing Canada to the world. We can only hope that their tenure is brief and the world forgives us for the confusion they cause. They are Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney. They might come from different backgrounds but you would be forgiven if you got them confused.

Neither of the gentlemen has ever held a private sector job. They found their calling in the extremes of right-wing politics. Baird must have been bored with his early years, learning his trade working for less extreme members of the Ontario Conservatives. He became something of a legend of ideological overkill though when he served in Premier Mike Harris’ Cabinet. He is best known to former friends of Canada for his opposition to the Kyoto Accord, earning derision and insults for Canada in breaking its word to other countries who signed in good faith.

Jason Kenney, the junior member of this duo, grew up with extensive training in a narrowed vision of things. Educated in Catholic institutions in the West, he capped it with studying philosophy at a Jesuit university in San Francisco. His crowning achievement there in 1990 was to lead the fight against a women’s group at the school who wanted to distribute pro-choice literature. Back in Canada, he served various right-wing political and catholic organizations.

Kenney was first elected in 1997 as a Reform Party member and went through his party’s various iterations, becoming a Canadian Alliance member and then a United Alternative supporter of Stockwell Day.  He worked so hard for his parties that Stephen Harper made him his parliamentary secretary, responsible for multiculturalism, when the new Conservative Party of Canada defeated the Martin Liberals.

With the majority Harper government, the portfolios of these two political extremists are labelling Canada. Today, Jason Kenny tells us that he is going to stop women from Hong Kong from visiting Canada to have their baby here so that the child might later claim citizenship. This is on top of his new and draconian approach to refugees. He is making sure Canada is no longer a safe haven.

His twin, the External Affairs Minister, set the tone for his job back in 2003 when he fought the Chrétien government of the time trying to get Canada to join the American Bush administration in the Iraq War. He continues today to toady to the Americans while casually dismissing the concerns of other countries.

Canada used to have a reputation around the world for decency, fairness, openness, for peace keeping and for being an honest broker. Prime Minister Harper is letting these extremist Bobbsey Twins besmirch our image as a country to satisfy their narrow view of right and wrong. Are they representing our Canada?


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Oil and royal action figures go south.

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Do you remember the Falklands War of 1982? We were laughing at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, at the time, having a Brit fleet circling in the mid Atlantic hoping to scare the Argentine soldiers on the Falklands/Maldivas into surrendering. In the end it got bloody with some 900 Argentine soldiers being killed when the Brits landed. On the 30th anniversary of the dust-up, they have found oodles of oil off the coast of those islands and the protagonists are back at it.

With an estimated US$180 billion in oil potential, the sheep herders on the islands off Argentina are becoming a cause célèbre for the entire South American continent. As the Brits have no intention of giving the islands to the Argentines, South American countries are rallying to the side of the sheep herders. The sheep herders—in case anyone cares—are quite happy being British subjects.

Thankfully, this time, it is still very much a war of words. To be on the safe side, the Brits have sent a nuclear submarine and a destroyer to the Falklands to point out their claim of ownership. They cheerfully explain to all who might be interested that the one destroyer has enough rockets on it to shoot down every fighter aircraft in South America. Their point being that they would not fool around in the mid Atlantic this time.

The Brits already had plans this year for some 30th Anniversary events to honour their Falklands citizens. They have already sent Prince Billy to the Falklands to serve his country. (There is nothing more dangerous than to fly one of those old Sea King helicopters.) Mind you, Kate is keeping a stiff upper lip about it back in London. The scene would only be a bit better if she was pregnant with another royal heir.

The Brits have realized that an important component of the old traditions is sending their princes off to fight their battles. This has led to a rapidly growing market throughout the Commonwealth for action figures of Prince Harry shooting Arabs with his machine gun and Prince Billy flying his decrepit Sea King and rescuing people in more serious straits. The Queen has even been asked for permission by the toy manufacturers to make sure the boy dolls are anatomically correct. It is a matter of some concern in certain circles that they cannot show the royal princes without balls.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Have they ever lied to you before?

Friday, February 24th, 2012

In the past week, senior police have been talking through friendly media to reassure us of the best intentions of Bill C-30, currently being debated in the House of Commons. The friendly media in Babel have certainly been doing their part. We have heard from the Babel police chief as well as the top cop from the Provincial Police. These people certainly try to be reassuring.

Bill C-30 is called the Protecting Children From Internet Predators Act. Could you ask for anything more innocent or urgent sounding than that? Ontario’s top cop tells us that this bill has had misleading coverage and it is really nothing more than an updating of police capabilities to keep pace with the technology. Oddly enough, that theme is echoed by Babel’s top cop. You would almost think they have been comparing notes—or were both supplied with the same song sheets. Though, understandingly, the Toronto Star-owned grocery wrap is a bit more cautious than the Sun media publication.

The two cops seem to share the opinion that those pesky warrants can take time to process and the investigators are required to have a reason for a justice to issue the warrant. They tell us that they just want access to information such as they used to get easily from the old fashioned telephone book. Mind you, it would be an unusual telephone book that told people where our mail is sorted and delivered from and what other names people used.

It is also questionable if the government should wish to pass a bill that forces Internet service providers to furnish the police with information about customers that they would not normally collect from customers to provide the service. And why should they intrude on a customer’s privacy, just to find out if they might be doing something illegal? Are police not supposed to have an indication that something illegal might be occurring, before they lower the boom?

The entire affair serves to remind us of how the police acted during the disgusting events at the G-20 event in Toronto in 2010. Look what happened when we trusted them to do the right thing then.

If the Conservatives did not have a majority that can ram the bill through the Commons, we would not worry. If we still had a Senate of Canada that was a house of sober second instead of a house of Harper thought, we would not worry.

But since we do not have any such protection, we have every right to be very, very worried!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Did someone take Mr. Harper’s crayons?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Is Prime Minister Stephen Harper doomed to the sad fate of living in a black and white world? It makes you feel sorry for him. It makes you feel doubly sorry for his cabinet colleagues, to pity his clack of back benchers, a sense of revulsion for his toadies in the Senate and wonder about the proper potty training of the confused Canadians who voted for Harper’s party in the last federal election. It makes you sad that these people cannot see the world in its full Technicolor beauty.

It seems to be a right-wing thing. As Public Safety Minister Vic Toews put it last week, “You can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” These people cannot even see as far as the middle ground. To them, ‘compromise’ does not exist.

It all started with their attempts to get their attitude about law and order across to Canadians. In their black and white world, they see the law as a weapon of retribution. There is no such thing as justice in a black and white world. They want judges to use fixed sentences for people who are found guilty. The judges’ reaction has been that it does not take a judge to dole out fixed sentences.

In jurisdictions that have tried to use fixed sentences, it has been found that the system does not work. It ties up the courts because it eliminates plea bargaining. It plugs up the jails and raises the costs to the public. Try to explain that to Harper’s sycophants.

You have to admit though that color is complex. It is like watching the four remaining contenders for the American Republican Party nomination this coming summer. They have all realized that they can no longer diss their opponents without alienating some segment of party faithful that the winner will need to carry out an election effort in the fall. That means they are trying to make nice with each other while seeing who can say the nastiest things about Mr. Obama—without once mentioning his color.

What surprises you about this black and white world of the right wing is their intense loyalty—mainly to money. For example the Athabasca tar sands despoilers have the full support of Mr. Harper and friends. It is the same for the pipeline companies who want to take that heavy crude to refineries in Texas or over the Rockies to tankers that will take it to refineries in China. Mr. Harper seems deeply indebted to these people for some reason.

The late John D. Lowry (our brother who died in January) had an app for Mr. Harper. Among his many inventions for the film and television world, John did remarkable work in colorizing old black and white movies. (The technical Oscar, he was awarded posthumously last week in Hollywood was for his work in restoring old movies to a better than new condition.) It is all done with computers. We have to figure out a way to run Mr. Harper through the colorization program. The program is very good at staying within the lines.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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McGuinty fuelling more unrest than just labour.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

If Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty thinks he is going to just stir up labour unrest by savaging civil servant wages, he does not know the half of it. To even send the message to the people employed by the government that he is going to take money from them is a declaration of war. And he can expect no quarter. He will be savaged by the union members who supported the New Democrats and he will be equally savaged by the many union people who supported him in the last election.

McGuinty recently told an Ottawa audience that his “government will negotiate firmly to a result that keeps us on a sure and steady path to eliminate the deficit.” And, with that attitude, it will also be a sure and steady path to eliminate the Liberal Party of Ontario.

Yes, we joke about McGuinty and his pack as being Whigs—Liberals from 200 years ago. At the same time, we have to agree with many liberals who want to rebuild the provincial party. The difference is that we desperately need a liberal government in Ontario. We need a liberal party that will work for the rights of the individual in our society. That seems to be something that Whigs do not do.

We have no party working for us. This is serious. Hudak’s hooligans are not even conservatives. Their backbone is made up of mainly extremist Libertarians. Former Premier Bill Davis must wonder what happened to that civilized party he once represented. The New Democrats have some decent people involved but nobody wants a party that is under the thumb of the toughest of the labour unions.

There is wide-open space for a left-of-centre party in Ontario that could be liberal and here is McGuinty over in right-of-centre. His Whigs hardly fit the bill. Real liberals care about individual rights. Real liberals would do something about a Medicare that denies people the services of a family doctor.

Real liberals are not in Premier McGuinty’s wheelhouse. He thinks he has some God ordained role in paying off Ontario’s debt. Why is not clear. The people who voted for him last year had no such intention. They just wanted some decent, caring government instead of the Harris/Hudak rape and pillage style of government or a repeat of the fiasco of the Bob Rae NDP government of the 1990s.

It was not as though Ontario voters showed all that much confidence in Mr. McGuinty. Despite the loss of his majority, he is not in a bad situation. No party wants to rush back to the polls. Everyone would understand it if he just settled back and governed well for a few years. He could concentrate on fighting with Ottawa, not organized labour. He does not really have to impress us too much. If he could just stay out of trouble, keep his cabinet out of trouble and restore some confidence in his party, all could be forgiven. He could do it if he burns the Drummond Report and gets Treasurer Dwight Duncan a kindly, cherubic personality transplant.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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F-35: flying soon in Canada’s friendly skies.

Monday, February 20th, 2012

It is getting frustrating. Despite the Pentagon’s continued concerns about the fate of the F-35 fighter aircraft, Canada’s Conservative government says everything is on track. On track for what? They do not say.

At the same time, the Pentagon sources tell us that the only thing that is on track in this program is that costs estimates look like they will probably double. That does not seem to worry our laconic Defence Minister. And it appears to be no surprise for the fat cop that Mr. Harper has fronting for the F-35 program. Mind you, just how credible Julian Fantino is when it comes to fighter aircraft, remains to be seen.

And who should know more? The Americans want up to 3000 of these aircraft in different configurations. The Harper government has ordered 65 in the stealth attack model. You would expect that the people who have ordered so many billions more of the aircraft would keep the closest eye on how things are going.

And just who the Conservatives want to attack with these aircraft remains a deeply clouded mystery. With 3000 or so of these aircraft in the United States compared to our 65, we would be damn silly to attack the Americans. There are very few countries in the world that would welcome us to bomb and strafe their military as did Libya.

It just shows you how little we know about military aircraft. Back in the days of the CF-100 and the AVRO Arrow, we understood that Canada needed long-range patrol aircraft to maintain the integrity of our Arctic and our coasts. What has changed? The Conservatives have ordered very short range aircraft that use stealth technology to sneak up on the enemy. What enemy?

If we sent one of these F-35s out to patrol the Arctic, it would have to take a refuelling aircraft with it. Refuelling aircraft are not very stealthy. For some reason, that does not make sense. And why would you want to be stealthy about patrolling. The very fact of patrolling is supposed to keep out the bad guys—whomever they might be.

But is it supposed to make sense? Maybe the Conservatives think they have to support whatever aircraft program the Americans develop. Mr. Harper thinks that will endear us to the Americans. Surely, Mr. Harper can find a cheaper way to do that.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Vic Toews, the man who launched a million twits.

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

Is it not wonderful? Where else but in North America could an obscure law and order kind of guy like Vic Toews become famous on Twitter. He might not be a social person but he has made many new friends this past week on the world-wide web’s social network. And now maybe we can all pronounce his name. (Call him ‘tays’ not ‘toes.’)

It seems that the dour, aging lawyer from Manitoba has ventured into the realm of the Internet on behalf of Canada’s ubiquitous Public Safety Department. The Internet is dangerous ground for ideologues. All he was trying to do was ram another law and order act through parliament to give police easy access, without a warrant, to the Internet activities of people of interest who might be using the Internet for illicit purposes.

It is not that the act is all that draconian. It demands more from the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) than they should really be expected to provide. Yet that is not what caused the ruckus. It was the mistake Toews made in the House of Commons when becoming frustrated with opposition demands, he said, people “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.” That was a silly thing to say. It was the remark that launched a million twits.

What Toews should have done was equate the situation to that of ‘hot pursuit.’ If the police are trying to apprehend a person distributing child pornography on the fly, so to speak, they might be allowed to seek their warrant after the fact.

But, in a civil society, that respects the rights of individuals, a judge’s warrant for such intrusion should be a basic requirement. And people have a right to know if the police are snooping on their e-mails and Internet downloads.

In our system of justice, it is important to have the judiciary keep a rein on the police. Most judges would be loath to allow the police to have such broad fishing rights to demand information from Internet providers. And it would not work that well anyway.

Our ISP, for example, might be able to tell what addresses we seek out on the web but since the server for this blog is in New Jersey and all our e-mails are based in California, there would be serious gaps in the surveillance.

We carry no brief for those who choose to be anonymous on the Internet. By closing comments on this blog, we ask that comments come by e-mail and e-mails from people who choose not to tell us their name are automatically deleted.  Nor would we ever support a protestor who hides their face. Our freedom allows you to show your face without threat of reprisal.

Vic Toews is trying to defend a flawed law. It is not defensible. It has to be fixed.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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