Archive for February, 2012

Have you had your Drummond today?

Saturday, February 18th, 2012

It has been calculated. If you take all of the copies of economist Don Drummond’s report, piled them in front of the Ontario Legislature and lit them with a match, the resulting bonfire would not keep us very warm.

But it is a warming thought. It would be the best use for the drivel that Drummond tried to foist on us. If Premier Dalton McGuinty was trying to set up a bogeyman to take the blame for some austerity measures, he found the perfect scapegoat. All we need now is to hear from opposition leader ‘Tiny Tim’ Hudak that he agrees wholeheartedly with everything Drummond says. That would put the cap on a totally ridiculous exercise. You keep expecting the Premier to announce this report is to show people what Ontario would be like if the Conservatives win the next provincial election.

The worst part of the entire fiasco was when Drummond brought up the tragedy of the Greek financial crisis. To mention Greece in the same breath as Ontario is a travesty.Ontario does not have a financial problem. Ontario has a total debt of about $240 billion and a gross domestic product of more than $500 billion. That is not much for 12 million people to handle. It is the equivalent of a family earning $50,000 per year and owing $24,000 for house, car, cottage and other long-term debt. Drummond’s TD Bank will let you borrow a lot more than that.

But suppose you want to pay down some of that debt? Would you fire the gardener and the garbage man and cancel the Globe and Mail so that you could reduce the debt? Or would you forego the family visit to Disney World this year?

And that is what Don Drummond and his friend Dalton McGuinty do not seem to understand. If you want to save money, if you want to pay down debt, you cancel the foolish and frivolous—you do not throw people on the streets and pay increased welfare.

And while we hesitate to suggest this, the province has an ace-in-the-hole that a family does not always have. A government can raise its own pay. It can go to its taxpayers and say: sorry folks but we need a bit more money. And very few would be mad about it if the government just put a surtax on the rich. It would be great if they paid their fair share for a change.

And while the government is at it, it could reverse the trend in corporate taxes. Over the years, Ontario governments have reduced corporate income tax by more than 80 per cent. It makes you wonder why they even bother collecting it. If a business needs its profits to expand its business or to do research or hire more people, that is okay. The company that wants to send its profits off-shore or to buy its competition should be taxed to the hilt.

As you can see, there are options.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario’s treasurer tries to fly alone.

Friday, February 17th, 2012

Ontario Treasurer Dwight Duncan nearly crashed the other day. He tried to steal economist Don Drummond’s thunder by announcing some of his own initiatives to save money. The three areas he talked about were the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) head office and main store in Toronto, Service Ontario and support for Ontario racing. After digesting what he had to say, you have to admit, he is no Don Drummond. Duncan seems happy with half measures and faint stabs at the problems. The poor man does not seem ready to fly alone.

In fact, at the end of his presentation, you were not sure if he was trying to discuss things sensibly or simply dissing Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Ontario.

Start at the beginning with the LCBO proposal. He told his audience he wants to sell that prime piece of real estate down by the Toronto Harbour that holds a wonderful liquor store where you can buy products from all over the world. And incidentally, the head office of LCBO is there. We always thought that store seemed to be a perk of working down there on Toronto’s waterfront.

But why just sell the land? Why not sell the LCBO?

Drummond has no concept of this aspect of government. He should stick to banking. The facts are that sooner or later, the Ontario government has to get out of the liquor business. The government is in it for the wrong reasons.  It milks the LCBO as a cash cow. The government restricts the business opportunity to appease long-dead temperance fanatics. It is not getting the money out of the business that it can and it is interfering with good marketing practices. How stupid can the government be? The truth is that private sector bidding for the store franchises would produce huge one-time amounts to pay down the deficit. And the ongoing tax revenue from those stores would easily replace current revenues. Dwight Duncan thinks he might get a couple hundred million for the headquarters.  He has no idea what the entire lash-up is worth. What a piker!

And while he is at it, Duncan can get rid of Brewers Warehousing. In any other jurisdiction a monopoly like that would be illegal.

And yet he wants to privatize Service Ontario! Maybe, he says. He does not seem too sure. By the wayDuncan, the operative word is “Service.” Sure, privatize it. Just make sure private operators also provide service to Ontario before you save too much.

Dwight’s third idea is the most hair-brained of all! He wants to cut off the subsidies for horse racing in Ontario? That might be alright but does that mean he is giving up the provincial share of the racing handle at the tracks? Is he giving the tracks more of the money they are making on slots? Is he going to let all those slot joints play with the big kids and become full-blown casinos?

Wow,Duncan forgot to mention privatizing them. We want to buy one!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Babel’s police board chair pays the bill.

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

The reporters at the Babel Backward seem to act as though they are bit players from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s classic play The Front Page. They seem to sit around the news room and keep hoping for a story but settle for being told, there is no story. Their problem is that they believe what they are told.

Real reporters would keep digging. Real reporters would wonder what rules allow the Police Board chair to take a financial action that is not backed up by the board minutes. If the chair is allowed to pay over $7000 without any record, what is to stop him from paying us some of that free stuff? Is city council that trusting? The Police Board is there to represent the citizens and to manage the affairs of the local police. Should the board not manage them in a responsible manner?

This is not to suggest that the payment in question was wrong. It is perfectly acceptable for the board to decide not to embarrass the former mayor any further. He has been made to look silly for his poor grammar and other errors in the Globe and Mail advertisement that he ran on his own authority. It is appropriate for the board to end the matter.

The voters of Babel made it very clear what they thought of the former mayor’s actions. He is no longer mayor. The matter is settled.

But contrary to the opinion of the chair of the board—as reported in the Babel Backward–motions or directions of the board have to be recorded. Motions or directions that are not recorded are worth the paper they are written on. And the chair is usually responsible for the minutes of meetings that he chairs. To take a financial action that is not supported by the board minutes could be considered a breach of trust.

And that is where this whole silly business started.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

A note of thanks to Don Drummond.

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Dear Mr. Drummond:

The Premier has asked me to thank you for your services to the Province of Ontario. He thought you might have some creative ideas to help him balance the provincial budget. Obviously you do not.

Your suggestions will be filed in the same place as Mike Harris’ schemes from the 1990s. They did not work then. They will not work now.

But that is not your fault.

Please submit your bill. We are currently figuring out how to tax all the money back from you.

But again, thanks. Try not to let the doorknob hit you in the ass on the way out.

A Secretary to Mr. Mcguinty.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

It’s time to ban third-party campaign ads.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Enough is enough. It was revealed last week that an Ontario election attack ad took a blue ribbon in the United States. In a country that invented campaign sleaze, an Ontario campaign ad for a group of unions calling themselves ‘Working Families’ won an Award of Excellence. It is probably just one more good reason that this type of advertising must be stopped.

Unlike that really strange television campaign about kids that had Ontario voters very confused last year, the ‘Working Families’ ads were smart and mean and clearly aimed at defaming the leader of the Ontario Conservatives. The only thing that was wrong with the ads was that they failed to say ‘Vote Liberal’ at the conclusion. They also needed to say, ‘sponsored by the Ontario Liberal Party.’

And if those ads were not for any political party, they should be banned. If the ads are not by a party or candidate, they are then an attempt to interfere with the fairness of the election process.

The television broadcasters should also take some responsibility in this. By no measure does this type of advertising meet any standards of fairness, honesty or truth in advertising. Labor unions cannot hide behind a false name such as ‘Working Families.’ Using a false name is deception. It seeks to deceive the viewer. It is the same as the thief who wears a mask. They are hiding from you. They are hiding from the truth.

The guy who runs the advertising agency that wrote and produced those attack ads was very proud of his work and that award. He should not be. The truth is that attack ads are the easiest to write. That is why politicians like to use them. All you do is take a seed of what people think about someone and plant it in enough muck to grow something bigger. These ads are for the lazy.

The tough ads are the honest ones. They are where you, metaphorically, look the viewer in the eye and tell the truth. It is the type of advertising that has to reach out to the viewer and share a depth of understanding and empathy. The good ads have to be credible, believable, endearing, honest and open. And they do all that in 20, 30 or 60 seconds.

Americans like to use attack ads because they have a two party system. The times when they have a credible third party running, they do not know what to do. If you try to paint a negative image of an opponent in a multi-party campaign, you might have no idea which of the remaining parties will benefit.

If people think the ‘Working Families’ campaign won for Premier McGuinty, they need to give that campaign some further analysis. Tiny Tim went into the October election the easy winner. The polls gave him the election. If he had never opened his mouth during the campaign, he might have won easily.

But he did open his mouth. He was erratic, unreliable, confused and left an inconsistent message. He alienated urban voters and turned new Canadians against him and his party. The only part of the province he won easily was the WASP band across the province that runs from Ottawa to Sarnia. It was the Ontario version of the American Tea Party, the Ontario Landowners’ Association, who won that for him.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Thank goodness, Stephen is back from China.

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Prime Minister Stephen Harper might not have ever heard the old adage about when the cat is away. It might be a good idea if someone explains it to him. It is not that he cannot take the occasional fun trip to exotic lands but he has to get the mice to behave while he is out of town. He needs a deputy cat.

He has been resting up from his and Laureen’s long flight. (Not that they were flying steerage in that VIP personal A310, he buzzes around in.) He can now go read the riot act to the kids in the cabinet. After all, he goes out to eat a little Chinese and there is mayhem in the House of Commons.

We will not get into names here. They are not important and neither are the people involved. The thing is, you can hardly have a cabinet minister thumbing his nose at the Opposition in the House over torturing people. This is definitely not very classy. If the guy cannot keep a state secret, Harper will have to give him the old heave ho. There are lots more cannon fodder on the back benches just begging for a chance at getting the perks of a cabinet minister.

And there is the sad-sack back-bencher from Kitchener, Ontario who brings up the whole abortion thing as soon as Stephen leaves town. Where does he get off? He thinks that there should be a House committee to determine when life begins. All he is doing is trying a back door approach to a debate on abortion. This guy must have some cabinet support to try to pull a stunt like that. And why would they choose a man to bring this up? This guy looks like he posed for American Gothic. Stephen should stomp on him, quick.

And then there is that fat ex-cop Stephen put in charge of the F-35 fighter plane purchase. (Maybe that defence guy, Peter what’s his name, found that file was interfering with his honeymoon.) The ex-cop gets an easy lob type question in the House about delays in the U.S. F-35 development program. The ex-cop was obviously not paying attention. He stands up in the House and said everything is going along swimmingly. Obviously nobody had told him that the Americans had already announced that the program is being delayed because the new planes cannot survive endurance testing. The Pentagon is delaying the program and nobody tells the Canadians?

But Stephen is back. The visit to China obviously went swimmingly. Harper solved a a major problem in diplomacy—all you need to do is discuss human rights with the business people and business with the politicians and everyone is happy. Stephen’s advance people did a wonderful job whipping up enthusiasm and the Chinese looked very puzzled about that.

But we bet it was the Chinese who thought to dress Laureen in the plastic dress so she could hold the panda cub. They would lose face if that bear peed on her. Just think, for a million bucks a year plus special food, your zoo too can have a couple pandas on loan.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

A letter to Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Dear Dalton: No doubt you have spoonfuls of sugar ready to go with the medicine you hope Ontario residents will swallow. The first dose comes with the Drummond Report and then the second with the provincial budget. Meanwhile, the media will continue to frighten citizens with speculation and rumours. What puzzles us though are why, in front of the news media, you said last week: “There are legitimate public expectations that we’ll do everything we can to eliminate the deficit as quickly as we can.”

You have got it wrong again Dalton. Take your time. Sure, former civil servant and bank economist Don Drummond might have some interesting ideas. They certainly should be considered. Our barber also has some interesting ideas. You should talk to him too.

Just who is telling you that you have a problem? Is it that young Mr. Hudak? We sometimes tend to forget that he took courses in economics. He is also a protégé of Mike Harris, one of the worst premiers in Ontario history. The two H’s, Harris and Hudak, are ideologues. That means that they put their theories ahead of people.  It means they put business wants ahead of what people might want. Hell, they might even put their right-wing creed ahead of people’s lives. These are not nice people. Why should you worry about what they want?

It seems you told that audience in Ottawa the other day that you are going to cut the wages of civil servants in Ontario. That does not sound very smart. If you are paying them too much, who is at fault? What has changed? Has the cost of living in Ontario gone down and we failed to notice? Is it their fault that Ontario has a deficit?

You really need to rethink this Dalton. That is kind of Harris-Hudak thinking to blame the civil servants for something they did not do. Ask interim federal Liberal Leader Bob Rae what happened to him as Premier when he blamed the civil servants in the 1990s.

You should really think about what caused the recent economic problems for Ontario. Obviously there is not much you can do about the American banks who screwed up the mortgage business in the U.S. You have to deal with things you can correct.

For example, we have lost a lot of jobs in Ontario to low-wage areas in the United States. Have you thought of ways we could penalize those companies who send jobs out of the country? Should you ever buy anything from such companies? Sure, we have to respect trading agreements but American states seem to have no problem finding ways to protect their jobs. What are you, a boy scout?

Dalton, you really need to rethink your basic strategy. Liberals are supposed to respect the rights of the individual in our society. If we have hurt your feelings calling you and your caucus Whigs, we apologize. After all, Whigs are just Liberals who are two hundred years behind the times.

If you want to move into the 21st Century, we will be happy to analyze this Drummond report for you and show you how a modern Liberal would make sure that the proposals helped the people of Ontario—not penalized them for your government’s mistakes. And we will only charge a fraction of Don’s bill. Your new pal, Peter.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario’s ‘Tiny Tim’ will soldier on.

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Ontario’s Provincial Conservatives have a chance to dump their leader Tim Hudak at their meeting today in Niagara Falls. As there is no immediate replacement available, they probably will not bother. It would be a foolish move anyway. Despite his lack of political smarts that led to his loss to the McGuinty Whigs, there is a tradition among Tories that if you win some more seats you get a second chance to win it all.

Tiny Tim’s role model and mentor is former Premier Mike Harris. Unlike Hudak, Harris never tried to tell us he was smart. He posed as ‘The Tax Fighter’ in the 1990 provincial election and watched Bob Rae’s New Democrats win the election. Harris made a comeback with his ‘Common Sense Revolution’ after Rae had lost the bulk of his union support, five years later. Rae practically handed Ontario to Harris on a platter.

Despite all the gaffs Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals made in the 2011 provincial general election, Hudak could not capitalize on the lead he had in the polls. Voters started paying attention to him during the campaign and he came across to them as callow and stilted with his parroted right-wing pitch. If Andrea Horwath and her handlers had been able to better understand the dynamics of that election,Ontario would now have its second ever NDP government.

But for both Tiny Tim and Andrea, the next provincial election will be do or die. Their main problem is to not force the election too soon. All the political parties have to pay their election debts and build some reserves before anyone wants an election. Since neither of the opposition parties want to give the other too much leverage, the forcing of an election is an intricate dance. In 2015, the Liberals will be committed to an October election and their best bet will be to have a new leader in place well before then.

A new Liberal leader is not the only change that voters need. Much depends on whether the party can come up with a jobs-oriented economic plan that makes sense to the voters. Ontario has lost too many of its manufacturing jobs for a full recovery and the federal Conservative’s emphasis on supporting our western resource base is not going to help.

If the Ontario Liberals were really smart—which might be wishful thinking—they would be doing the critical planning now. If the party had a new leader in place by the spring of 2014 and an action plan ready for the fall of that year, they would have an opportunity to win a snap election.

They would need a good rationale for the action but they could, in effect, run against Prime Minister Harper and his Conservatives. The best thing to do with Tiny Tim at this juncture would be to ignore him. And a strong job-creation action plan would look after Mrs. Horwath.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Reading the bones in la belle Province.

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Some thoughts while watching a few of the regular ‘talking heads’ being interviewed on recent events in Quebec: These so-called experts treat their voters as specimens—spread-eagled, pinned and dissected on a board. They ignore the impact of those allophones who steadfastly remain Quebeckers. And they think the rest of Canada ignores Quebec. What they need to overcome is their own biases that they bring to their analyses.

Politics is a fluid process and attitudes change.Quebec’s angst has its roots in history but real change for Quebec started in the 1960s and was called the quiet revolution. For lack of a turning point, we can use Expo ’67. It had challenge, umbrage, rebirth and confidence. It led to the excesses of the October Crisis. It made René Lévesque an unlikely revolutionary and by 1976, he was Premier of Quebec and vowing separation. He was a professional communicator and there was little to decipher in his threats to our country and his plans for Quebec.

But his referendum lost and he never recovered. His party lost its balance and appeal and never recovered. Separatism became a platform for demagogues who had lost touch with the people. Voting in Quebec became a tidal event. Each new wave is followed by dangerous undertows. You can only determineQuebec’s choices if you know how to throw and read the bones.

The reason is that Quebec voting has become increasingly volatile. A strange hybrid party has emerged that is the rump of the now defunct right-wing Action démocratique du Québec and deserters from the left-wing parti Québécois who formed the Coalition Avenir Québec. If you think that is a strange combination, consider this: Pollsters are telling us that if an election was held tomorrow and if this party had the candidates ready, it could win a provincial election.

And why was anyone surprised last year that the New Democrats won so many Quebec seats in the federal election? The voters no longer trusted Gilles Duceppes’ Bloc Québécois. That party had nothing to offer. Michael Ignatieff was old guard to them and they were not getting on the Liberal train. And they had an understandable fear of the right-wing agenda of Stephen Harper. Why not vote for that guy Jack’s New Democrats?

The NDP benefited from René Lévesque’s legacy of social democratic rule in the 1970’s and 80s.Quebec voters like those politics. It is too bad the Quebec federal Liberals had never thought to present a more social democratic program.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Only the prurient.

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Federal Heritage Minister James Moore obviously has different community standards than the Internet audiences of tou.tv.  He has taken umbrage to a program called Hard on the French language tou.tv website platform. The ‘made in France’ program is provided by Radio-Canada’s radio wing in cooperation with a group of French-language television channels. Mr. Moore says the program is pornographic. He also says, for some reason, that it is directed to children. All he will probably do by saying that is send a lot of youngsters to the website to find out what the fuss is about.

What the youngsters will find out is that the program can be quite boring.  The actors deal with adult subjects. Sex is also an adult subject. Regrettably, Mr. Moore might not understand that. It is quite possible that somebody showed him an out-of-context clip from one of the episodes and he thought he was watching something that was pornographic.

But the Minister might not be aware of the considerable expertise and thought that the Supreme Court has given to the question of community standards. What it really boils down to is that there is nothing wrong with sex between consenting adults. Sex that includes brutality is wrong. The court also believes showing sex that degrades women is wrong. We expect that showing sex that degrades men would be equally wrong. The problem therefore is with the Minister.  If Mr. Moore has a problem or did not understand a sex act that was shown or simulated, he should say so.

It hardly needs to be said that one couple’s pleasant dalliance can be a prurient person’s pornography.

What is also interesting about this business is that the Minister’s statement and a supporting release from the Prime Minister’s Office were distributed by Sun Media. Few people in the news business in Canada could be unaware that Pierre Karl Péladeau’s Sun Media wishes nothing more than to destroy Radio-Canada. Sun Media does not like the competition from the public network.

Sun Media’s owner also owns ATV the largest French-language television network in Canada as well as the struggling Sun TV. Sun TV is the network that recently wanted to show a citizenship ceremony and snapped its fingers and the Conservatives had a group of federal employees perform for the cameras. It should also be noted that M. Péladeau also owns newspapers across Canada including our Babel Examiner and the blatantly separatist Le Journal de Montréal. His English language media are very supportive of Prime Minister Harper’s Conservatives. He is a businessman. He covers all the angles.

The Heritage Minister is probably annoyed that he does not have control of the CBC.  He would probably like the CBC to be as friendly to his government as the English-language Sun Media outlets.  We can only hope that is never going to happen.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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