Archive for March, 2012

MP Brown is but a player on the stage.

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

In the rollicking discourse of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the bard points out that our lives are but a brief part on the human stage. It would likely be the preference of many that their words be penned by the popular writers of our day. We are not all as fortunate as Babel MP Patrick Brown to have sage words prepared for us while enjoying a foreign holiday, courtesy of Canada’s taxpayers.

In case we wondered where our Member of Parliament might be, we have been told he has returned from traveling abroad with Prime Minister Harper. This was a special treat for the boy because he has been such a staunch supporter of anything Stephen Harper tells him to do. What use he could be in South-East Asia or Japan during the Prime Ministerial travels is cause for wonder.

But, as soon as he had rested up from the travels, he has been put to work. He was told to get out with the other members of the Conservative caucus and tell the populace of the wonders of the budget of Finance Minister Flaherty. Not being a quick study, Mr. Brown was given his Coles Notes on the 2012 Budget and sent out to spread the word.

Mr. Brown must have been reading from those notes to the reporter from the Babel Disabler (otherwise known as the Barrie Examiner). All the reader has to do is try to imagine Mr. Brown actually saying the quoted words in a conversation. They might read like the hyperbole a writer might use to extol Mr. Flaherty’s budget. They are not words that any of us would use conversationally.

In fact the quotes all read like a Conservative advertisement. Not that it would bother a slavishly Conservative puff organ, owned by Sun Media.

It is not until you get to the last third of the article that you are treated to some less Conservative comments from the Liberal and NDP candidates in the last election in Babel. These more balanced observations about the budget do not get much prominence.

But what enquiring minds in Babel really want to know is what Mr. Brown was doing while the Prime Minister was conducting the affairs of state on this recent trip? Did these countries have some sort of spouses’ program arranged for the retinue of MPs accompanying Mr. Harper? Maybe the reporter should have asked Mr. Brown about the free trade deal being discussed in Japan? Does Mr. Brown know anything about that?

Maybe Mr. Brown needs broader, more interesting scripts during his minutes of fame.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The political centre cannot hold us all.

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

There are political scientists who will claim there is no such place as the political centre. To them, the centre is just an imaginary dividing line between politicians of the left and the right. Conversely, there are politicians who see themselves as being in the centre and looking at fences on the right and left over which they dare not climb. The three current federal party leaders in Ottawa see themselves that way. They think they are in the centre.

There are, of course, those who will think it is a crock to suggest that Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands anywhere near the political centre. The problem is you have to deal with his view of things. Harper thinks he is standing in the middle when he rejects the social conservatism of the lunatic fringe of his party. And we are damn lucky he does.

You might want to argue that Thomas Mulcair is hardly going to lead the New Democratic Party down the middle of the road. Yet, he knows and has said publicly that he wants to move the NDP out of the socialist international into the guise of social democracy. He has the same weight of extremists on the socialist left in his party as Stephen Harper has on the lunatic fringe of the right of his. And yet the two leaders are arm wrestling in the centre.

That leaves Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae looking like a referee between the two protagonists. And Rae thinks the centre belongs to the Liberals. His problem is that he is in the weakest position to keep the peace between the right and left wings of the Liberal Party. He is a glib and industrious interim leader but the degree of trust in him by either right or left of the Liberal Party is not very high.

While these three leaders are scuffling in this supposed middle ground, few, if any, are paying attention to Canadian voters. Anyone who has done political surveys can tell you that the voters are not as easy to label as are politicians. Sure, you get the occasional ranting right or left winger but you often catch them contradicting themselves on issues. It is like you expect Danielle Smith, leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance, to be a raving fanatic for the right until you discover she is not Pro-Life. People can differ on issues.

Maybe all the parties need to spend a few thoughts on where they stand. The NDP just went through the exercise of choosing a leader and it became very clear in that process that there was a division between the strong union supporters and the members who put social issues first. Mulcair won for social democracy but the unionists who coalesced around Brian Topp on the final ballot were no small rump.

The Conservatives are likely to wait about five more years before they will need to find a replacement for Stephen Harper. A strong candidate from the extreme right might tear that party apart to drive out the red Tories once and for all. We might be able to return to having two parties clearly on the right.

The Liberal Party will start to determine its direction in the next year, culminating in a leadership convention in 2014. There will be a growing chorus by then supporting a cooperative arrangement, if not outright union, with the NDP. Liberal leadership contenders will not be able to use the ‘big red tent’ approach but we can expect that some will try to maintain that liberalism is based on the rights of the individual in society and can exist with both right and left wings.

Judging by how the voters reacted to Paul Martin’s right-wing Liberal Party during 27 months from 2003 until 2006, the Liberal Party should finally make a decision about what it wants to be.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Well Mr. McGuinty, since you asked, your budget sucks.

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

What Ontario Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan announced in the Legislature yesterday was not a liberal budget. It was closer to a Conservative party budget than anything liberal. It was all forecast by that dour banker Don Drummond. Who said he knew what was needed in Ontario?

Why, for example, does Dwight Duncan think it is so important to balance things over the coming five years? Is God going to strike him dead if he does not accomplish this?

Why can we not make plans to grow our Ontario economy and let more jobs and taxes balance the books?  Maybe it was planned timing that the Ontario ‘sunshine list’ of publicly paid people who make over $100,000 per year was released last week. You do not need to freeze their inflated salaries. You just need to tax them properly.

And if anyone needs to understand the quote from George Santayana—the one that says: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it—it is the Ontario Liberals. When Bob Rae was Ontario Premier a few years back, he took on the unions to include them in his austerity program.  It was these same unions who kept the Liberals in power in the 2011 election—not quite a majority—but enough to stay in power. You try to screw with those unions and after a sooner election that you expect, you will be looking up from down!

And to make matters worse, McGuinty, you are out to screw seniors. What did they ever do for you but vote for you? If you put in a means test on their Ontario Drug Benefit plan, you might as well also kiss that vote goodbye.

If you are going to start a fight with the Ontario Medical Association, you should fight over something worthwhile. How about your government forcing the doctors to stop discriminating against the sick and the elderly? The sick and the elderly are the people who cannot get a family doctor. Are you too stupid to figure out why?

You might be wondering why this supposed Liberal Party member is being so nasty to you. Our axe to grind is that we support real liberals. Maybe we should stop calling your people Whigs. Whigs are just Tories with a different name from another century. If we do not tell you when you are so wrong, who will?

And if you put that callow Tiny Tim Hudak in power, we will never forgive you!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Are we really seeing red over Ornge?

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Considering this is budget day in Ontario, Ornge might just be last week’s topic. At that time, the opposition at Queen’s Park was in full cry for the head of Health Minister Deb Mathews. It was not until the Provincial Auditor brought us his report that anyone really knew how bad the situation is with that air ambulance service.

And all the auditor could tell us last week was that it was so screwed up, he could not figure it all out. All he knew was that the Ornge people had been playing fast and loose with the government’s money and rules, they were hardly forthcoming about their transactions and the province might have lost some money in the process.

But what more can Deb Mathews do? She has already fired the people involved. She has ranted and roared at those who are left. The Ministry of Health is a huge portfolio and she can hardly do a hands-on job with all the parts. What she probably needs more than all the shouting in the legislature is for her to shout at her bloated staff—they are obviously doing a lousy job.

She cannot keep using the excuse about the size of her Ministry. She certainly has enough staff to have an overview at the critical points. They let her down. The political staff particularly has to be sensitive to what can cause trouble for their Minister. They have to use similar smell tests as the Auditor General. If something does not pass the smell test, they have to find out why.

There are too many financial corpses around Ontario’s Health Ministry. Deb Mathews knew that when McGuinty gave her the job. It was probably her ego that prevented her from saying ‘No thanks.’ Taking over when she did, that close to the election, meant that she had little time to batten the hatches. She could hardly trust her predecessor David Caplan’s choice of political staff.

The opposition think she should take the bullet for Ornge, the way Caplan took the bullet for eHealth. The difference was he deserved it. He brought fewer skills to the task of Minister than his mother did back in the 1980s and she did an abysmal job.

But in the Health Ministry of today, there are different needs. We have the technologies today to lower the cost of health care and it is not happening. Why? We have people who cannot get a family doctor. Why? We have hospital boards with CEO’s being paid huge salaries and they are no more efficient. Why? We have district health units that are just adding more bureaucracy. Why? And the list goes on and on. Your trials have only begun Deb Mathews.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Canada’s Conservatives face war on two fronts.

Monday, March 26th, 2012

The news media will be paying an inordinate amount of attention to the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair for the next while. He won that party’s terribly dull leadership race and earned the attention. It would be a mistake though to think this means a breather for the Liberal’s Interim Leader Bob Rae.

The Conservatives ensured there would be no break for Rae with those ridiculous attack ads that are inundating the Harper-friendly television networks. We have listened to many theories about this attack from Conservatives, as well as seasoned political observers, and it is still not clear. It is like a bunch of young ruffians poking sticks into a wild animal’s den. You hope the creature is not rabid when they get bitten but they will certainly deserve a few scars. All that the Conservatives have proved so far is that they have more money to spend than they need. And they are not very imaginative.

We can only hope that Liberals do not respond to Bob Rae’s plea for additional funds from the party to pay for Liberal attack ads. If Bob Rae has a shred of dignity left, he will make all his attacks on the Conservatives in the House of Commons.

And that is where the most telling assaults will be made for the next year. The Conservatives are vulnerable on many issues. They lack depth (and brains) in their front bench and will have a difficult time fending off two aggressive opponents in the House.

The worst result of the stupid attack ad is that Rae might decide to enter the race to be leader of the party. That would be a mistake. What Rae did in the 1990s in Ontario was not what the attack ad says. What he failed to do at that time as Premier was to lead his party. He is a very experienced and articulate politician. He is just not a leader.

By having Bob Rae working in parliament during the Liberal leadership contest, the party will be in far better position than the NDP during their contest. The Interim Leader of NDP was virtually ignored while the NDP front-bench was out chasing the leadership. This will not be the case for the Liberals.

The one-two punch of Mulcair and Rae spell trouble for Mr. Harper. If Harper was weak in Quebec before this, he is now guaranteed that his way is blocked in that province. And Mulcair and the NDP are not the only beneficiaries of knee-capping Harper there. The Liberals can only grow in Quebec and we have hardly heard the last of the separatists.

We can look forward to the renewed challenge to Mr. Harper in the House. Just remember guys, the enemy of my enemy is my friend!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

John Fraser defends the monarchy. Why?

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

The last thing we need today was another book extolling Canada’s relationship with the monarchy. Can people find nothing more irrelevant to write about?

But John Fraser wants to entice people to read—wait for it—The Secret of the Crown.

The secret is out: John Fraser is a monarchist. The Master of Massey College, entrusted with the coddling of the impressionable minds of the elite among graduate students at the University of Toronto is a staunch defender of the royals. He was so thrilled with the visit of the newlyweds, Billie and Katie, to Canada last year, he had to write about it.

Fraser sees the monarchy as having a stabilizing affect on Canada. He is concerned about the dire consequences of dumping the monarchy for he knows not what. He claims the monarchy protects our traditions, customs, laws and rights. He fails to explain how the monarchy achieves this feat.  The royals do not even understand a tradition such as Hockey Night in Canada. And even John Fraser might not understand a custom such as ending our sentences with an interrogatory ‘Eh!’ And we can only hope that the Supreme Court will keep our laws and rights safe from Harper’s Conservatives.

But Mr. Fraser’s admiration of the monarchy is his right. And it is our right to feel the same as many Canadians. There are those of us who do not care about the monarchy. We figure the monarchy’s best before date expired about a century ago.

What we object to is that the monarchists among us are very much afraid of an open discussion on the subject of the monarchy. They do not want us to question the role of the monarchy. Even the royals themselves have finally decided that the law of primogenitor was so obsolete as to be embarrassing. They now agree that the rights of women are equal to men in our modern society. And it certainly was not the Monarchist League that advised them to make the change.

Mr. Fraser has his right to be a conservative (in the proper sense of the word). That means, he has the right to resist change. He can help preserve old customs and quaint traditions. He can join in re-enacting the Battle of  the Boyne for all we care.

But we will fight his resistance to change in how this country serves its citizens. A constitutional conference is something that has to happen. We can no longer live with a 19th century constitution. We must have thorough discussion of how we want our country to be run. And then the voters will decide.

If Canadians want the monarchy in preference to some possibly updated system, so be it. At least we will have decided. We will then work with whatever we decide.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The NDP cannot get their vote out?

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

The one thing you always assumed in working against the New Democratic Party in an electoral district during an election was that the NDP would get their vote out. If that was one of their targeted ridings, you knew that they would do the job. That was why today’s leadership convention was full of surprises.

With a claimed membership of over 120,000 across Canada, to have an average of only 50 per cent vote for leader was not expected. It made no sense. If you sell a membership to someone, do you not take them by the hand to make sure they vote for your candidate? If they are a long-time NDPer and voting is sacrosanct with them, you still leave nothing to chance. Even the Conservatives know better than that!

The NDP embarrassment could be creating concerns for the Liberals. The Liberal Party is planning to have a vote by every member at their upcoming leadership convention. If the Liberal executive gets cold feet, they could try to pull it back into a delegated convention. That would be a smack in the face for democracy in the Liberal Party.

Mind you there was one aspect of the NDP voting that caught us off guard. The party officials promised the news media that the first ballot results would be announced at 10 am EST. And, to everyone’s surprise, they were.

Liberals almost pride themselves on never doing anything on time. That never was a problem at Liberal conventions because we always had spies in communication to keep us fully apprised on how the vote count was going. If you did not have the figures in advance, you did not feel involved.

Even with the very long voting times needed to handle the vote, it was an impressive, well run convention. You might criticize the organizers for not having enough bandwidth and servers to handle the traffic but you have to realize their first concern was security. With only about half the potential votes to handle, it makes you wonder about the simulations that they surely must have run.

The convention hall in Toronto presented some awkward logistics with which the organizers did the best they could. The candidate bleachers, where they could present a wall of signs, were a rather dated approach but the NDP is also dated. And as for the drummers for Thomas Mulcair’s entrance to speak on Friday, that was the same stunt we used 44 years ago to shorten Liberal leadership contender Robert Winters’ speech to the essentials. Mulcair’s only mistake was to try to talk fast.

The NDP have chosen. M. Mulcair is their new leader. It is certainly going to be a new beginning to some interesting times.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

And Mont Royal has two Members of Parliament?

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

If there is a lower-class, sleazier way of conducting themselves in office, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper will find it. The latest is that they have dug into the taxpayer-provided Heritage Ministry funds to pay a salary to the Conservative candidate-in-waiting for Montreal’s Mont Royal electoral district. And the guy has the audacity to complain to the news media that he is not being paid enough!

Remember that Stephen Harper and friends just recently cut off government funding for the opposition parties. To then use public money to blatantly pay a political wanna-be to harry a sitting MP is chutzpah that only gonnifs like the Conservatives would attempt.

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler has served Canada and Mont Royal well for the past 12 years. A highly regarded law professor and a human rights advocate, he has been Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. The Conservatives were way out of line in using one of their call centres to recently lie to Liberals in the electoral district that Mr. Cotler was resigning. As an attack on Cotler and the Liberals, it made no sense.

It seems to be all the Conservatives know how to do is attack. It must be some sort of pit bull instinct. It is like the current attack on Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae. Why? Do they think they are going to have to run against him soon? Bob Rae is laughing at them. If those are the nastiest things they can use against him, they are years behind the times. Stupid attacks like that might encourage him to run for the Liberal leadership.

The point that the Conservatives are missing is that you have to be a better than average representative for people to win election against the money and dirty tactics that the Conservatives use in elections. People such as Cotler and Rae are elected by the people in their electoral district to represent them in our Parliament. As an MP and as a representative of those voters, they deserve respect. They are hardly the nebbishes that the Conservative Party encourages to run for them and then do nothing in Ottawa but vote for Conservative bills when told.

As for this person Saulie Zajdel who ran for the Conservatives in Mont Royal in the last federal election, we have little comment. As a ward healer in the Cȏtes des Neiges area of Montreal, he spent a number of years on city council. If he wants to be paid as much as a Member of Parliament, maybe he should get a real job.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Canada is not just an economic union.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Never tell a Canadian they do not have a country worth fighting for—not unless you want to start a fight.

But we have many problems eating at our country and we need to find a way to fix them. You cannot write a constitution in the 1860s and expect it to meet the needs of an entirely different type of country in the 21st Century. We have left the country to fly on autopilot for far too long.

The changes made in 1982 did nothing more than remove Canada’s constitution from the British parliament and bring it home to Canada. It left us with impossible conditions for modifying the document and a country that is harder and harder to govern.

A paper written about 20 years ago makes the point that most of the formal discussions on the constitution have been about economic matters. Since the destructive effort of the Macdonald Commission was undertaken in 1982, Canada has had nothing but failed attempts at addressing our constitution. We had the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord, then the Beaudoin-Dobbie Report and the Allaire Report and proposals for co-operative federalism and asymmetrical federalism. Canadians had every right to be thoroughly disgusted with the business of trying to build a country. They feel it is not worth the hassle and the upsets watching politicians fight for territory.

And yet, the writer of the paper felt that Canadian voters had learned from it all and were using unemployment levels, the rate of inflation and the rate of economic growth to judge the performance of government. The writer, an academic and an economist, obviously knew nothing about government or voters.

Even those who understand voters find it easier to tell you what voters do not want than what they want. For example, Canadian voters do not want the constitution to be discussed behind closed doors. They do not want it left to politicians. They do not want it wrapped in academic mumbo-jumbo. What they might accept is an open and transparent process that ensures them a vote on any and all proposals.

What that process might be, needs to be debated. And we need to decide on the process before we get into the specifics of what needs to be discussed. We need to accept the premise that anything related to our country has to be free to be discussed. There are no sacred cows. The future makes no guarantees.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Why is the Toronto Star against casinos?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

You never want to be on the wrong side of an issue with the Toronto Daily Star. The editors show no mercy. They will stomp you. They will grind you down. They go after you full blast on both editorial and news pages. They have no patience for fact or pleas for an open mind. The Star likes to be a crusader. It makes them feel close to the roots of the paper’s founder, Joseph Atkinson.

Yet the Star’s current crusade makes no sense. Why are they damning a casino for Toronto? If the casino is sanctioned by the Ontario government, it is not illegal. It is just another entertainment centre. Is this some false morality? Do they really think they will change anything?

To be fair, it should be noted that a few centimetres of editorial space were allocated to the pro side of the debate today—in the Toronto Star.

But their owned-and-operated grocery store advertising wraps around the province have been turned loose to carry on the fight against the demon Toronto casino. Our own Babel Backward provided a scathing attack today in an editorial intended to enrage the populous. Full of confused claims and erroneous facts, the editorial was an outcry about local employment.

The editorial claims that three casinos in Windsor, Fort Erie and Sarnia are to be padlocked (sic). The fact that these were money-losing slot operations was glossed over. It was then claimed that all slots at racetrack operations would be gone next year. That was not only wrong but completely misrepresented the situation.

What it boils down to in the editorial is local jobs. Rama (which is not on the market, as stated in the editorial) has about 2500 employees. If  Torontonians stop coming to Central Ontario because there is a casino in Toronto, a lot more people than the Casino Rama managers are going to be very surprised.

While slots are hardly our thing, Georgian Downs is a very nice little facility. It is quite likely to keep hiring people in Innisfil and paying the municipality for being there. It will not be getting more grants to keep the horses running but that was a luxury the province could ill afford. That racing money was a separate issue.

It all boils down to small town myopia. You should have felt the chill in the air when we told our favourite local council member that the best use for Babel’s Lakeshore train station lands was a casino. And he also ignored the suggestion of a concert hall.

Maybe those of us who choose to live in small-town Ontario deserve this. The positive thought is that we will soon have a world-class casino just an hour away in Toronto!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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