Archive for March, 2012

Ontario Lottery and Gaming is not in the game.

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

There was no rush to analyse the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) Strategic Business Review. The media gave us the salient features. The report was a no brainer. This blog has been telling you there would be at least one major casino in Toronto very soon. There was nothing prescient about it. It was obvious.

What we did not know was that the OLG report would show readers how incompetent it is. The executive summary should have included the resignations of all the executives involved in this mess. Originally it was assumed that the government asked for this report last summer and said to deliver it sometime after the October election. You are stunned when you read that this material was a year-and-a-half in the making.

It reads as though it took a month for some interviews, two weeks of writing and a year and a half for approvals.

In trying to demonstrate a path to the future, the report tells us what a failure OLG has been. It has not kept up with the needs of the marketplace. It has failed to serve Ontario citizens. It has suffered from political interference. OLG facilities have further confused the market by trying to satisfy the regulators at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and putting political considerations ahead of the wishes of the market.

The report shows that Ontario now has the lowest per capita profit from gambling of any other part of Canada except for Prince Edward Island and the Arctic. That is not only embarrassing but shows the incompetence of everyone involved.

The report freely admits that the OLG has failed to keep up with technology, changing consumer preferences and tourism patterns. What they have been doing, we are not told.

Now the OLG wants us to let them do more. Whether it should be done under new management, is the important question.

It is amusing to note that Toronto is going to get a casino while the report insists municipalities have a veto on facilities in their backyards. If we want to give municipalities the right to reject legal casino’s maybe we could let them to reject pay-day loan leeches and tattoo parlours at the same time. Mind you, casinos provide far more in taxes and employment benefits to the community.

Maybe the report is being too subtle when it mentions that the AGCO is also involved in overseeing gambling in the province. Since the OLG wants to just oversee it and leave the operations to the private sector, we might have one to many overseers here.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The Harper Conservatives are selling us cheap.

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

Canada used to have some rules about concentration of news media. Mr. Harper and his pals have sold us out. With the announced sale yesterday of Astral Media to Bell Canada Enterprises, Canada’s news media are now mainly concentrated under the control of four huge companies. And these four companies hardly have the best interests of Canadians at heart. Nor are they politically neutral.

While the Astral deal still needs approval from the Competition Bureau and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), this will be a pro forma exercise. Both federal agencies have been gutted by the Conservatives and will do what they are told. Harper and friends work on the be-with-us-or-be-gone approach with supposedly independent federal agencies. With the early dismissal of CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein, the Harper government has made the point very clear.

And Bell Canada knows it. When von Finckenstein made too much of Bell’s buying CTV network, Harper’s people made it clear that if the CRTC did not agree, the Cabinet would override the agency. Today, the CRTC is there to act as a servile head waiter, ready to meet every demand of the four media giants.

All four of the companies are quick to support Harper’s Conservatives on the federal level. The only television holdout left is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio-Canada and Harper’s friends at Pierre Karl Péladeau’s Sun Media are waging war against the CBC on Harper’s behalf.

Quebecor’s Péladeau might be Harper’s friend but he still supports the separatists in Quebec with his major Quebec print media. He is hardly a wise choice for broadcasting licenses by a federal agency.

But not liking someone does not seem to be the criteria today. Bell Canada has long deserved its position right up there with Canada’s most hated corporations. Consumers have been bruised, berated and belittled by that corporation for years and Bell continues on because the banks will give them all the money they need to buy whatever they want.

Shaw’s Global almost looks politically neutral until you note the position the Wildrose Alliance leader’s husband holds in Global’s Calgary operations. Maybe that is why Danielle Smith has those TV programs to promote her cause.

Recently Rogers has become more aware of its competitive position in trying to become more hated than Bell. Roger’s call centres are starting to work on being nicer to customers. It is a very pleasant change.

Mr, Harper put these four corporations in their current position of power and he is getting full court press from them to promote him. You have to wonder why it is not working.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Mr. Harper reads the handwriting on the wall.

Friday, March 16th, 2012

The message is clear that Lockheed Martin’s F-35 will not fly! It must have been the Almighty or somebody who finally let Prime Minister Harper and his minions know that they were not on the list for F-35 stealth fighter plane delivery. It is just as well. Canada never needed that type of fighter aircraft.

Despite the repeated assurances of Defence Minister Peter Mackay and his junior minister, former cop Julian Fantino, Canada does not need any F-35s at this time or probably ever.

Why Canada’s military would even consider a short-range, single-engine, stealth fighter is a mystery. Those of us who have served in the military always understood Canada’s aircraft needs were determined by having the best way to patrol our borders and that is a lot of borders to patrol. It was not until the Harper government sent some of our F-18s to Libya that our pilots got a chance for live-fire experience in a ground support role. How often do we want to get involved in somebody else’s war?

Canadians have made it very clear over the years that they are proud of their military being peacekeepers. We are not mercenaries. There is nobody whom we wish to fight.

If the Harper government is serious about cost cutting, they can always consider the Swedish offer of some of their Saab JAS 39 Griffin multi-purpose fighters. The Swedes would cut us a very reasonable deal.

But if Canada could have its druthers, we should ask the Americans if they will sell us a couple squadrons of F-22 Raptors when they are in a deliverable condition. The F-22 will be far more expensive than the F-35 but, penny for penny, it is better suited for Canadian needs. And a dozen F-22s would still be less expensive than 65 F-35s.

The F-22 Raptor (also being developed by Lockheed Martin) is a twin engine fighter platform with the advanced electronics for patrol assignments. Capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2.2, the F-22 can fly higher and faster than virtually any other fighter.

While the airframe for the F-22 has been shown at air shows, much of the inner workings of the aircraft remain cloaked in secrecy. So far, the Americans have been reluctant to admit to discussing this fighter with any of its allies.

But we could always ask. If the Americans cannot trust Canadians, who can they trust?


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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And 39 per cent want chocolate

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

It is always interesting to see these instant surveys that tell us that something the province is doing is not approved by a large number of voters. To-day’s instant results are about casinos. We are told that some high percentage of voters do not want a casino in their backyard. And so what? What would life be like in Ontario if everyone wanted to go to a casino every chance they could get?

It would be chaos. The economy could not afford all of us going to casinos. We would have to convert every church hall into a bingo parlour. There would be slot machines replacing the baptismal font. The manse would be hosting poker games.

Obviously nobody would want to go that far. We can strike a bargain on the issue. Let’s agree to keep the gamblers out of the churches and the churches out of the casinos. They are not incompatible systems. And the losers need some place to pray after they donate their money to the casino.

To even suggest that everyone would like to have casinos in their city is foolish. Some like casinos and some do not. Some like strawberry ice cream and some like chocolate. That is what makes humans interesting.

There are even some people who should never go to a casino. It is up to them to make that decision. It is the same as people who should never drink alcohol. They are often the one who will politely turn down the offer of a cocktail.

Gambling is a form of entertainment. It has been with us since pre-history. It has been obvious for some time that with the Americans tightening border crossings that the tourism-based casino strategy was in trouble. It was hardly long before the Ontario Government and Ontario Lottery and Gaming remembered that Toronto is Ontario’s number one tourist destination.

And it is quite likely that Woodbine Racetrack can clear some slots area for casino tables in short order. And there is lots of space there, on the track property, for a real casino to be built in the next few years. A place to stand, a place to grow, Ontari-ari-ari-oh!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The eastern pipeline option.

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

You have to admire the resourcefulness of Albertans. They always have answers at the ready to overcome political obstacles. Whether the blockage is created by Ottawa or the Legislature in Edmonton, they will come up with an answer. The usual solution is to form a new and more right-wing political party. The current provincial inheritor of the Conservative-Reform-Alliance parties is the Wildrose Alliance. The party has been poised to move in on the Alberta Conservatives as that party’s strength erodes.

Well ahead in the public opinion polls, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is acting as premier-in-waiting for the election to be held in the next couple months. Smith has Conservative Premier Alison Redford in a bind as the Premier is committed to supporting the Trans-Canada’s Keystone XL Pipeline through the United States to the Texas Gulf refineries as well as the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline over the Rockies to Kitimat, B.C. This left Smith with an option that had not been considered, an all Canadian solution. She suggested shipping Alberta’s heavy tar sands oil to refineries in Sarnia, Montreal, Quebec City and Saint John. The only pipeline that would be new on that route would be to Saint John from Montreal.

While it was not a brand new suggestion, it got rave reviews in the more conservative media when Smith proposed it in a speech in Ottawa. It could hardly be ignored in Alberta.

But what Smith did not add was the fact that the Enbridge eastern route is through the U.S. before crossing the Canadian border again into Ontario. One of the options all along was to divert heavy oil from the Enbridge pipelines south to Texas. This is a slightly roundabout route but it gets around most of the serious ecological concerns.

Mind you, the more practical people with a concern for the ecology are pointing out that heavy oil can cause the most serious harm to the ecology. They explain that refined oil cannot mix with water and is much easier to clean up than heavy crude. They ask why the heavy crude cannot be processed to a stage in which it could flow easier and not be an ecological disaster waiting for a pipeline break. Nobody seems to be able to answer that.

Nor would it be a concern of someone such as Wildrose’s Danielle Smith. This is a person who did her internship in Alberta politics as an acolyte of the Fraser Institute. In the convoluted politics of Alberta, Ms. Smith describes herself as Pro-Choice Libertarian. That is quite a fence-sitting accomplishment for any politician.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Singing the liberal blues.

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

It is appearing more frequently. People are addressing and talking about what they call ‘blue liberals.’ It seems to be the new way of talking about the right wing of the Liberal Party. And, yes, there is a right wing. It used to include people like John Manley and Paul Martin Jr. Paul used to laugh it off as he told people to ‘campaign on the left and govern on the right.’ It was how Paul Martin made Stephen Harper Prime Minister.

Michael Ignatieff capped the foolishness when he drove the Liberal Party of Canada down to third party status. This very capable and very intelligent man simply did not understand the modern Canada. He tried to be all things to all Canadians—to embrace both right and left wings—and failed everybody. We paid lip service to his concept of the ‘Big Red Tent’ and let him down.

But we Liberals have always had the seed of our own defeat as a party. It is the myth of the all-inclusive party with right and left wings. This is what fails us. It was the choice of John Turner as leader after Pierre Trudeau. It was the same as the party collectively stepping off a cliff. And then going from Chrétien to Martin; same cliff. The fiction of Paul Martin balancing the country’s books in the 1990s, in a booming economy, ate at the heart of the Liberal Party. The confused message was too much for Canadian voters.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives currently own the right wing of Canadian politics. And it includes the extremists. It includes those who put property rights ahead of human rights. It includes the fanatics who want to deny women control of their own bodies. It includes those who want to return the death penalty. It includes those who put their religion ahead of tolerance.

Liberal values are different. Liberals have always placed the individual first. It is this recognition of individual rights that has lead the party to Medicare, Old Age Security and to build Canadians’ pride in their country for its peace keeping, openness and reputation for fairness around the world—a reputation that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are now trying to destroy.

The key to a transition of the left is that there is much to add to the Liberal Party from the New Democrats. There is a balanced social democracy at the heart of that party that should become the flag of a new liberalism in Canada. There will be much to repair in our country after the Harper years.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Mr. Broadbent regrets.

Monday, March 12th, 2012

For many years some people have thought that the sign outside New Democratic Party headquarters in Ottawa should have included the line: ‘E. Broadbent, prop.’  It will be an end to Ed Broadbent’s era later this month when his hopes for the party will be destroyed by democracy. Control of the party will be wrested from him.

For good or bad, the next leader of the NDP will not be Ed Broadbent’s creation. Mind you, he has had a heck of a run since being chosen leader of the party to succeed David Lewis in 1975. Some people know when to quit.

Probably Broadbent’s worst fear is that Thomas Mulcair from Quebec will win the NDP’s first truly democratic leadership convention. Mulcair is the demon from the unknown. He is no social democrat. He is barely a blue liberal.

And he is not Ed Broadbent’s boyo! Broadbent made it clear from day one of this interminable NDP campaign that he was fore-square behind Brian Topp. It was made perfectly clear that Brian Topp was the establishment candidate. That endorsement and Topp’s seeming to have all the personality of a sack of potatoes, did him little good.

With the current consensus that Thomas Mulcair is in the lead, Broadbent has much to answer for among the titular leaders of the NDP. It seems the boy can sell memberships. Quebec has never had so many New Democrats as it has today.

But, by no stretch, has Mulcair won the leadership. If he has a going in position of 25 per cent of the vote, that is formidable. His only problem will be how to turn 25 per cent into 51 per cent. For that, you have to have more people thinking you are second best than thinking you are number one. That is not as likely.

And we know that Brian Topp is no compromise. Paul Dewar is nobody’s second choice. Nathan Cullen from B.C. would be an interesting compromise but nobody knows him. And that leaves the darling of the NDP, everybody’s second choice: Ms. Peggy Nash.

And why not? She will make nice with Ed Broadbent and send him off like an aged parent to a seniors’ residence. She will keep the fiction of Jack Layton’s social democrats alive by not pandering to the unions in public. She will be tougher than previous women leaders of the party. She will still watch her inflated caucus numbers in Quebec recede. She will be back in third party status after the next election. Without a rapprochement with the liberal left across Canada, she is taking the NDP nowhere.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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When polls matter.

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

It seems to have the news media scratching their collective heads. Public opinion polls, taken across Canada since the robo-call situation came to light, show little change. The federal conservatives are down a bit, the NDP are about the same and the Liberals up a bit. The conclusion the media come to is that an election would change nothing and people are not very concerned about the possibility of another political scandal. It just goes to show that looking good on television does not necessarily mean you know what you are talking about.

It has been stated many times that the only polls that matter are those conducted by the chief electoral officer. What happens between those electoral events is a slow drip of extraneous information that can be shed easily by the politically devout or be an irritant that worries its way under the skin of the politically sensitive. And then an election is called and the critical questions of the day are effectively answered by those who stay home and do not vote.

Elections are much easier to lose than to win. Voters want to vote for those who are confident but not arrogant. They want to vote for winners. They want to vote for those who think like them but also have ideas. They want to vote for someone they can look up to but does not look down on them. They want to vote for a local but would not know the person if they tripped over them. They vote for the leader of the party because the media ignore the rest. And they only get around to thinking about the election after the polls have closed.

Public opinion polls taken today are somewhat useless anyway. Both the Liberals and the NDP have interim leaders. The NDP get to choose a leader in a couple weeks. So far it has been a lacklustre campaign. The biggest surprise will be if the NDP choose MP Thomas Mulcair from Quebec. The least surprise will be the emergence of MP Peggy Nash as the new leader. The worst news for the NDP would be the coronation of Brian Topp. The best news for the Liberals would be a win by MP Nathan Cullen from B.C. We all await the party’s decision.

The Liberals are not slower in the choosing of a new leader but they know they have time. There will be no sudden general election. Prime Minister Harper will go at least four years from May of 2011. The Liberal candidates will come out of their cocoons during 2013. The election of a new Liberal leader will be a spirited, hard-fought affair in 2014. It will be fun.

And then some honest public opinion polls can be done. They will be more indicative of reality. And then we can try to make that reality happen on the next election day.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The corporatism of Stephen Harper.

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Maybe we should just be glad that Stephen Harper and his government are not social conservatives. They are not in a rush to hang people nor to ban same-sex marriage. Those are some changes they might get around to down the road. Today, they are showing what they can do for the corporations.

The alacrity with which Labour Minister Lisa Raitt hopped to it and moved to end a possible strike by Air Canada’s unions on Friday of the past week was remarkable. If just a fraction of that speed had been put to helping keep the jobs of the Caterpillar workers in London Ontario, we would have been more impressed.

What was wrong with the Labour Minister’s action was the lame excuses she used for her actions. Despite her reasoning, March Break is not a national emergency. Air Canada needed the revenue. That was the emergency.

It is like the urgency of the XL Pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast of Texas refineries for Athabasca Oil Sands crude. Same for Enbridge’s dual pipes over the Rockies to the West Coast so we can ship crude oil to fuel the Chinese economy. With Harper and company pushing these projects, tree-huggers best get out of the way!

Mr. Harper has already shown us what he can do for his corporations. How do you think Bell Canada ended up with CTV? How did Shaw end up with Global Television? All Mr. Harper had to do was emasculate and co-opt the purposes of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Soon enough, Canadians will rue the day Pierre Karl Péladeau became the proud owner of Quebecor and Sun Media.

One of the first acts of Stephen Harper’s majority government was to remove the government election funding that Jean Chrétien’s Liberals had brought in to try to level the political playing field. Harper and his corporate friends have no wish for a level field. They want power and they want to keep it. Do you think there will not be further changes in who can finance elections?

If Mr. Harper’s party is capable of voter suppression on the scale such as Elections Canada is now investigating? If the Conservatives can plead guilty and just pay a fine for the In-and-Out schemes of previous elections? Do you not think he already has all the support he needs from his corporate friends?

With all of this corporate support, you would think he would finally get VIA Rail to arrive on time.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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We call it Babel time.

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Like the legendary Brigadoon that fades into the mists of the Scottish Highlands, Ontario’s Babel rejects time as a measure of its progress. It marches to its own drummers. It sets its own clocks. It prints its own calendars. And they all run slow.

Babel time is when things happen in Babel. An interesting example is the new library branch that opens next week. We will ignore the promises that it would open last year. Babel calendars never do get the year right.

But the main library in Babel is one of the redeeming features of this town. It is an excellent building in Babel’s downtown. It is bright and airy and modern. The librarians are friendly and helpful. They delight in a challenging bit of research. The collection reflects more sophisticated readers than one would expect in a provincial backwater.

Mind you, they have been refurbishing the main library branch for so long, they might as well use the construction barriers to display the collection. Whether building a new branch or refurbishing the old, it is all done on Babel time. Someone, somewhere in the Sleepy Hollow that Babel calls a city hall, there was a promise of speedy, on-time construction. It was a promise, soon forgotten.

But next week, the usual political suspects will line up to cut the ribbon for the new Painswick Branch. Named for a long-gone village in the area, this new branch of the Babel library is carefully hidden away on a street named Dean. Just drive south between Zehrs food market and the LCBO store from Big Bay Point and you will not miss it.

The Painswick branch is Babel’s first attempt at branch library operations. Hopefully they will get it right and people in the north end and in the south west of Babel will also have their own libraries. They will, in Babel’s own time.

It is not as though anyone would come to Babel and not be infected by Babel time. The province rebuilt a two-lane bridge across Highway 400 for St. Vincent Street—and the province was only about a year late.

Refurbishing Babel’s historic train station to nowhere is still not complete. That hardly matters when the town has absolutely no idea what to do with it. Babel time, it infects all your plans.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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