Archive for April, 2012

Rae calls for change in Liberal party.

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae came to Babel today. For an older—and obviously wiser—guy, he was in quite good form as he ended an extensive road trip talking to Liberals in Quebec and Ontario. And listening to him, you had to admit that he is a good stump speaker. More than a hundred Liberal Party supporters came out to hear him over a barbeque lunch and they were not disappointed. They applauded enthusiastically when he called on them to help make fundamental changes in their political party.

Mr. Rae’s main theme for the day was the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which took place on April 17. He drew a distinction between the Conservative view of the Charter and the Liberal view. He pointed out that a decisive and forward thinking concept such as the Charter could never happen under a government lead by Stephen Harper.

But the challenge he brought to his audience was to enter into a party debate on what we believe in as Liberals. He pointed out that we cannot have the basic change that is so desperately needed without understanding it and agreeing to it.

Mr. Rae told the Liberals that two of the basic rights that Canadians have come to expect are the right to healthcare and access to education.  He believes that Canadians are more than willing to have a fair taxation system to pay for these rights. This is contrary to the direction of the Conservative government and he expects that this will be the fighting ground in the next federal election.

When talking about how to defeat the Conservatives, he even got into thoughts on changing how we vote. His personal choice is a system of preferential voting. This is something that needs to be discussed in greater detail at another time but it is the willingness of the party to discuss it that is part of reforming the party and working for change.

An area of change that is needed was one that might have surprised some in the audience was in an answer to a question from one of the younger audience members. The question was about the Governor General being head of state in Canada. Mr. Rae explained that the Queen is Head of State but the Governor General serves as her representative in a largely ceremonial role. A rare exception to the ceremonial role is the power of the Governor General to refuse to allow the Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament without a viable reason. For this reason, Mr. Rae said it makes no sense to have the Prime Minister selecting the Governor General. He would prefer to have the Governor General elected by Parliament or at least the provincial legislatures.

The interim leader talked off the cuff to his audience for more than an hour and handled all the questions with enthusiasm and humour. Congratulations to the Barrie Federal Liberal Association. It was a most successful event.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Not everyone cheers our rights and freedoms.

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

The Harper Conservative government more or less ignored the anniversary of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms on April 17. Individual rights are not of paramount concern with conservatives. Nor are they in the forefront with socialists. Individual rights are of the most concern in liberal societies. It is the strong support for individual rights in Canada that convinces us that the Liberal Party of Canada has to better define its role and direction. It has to be better at leading.

The negative opinion of conservatives is best explained by the attitude of Brit Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet at the time of the Charter. Our brand of Rights and Freedoms did not sit well with the rank and privilege of British society. The Thatcher government knew they could hardly refuse to approve it but cabinet archives of the period now show that they seriously considered it. What obviously stopped them was the prospect of offending Pierre Trudeau, his cabinet and millions of Canadians.

Conservatives like rank and privilege. They contribute a large amount of the support to keeping the fiction of Royalty in Canada. Heck, Conrad Black gave up his Canadian citizenship to become a British lord. While the Harper Conservatives will probably let him visit Canada after he gets out of the American slammer, he should not expect a warm welcome from most Canadians.

Canada’s right-wing politicians have constantly complained about the Supreme Court being able to override politicians. They want Parliament to have the final word. Even the Justices of the Supreme Court might not want the responsibility for our rights but it is a responsibility that they accept to preserve the freedoms of Canadians.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is careful not to condemn the Charter but he puts Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s 1960 Bill of Rights ahead of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter was adopted because the earlier Diefenbaker version did not have the same enforceability.

A surprising left-wing objection was voiced the other day. An NDP politician made the suggestion that the Charter conflicts with the common good. This politician felt that society should not look on individual rights as entitlement. He was worried that the Charter could harm social programs. The example used was if there was a long waiting list for hip surgery, people might sue under the Charter to get payment for treatment in another country that did not have as long a waiting list.

He is probably correct that under a socialist regime, individuals would not be entitled to sue. And that is what is wrong with socialism. A healthcare system that puts the individual first is the ideal. And if someone wants to sue, as in that example, the system needs to fix the problem.

Canada is a better place because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We should protect it.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The need to play nice in the Ontario legislature.

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

After a particularly uninformative and poorly resolved election in Ontario last year, the political parties are not playing well together. With McGuinty’s Liberals just two seats short of a majority, everyone is posturing and giving the other guys the raspberry. It is a fractious and unproductive place.

Tiny Tim Hudak has a tenuous grip on the reins of his second place Conservatives. When the Liberals brought out their budget a few weeks ago, Tiny Tim and his team took their bats and went home to sulk. It was above their intellectual pay grade to come up with any improvement in what was basically a conservative budget anyway.

Andrea Horwath and her bunch had the balls to stay and play. They decided to use the opportunity to embarrass McGuinty’s bumblers and their budget. Horwath used the Chinese torture technique and dribbled out the conditions for cooperation over the interval. McGuinty played into her hands by swinging at the first pitch. He did not understand that she was just warming up.

What hit pay dirt with Ontario’s voters was Horwath’s proposal to tax the rich. That got them. It was simplistic. The public was tuned in to it because of the ‘Occupy’ movement. And McGuinty had stupidly promised that he would not raise taxes. Why he had made such a promise was not clear to anyone. All it does is give legitimacy to the Conservatives and their extremist supporters.

And now all the kids are positioning themselves for an election. An election at this stage would be like the book Hunger Games, only nobody wins. It hardly takes a genius to realize that by destroying McGuinty, Horwath will let Tiny Tim and the horde of the Ontario Landowners through the gates of Ontario’s Capitol.

Not that an election is not needed. Our problem in Ontario is that we have three party leaders who really need to go. Dalton McGuinty is a noose around the neck of the Liberals. He is right wing, unimaginative, dull and hardly what Ontario needs at this time.

Andrea Horwath has never been able to live up to her potential. Every time she shows a bit of smarts, she surprises herself and she pulls her head back into her shell. If she had just paid attention to what Jack Layton did with the federal wing of her party in the last election. He obviously knew he had nothing to lose and he went for the brass ring. The result was not pretty but he did it.

But then you think of how the party of Bill Davis in Ontario has sunk so low. Tiny Tim Hudak is not only an embarrassment to the former Progressive Conservatives but the Ontario Landowners and Harrisites also want him gone. Maybe if they send him on a world cruise during an election he might give his party a chance.

The question is: Which party can get rid of its leader first?


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Analyzing the admirers of attack advertising.

Monday, April 16th, 2012

It was puzzling to see a defence of attack advertising in today’s Toronto Star. They must have been reaching for that one but we wondered where they found the person to write it. After reading what this person had to say, the next step was to check out his blog. That was not too interesting but what he wrote about himself was. The following is what he put there about himself:

Gerry Nicholls is a communications consultant and writer who has been called a “political warrior” a “brilliant strategist” and one of the “canniest political observers in Canada.” He has worked as a consultant in both the United States and Canada and was formerly a senior officer in the National Citizens Coalition. A regular columnist with the Ottawa Hill Times, his work has also appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post and in the Sun Media chain; and he has appeared on countless TV and radio public affairs programs. He is the author of the book, Loyal to the Core, Harper, Me and the NCC.

Wow. This new breed of communications consultant seems to have little use for modesty.

His problem in his article “In praise of negative ads,” is that he thinks positive ads are typically “emotionally manipulative and intellectually vacuous.” He is probably right—about positive ads by the Conservative party.

On February 15, Babel-on-the-bay had this to say about political advertising:

“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.”

Mr. Nicholls tells us in his article that attack ads often raise issues that people really care about. That does not explain the current flight of Conservative party ads attacking Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae. The ads are scurrilous, untrue, sleazy and seem to have no purpose other than to defame an opponent. It is quite a stretch to suggest that people in Canada really care about that.

He concludes by asking “isn’t informing voters what political ads should be all about?” That would be a novelty from his political party!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Thank you Jean Chrétien for looking left.

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

It is likely that over the years we have disagreed with Jean Chrétien more often than agreeing with him. His support for the Charlottetown Accord in1992 was probably the most serious disagreement. Then he broke his word about getting rid of the Goods and Services tax when he was elected Prime Minister in 1993. (And he gave Paul Martin Junior the Finance portfolio where he could screw up a lot of Liberal programs.)

But all is now forgiven. Jean welcome home.

Tom Clark’s The West Block on Global Television ran an interview today with Chrétien in which the former Prime Minister endorsed the merger of the Liberal and New Democratic parties. The idea needed that level of support. Some people can laugh at this blog and say ‘that guy is just a socialist in liberal clothing.’ You can hardly say that about Jean Chrétien. He is at worst a populist. He never wandered far from the demands of his late mentor Mitchell Sharp and from successor Paul Martin. While he made it clear that he never really liked Paul Martin, he let him do his right wing thing to the point that the Liberal Party is now at its lowest ebb.

But it can recover. The road to recovery is down a long and difficult courtship with the NDP. The hidebound socialists such as Ed Broadbent will scream betrayal but it looks like Thomas Mulcair will understand. He might not be eager but he is unlikely to slam the door conclusively. He knows he would be foolish to do that. In the short term, it will cost the NDP some of their unionists and out-of-date socialists but that will not be too high a price.

What he can gain is greater. The NDP can hold the Liberal Party to a left of centre mode. It is where both parties belong. Call it social democrat if you wish but it is that broad spectrum of political thinking that serves people first. It is anathema to the Conservatives and completely foreign to the extreme right-wing Libertarians who put land and possessions ahead of people.

There will be some Liberal Party members who will also be more comfortable with the Conservatives than with a social democratic Liberal Party. It is a realignment that has been necessary for many years.

Listen to Jean Chrétien. He knew when he worked with Pierre Trudeau that a merger was the long-term direction for the party. He was just too damn comfortable with the majority Brian Mulroney handed him in 1993 to rock the boat. He went along with things and, in the long term, Canada suffered.

There is still a serious agenda ahead for Harper’s Conservatives and there will have to be a united front to remove the Conservatives and repair the damage after the next election. If we do not have that united front, our country will suffer. Our pride in Canada will suffer. Our people will suffer.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Creating controversy for Multiple Sclerosis.

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

“Just spell the name right please.” If you think any controversy is good news, you are mistaken. People who try to pose Chronic Cerebro-spinal Venous Insufficiency (CCSVI) as being opposed by the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Canada are wrong. The MS Society functionaries are not the bad guys.  The only people being hurt by this manufactured controversy are people with MS and their families.

Being a past president of the MS Society of Canada, a former executive member of the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies and being married to a person with MS for the past 50 years, we have some knowledge of the disease and what is being done about it. When we took over the MS Society in the early 1970s, it had a budget of $180,000 per year and that much in the bank to pay for its next year’s grants to scientists.

Our first act as president was to bring together all the leading neuroscience researchers from across Canada at the time and demand that they give us more and better research into MS to fund. We told them that whatever they brought to us, that our scientific board thought was of merit, we would fund it. When we stepped down from the executive, we were funding over $10 million a year in research and research fellowships.

At the same time, Canada had taken a lead position with the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies. We helped to strengthen the societies that existed, we helped create new societies where they were needed and we accelerated the growth of world-wide funding for MS research. We made MS a world-wide cause. Co-ordinated research from around the world was working on MS.

Our only regret is that we have yet to solve the mystery of MS.

And then along came Dr. Paolo Zamboni of Italy.  A vascular surgeon and professor, Dr. Zamboni postulated the theory that it was constrictions of the veins from the brain that cause MS symptoms. His ‘Liberation Treatment’ for MS patients was to use balloons and/or vascular stents to improve the blood flow. He had anecdotal success. He did not have the resources to do a full scientific study of his theory.

Both the American and Canadian MS societies set aside research funds to investigate Dr. Zamboni’s approach. Some experts thought it was worth checking out. Others were sceptical. You expect some differences of opinion. That is why you do trials and the layman can only keep an open mind.

But some people cannot wait. Politicians jumped on this side and that. Everyone likes a cause. Impatient patients wanted solutions now. That is understandable.

But to send patients off to places where the medical ethos is not as rigid as ours is endangering them. To take funds away from the controlled medical research and pour it into an unproved theory is to make a lie of all the hard work of people around the world who want the solution to MS. There will be a stream of reports available in the coming year from legitimate research into CCSVI. We hope it quells the controversy.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The reasoning of the righteous.

Friday, April 13th, 2012

An hypothesis is simply the suspected reason for something. It is not based on the truth because you have no proof. It is on this reasoning that scientific minds supposedly go out to seek the truth. It also seems to be the basis used for finding what you want to find. This is the approach appears to be used by organizations with somewhat fixed ideas of what they want to prove. Two Canadian organizations that might have fixed ideas to prove are the Broadbent Institute and the Fraser Institute. Neither of these institutions appears interested in proving the other’s hypotheses.

Named for former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent, the Broadbent Institute seems rather fixed on proving left of centre political hypotheses. Conversely, the Western-based Fraser Institute offers a more right of centre bent. You know where these organizations are going before you read what they are currently saying.

Take the news release from the Broadbent Institute this week. It says that Canadians are concerned about income inequality in Canada. A telephone survey by Environics Research for the institute determined that Canadians would be willing to pay more taxes to protect our major social programs. That is not something that the Fraser Institute would wish to report. Paying taxes is anathema to the Fraser Institute. It seems to constantly pay academics to prove that Canadians pay too much tax on everything.

Anyone involved over the years in opinion research can tell you that how you ask a question is often the key to the answers you will get. That is why a survey by any particular political party showing that more voters intend to vote for them will be met by scepticism. It should be. That is also why the reputable research firms try to keep their distance from any appearance of bias.

At the same time, a blog such as this one makes no attempt at appearing neutral about anything. The objective here is to provide an opinion. Hopefully the opinion is a reasoned enough one that you can assess and take what you want from it. The material is based on years of experience in business, politics and the news media. The required reading has covered the political spectrum, a wide range of philosophies, business strategies and all the way to a daily dose of Dilbert and Doonesbury. Keep it readable, keep it light and have fun doing it. Writing a blog can be just like life!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Blowing Babel’s bugle.

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Big doing’s in Babel. IBM is coming, the news media tell us. City hall has issued a press release to share the excitement. As the federal and provincial governments are sharing some of the cost, they also issued news releases. Despite the news conference by federal and provincial politicians being held at the University of Toronto, the Babel media played the story up big. There will be jobs for locals when the large data centre in Babel is completed in the fall, they tell us.

But nobody seems to know how many jobs will be created in Babel.

The answer is not many. The entire 10,170 square meter (109,468 square foot) complex can be run remotely from Toronto. The most work around the centre will be checking the water filters for the chillers and cutting the grass. It might be a big data centre, with special computers, but it is still just a data centre.

Not many data centres can handle data coming to it at 10 billion bits per second, nor compute at trillions of floating point operations per second. That is the scale of super-computing these days. There are not too many IBM Blue Gene/Q centres available and Ontario’s universities are expected to make good use of this one. That is the reason the federal government has contributed $20 million to the project and the Ontario government has contributed $15 million. They are supporting university research.

The real jobs—as many as 145—that this project creates will be with IBM in facilities mainly in Markham, Ontario. That is why IBM Canada expects to spend as much as $175 million on the project over the next three years.

According to the city press release, the choice of Babel was determined by such things as the ready availability of electricity and water. Many Ontario locations have that. What is unique to Babel is that it is a crossroads of communications. This centre needs a private 10 Gigabit Ethernet connection to seven of Ontario’s major universities. Being central to this capability in Ontario’s communications structure is why Babel-on-the-bay recommended this city as a permanent site for a National Command Centre back in November 2010.

The new IBM centre will use what is called cloud computing technology for storage and retrieval of vast amounts of data. Software needs will be developed under the Agile technology approach which was first proposed in 2000. The system uses the Linux operating system.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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They take their politics seriously in Alberta.

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

No one seemed too surprised at seeing the bruises on a provincial Conservative candidate in Edmonton the other day. The candidate claimed that he had been punched by an overly enthusiastic Wildrose Alliance Party supporter when door knocking. Luckily the campaign is in its last two weeks. It might all be over before anything more serious happens.

We always teach prospective canvassers that the greatest danger in an election campaign is a broken stair to a front door. We have been told occasionally to get off someone’s porch but this has never been followed up with physical violence. Albertans like their politics on the raw side.

That was why it was disappointing to see that Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith’s bus was repainted to move her picture away from the twin wheels toward the rear of the bus. There was no question that it emphasized her bust line well beyond what nature had given her. Whoever had positioned that picture on the bus knew exactly what he (or she) was doing. It got a great laugh to launch her campaign.

Only the braver of the western bloggers and media experts are saying who the likely winner is at this stage. The betting is still even money between Alison Redford’s Conservatives and Danielle Smith’s new Wildrose Alliance Party. It will probably be the television debate, scheduled for this Thursday that will push the undecided vote one way or the other. Those of us in the East will have to settle for seeing the debate on the Internet but you can expect Danielle Smith to have the advantage.

Smith has the better television skills. Redford has the incumbency factor but after 41 years of Conservative rule in the province, her promises are a bit tired. While a right-wing Libertarian spiel from Smith would not go down very well with Eastern voters it does not come across as crazy to Westerners. They have been softened to it for years by the Social Credit and Reform Parties and the Manning’s (Ernest and Preston).

This is not to ignore that the Liberals and NDP are also in the race. It is just that this is Alberta and there is only one moon in the sky.

So mark your calendar for election night, April 23. Our best guess at this stage is Smith will win but there is lots of time for a Conservative recovery. Alberta politics is like that.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The F-35 and what’s good for General Bullmoose.

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Everything we ever needed to know about government lobbying, we learned from the 1950’s Broadway musical L’il Abner. When driving around Ottawa on business over the years, we would often sing to passing motorists: What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the U.S.A.

The intense lobbying effort today to ensure that Canada stays on track with the American F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is just part of the continuing effort to be sure Canada maintains its position in the procurement. Call it the trickle down effect or ‘crumbs from the table,’ Canada’s aerospace industry only gets work if Canada pays more. Out of a $29 billion cost of owning 65 F-35 fighters, Canadian industry can garner a maximum of maybe $12 billion worth of orders  It is not exactly quid pro quo.

And every one of those orders can only be won in direct competition with American sources for the same products. And some of those sources are the American head offices of the Canadian subsidiary. The Canadian operation only gets the business if the American source does not find it convenient to fill the order. Even those who get the design jobs have to submit competitive production bids once their design has been given to competitive bidders.

What some Canadians seem to find convenient to forget is that this procurement has been going on since the mid 1990s. It started when Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister. The design initiative (with around $300 million of Canadian money included) was undertaken for the consortium of countries (that is why it is called the ‘Joint’ Strike Fighter). The objective was to have a versatile fighter aircraft to meet everybody’s need. That way, when they went to war together the logistics for their fighter aircraft needs were so much simpler.

Mind you, they have been very quiet lately about one of the objectives. It was to save money because we would have the advantage of volume production. That part of the plan does not seem to be working.

The Joint Strike Fighter was probably doomed from the beginning because there were far too many conflicts in design needs between the different countries involved. There is absolutely no way, for example that a long-range reconnaissance aircraft suitable to Canadian needs would be the same as the British need for quick turn-around defensive aircraft. And to have both a vertical take-off and landing and an aircraft carrier version makes no sense at all.

And the Americans must have been smoking some illegal substance to think that all eight of the other countries would always want to go to war with them. We like Americans but they do get into some really stupid wars.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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