Archive for June, 2012

Charest and McGuinty: same old, same old.

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Now we are supposed to be worrying about the election chances for Quebec Premier Jean Charest. It was bad enough last year having to vote for a wus like Dalton McGuinty in Ontario. Both Ontario and Quebec political leaders are well past their ‘best before’ dates and the only reason they are still in power is that the alternatives for the voters are even less appealing.

And neither Charest nor McGuinty are liberals. Charest might be leading something called the Quebec Liberal Party but it has nothing to do with the federal party by that name. Under Charest, the Quebec party has assumed the mantle of the Parti Bleu founded by Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine in the 1850s. It was the party that under Georges-Étienne Cartier joined Sir John A. Macdonald in Confederation as the Coalition Party and later became the Conservative Party of Canada. In Quebec, it was an extremely reactionary party with strong ties to the Catholic Church. It, at one time, was known as the Union Nationale and more recently has combined with the Quebec Liberal Party.

And if that is confusing, the Ontario situation is not much clearer. The Ontario Liberal Party is led by a Whig. There are some real liberals here and there among the Liberal Caucus at Queen’s Park but they have to keep a low profile. The Whigs are in control. (Whigs were the predecessors of the Liberals in England about 200 years ago.) Until they replace McGuinty, Ontario Liberals will not be part of the 21st Century.

The current problem in Quebec is that Charest has alienated just about everybody with his handling of the student unrest over rising university fees. He blew it when he passed a draconian demonstration law that put everyone from six to sixty in bed with the students. It would be really serious if it was not for the fact that his only competition in the election in a few months is the Parti Québécois under Pauline Marois. The apathy towards her is as bad as the apathy towards Charest.

Just to throw a rock into the situation, Prime Minister Harper is saying that he can work with any Quebec government. That might not be entirely true if a Marois government takes umbrage at his trying to send Alberta tar sands crude to the east coast through oil pipelines that travel through Quebec.

A left-of-centre PQ government will not only make things uncomfortable for Harper but, according to recent polling, the separatists might find themselves in a situation whereby a large number of Canadians outside Quebec might tell them to ‘leave and be damned.’ That might make a serious statement about the ignorant attitude of some Canadians but it also makes maintaining national unity more difficult for those who recognize the greater value of this country as a whole!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Frank McKenna, the perennial ambassador.

Friday, June 29th, 2012

The last time we talked to former Premier of New Brunswick Frank McKenna, he was doing an ambassadorial job for the TD Bank. We talked briefly about a comment he made supporting the various pipelines for Alberta’s tar sands crude oil. Judging by that and a more recent op-ed penned for the New York Times, he also seems to be an ambassador for the proposed tar sands pipelines from Alberta.

It is believed that his thesis this time is that the Irving Oil Refineries in Saint John, New Brunswick could be easily adapted to refining Alberta tar sands crude into oil products for the Canadian market. There is certainly enough effort being put into getting permission to reverse the old Enbridge pipelines that have previously been used to bring crude oil from Saint John up to Ontario’s Sarnia refineries. Whether Irving Oil is eager to process this bitumen from Alberta is another matter.

But the first step is to get permission to move this heavy crude through older pipelines at a higher temperature and at higher pressure. There is a long line of environmentally conscious Canadian citizens who are very sceptical of the soundness of this scheme. As has been mentioned before, you only get one spill with tar sands crude. It cannot be mopped up. The crude from tar sands does not float like normal oil. It sinks in water, it enters the soil, it gets into the water table, and where it settles, it stays.

When talking to Frank McKenna about the environmental problems with tar sands, he seemed to understand the need to refine the tar sands product to a chemical state where it can emulate oil. And yet now he is proposing in the New York Times article that the refining be done in Saint John. The spokespeople for Irving in Saint John agree that the refinery there could be modified to process the tar sands product but you get the impression that there is some hesitation in that agreement.

Not only pipelines can be reversed. Off-loading systems for oil tankers in the Port of Saint John can also be reversed and the tar sands crude can be sent elsewhere in the world to be processed into synthetic oil for other markets. Is that not the real reason for the Alberta product being sent to Saint John?

We can ask the ambassador.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Simplistic answers on supply management.

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Can a non-combatant consumer wade into this melee of opinions on supply management? We already know that the Harper Conservative government is opposed to supply management. The Conservatives staked that ground when they decreed the end of the Wheat Marketing Board.  Now we have former Liberal MP Martha Hall Findlay wading in with the same answer for our supply management system that was originally intended to stabilize pricing of milk, eggs and poultry. What we might be dealing with here are some very simplistic answers to some very complex problems.

It hardly helps when Conservative Party spokespersons, such as Professor Ian Lee of the Sprott School of Management at Carleton University, refers to Canadian supply management efforts as ‘Soviet-style’ policies. He wants Canada to join the new Trans-Pacific Partnership that is being formed around the Pacific. One of the conditions of this participation, we are told, is ending Canada’s supply management systems.

Supply management developed in Canada after the Second World War to prevent the destruction of Canada’s dairy and poultry farming capabilities. Not only was Canada faced with rapacious export policies from producers in the United States but there were serious concerns about the tactics of some of the large processors and distributors of these products. The one success people were seeing in this marketplace was the stability gained in groups working in cooperative arrangements.

The reason that the Wheat Marketing Board and the federal government are now facing off in court over the proposed demise of the Board is that the Board belongs to the producers and not to the government. It is not exactly a Soviet-style operation. It is a free-enterprise answer to selling our grains around the world. And it has done an excellent job at marketing and shipping them.

As a dairy farmer of some prominence explained to us once, “We do not need a marketing board to jerk us around on quotas, we need a marketing board to market our products.” It is that simple.

What has turned many Canadians against supply management is the unrealistic tariffs to protect the industry, the inflated prices in the stores, the control by the processors and distributors and the selling off of quotas to agribusiness. That kind of supply management will certainly put the family farmers out of business and annoy consumers.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Ivan’s Olympic chickens come home to roost.

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

He is the only Ivan we have ever met who likes to have his name pronounced as ‘Yvonne.’ Ivan Fecan always stood out in the crowd anyway with that carefully coifed mop of snow-white hair. He was always a man on a mission and he apparently accomplished it and retired last year from running CTV. Others get to fix the problems left behind. The most interesting problem is what to do about the Olympics.

We made the problem very clear to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) at the time. Fecan’s bid of $153 million for CTV to control Canadian rights for the Vancouver and London Olympic Games did not just crush the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s bid but he also hired away the CBC’s best people who knew amateur sports. The bid not only appeared avaricious but it seemed to be a demonstration for Bell Canada of the value in controlling content for both television and mobile devices. We, of course, have no idea what Ivan gained from all his efforts but there is no doubt he is enjoying a luxurious retirement.

That means it will have to be someone else who clears up the perception of the International Olympic Committee that Canada will routinely pay more than twice what the Olympics are worth as television programming. It depends on whose figures you use but there is little doubt that CTV lost millions on the Vancouver Games and is going to take a further and more serious bath shortly on the summer games events from England.

What is of even greater concern is that CTV is now under the total control of Bell Canada. You know Bell Canada do you not? That is the wonderful beneficial company that knew just when to dump Nortel Networks onto the market and routinely ignores customer complaints about its high-handed sales and collection tactics. Mr. Harper might go around the world telling people about our stable banking system but fails to mention that he has let the large telecommunications companies get totally out of control.

Mr. Harper has appointed a new head of the CRTC. The new chairperson is Jean-Pierre Blais. He is a career civil servant and will probably do what Prime Minister Harper tells him to do. What he will not have, in the chairman’s role, will be access to funds to bail out television and telecommunications companies that go down the tubes because of the foolish acquisitions they have made in areas they do not understand.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

‘Working Families’ defy democracy.

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

The union group, working under the euphemism of ‘Working Families’ in the 2011 provincial election, was not helping our democracy. The group was interfering in it. The more than $2 million the teachers and nurses’ unions spent was a crude attempt to get around our election rules.

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled last week that the union group was not an Ontario Liberal Party front. That was not the point. Nobody cared whose front it was. The point was that it was an unfair attack on a political party. You cannot be expected to get into a fist fight and stay within Marquess of Queensbury rules when some stray dog joins in the fight and starts taking a chunk out of your ass.

Any reader of this blog will confirm that the writer carries no brief for Tiny Tim Hudak’s Ontario Conservatives. Far from it.

But fair is fair. Nobody was paying that kind of money to tell voters what a wus Dalton McGuinty is. Nor was any group wasting money telling people what they thought of Andrea Horwath and her Ontario New Democrats. If politicians want to spend their money on scurrilous attack advertising, that is within the rules. It is fair because under the spending controls in the election, the attacked party has similar spending limits and can answer or not as the party wishes. What a political party does not have is unlimited spending to deal with every crackpot who comes along and wants to say something nasty about the party. Nor should the party have to deal with this from what are supposed to be non-combatants.

If you have $2 million to spend on an election and it is that important to you, you should be running in the election. You really should not be standing at the sidelines, trying to trip players from teams you do not like.

As any Tim Hortons’ server can tell you, some people like their coffee black and some want a double, double. That is what an election is about. The voters get to tell the politicians what they want. We always hope beyond hope that voters have enough positive opinions of our party to get their approval.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

A road to nowhere for Canada’s Liberal Party.

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Having always been a fan of former MP and now Senator George Baker, you have to admit that he gave a spirited presentation on Tom Clark’s West Block show this past Sunday on Global Television. The only concern was when he used that enthusiasm of his to promote the Liberal Party as a middle of the road party. What George fails to realize is that the middle of the road is a road to nowhere.

Saying that the Liberal Party of Canada is a middle of the road party or to say it is neither right-wing nor left is a copout. People who most often say that are right-wing party members who are afraid of where a left-wing Liberal Party would want to go. They think a left-right dichotomy within the party will keep it honest while those who know the voters feel that it is a way to keep the party from doing what needs to be done.

These right-wing Liberals learned nothing when John Turner was so easily defeated by Brian Mulroney. The right wing cheered Jean Chrétien when he put right-wingers like Paul Martin and John Manley in key positions and failed to understand why the voters were never that interested in the Liberal Party under Paul Martin’s leadership. Canadians are some of the best educated and sophisticated voters in the world and if you have two right wingers such as Harper and Martin running, they say, why not go with the real one?

But with the numbers of minority governments in the process of getting Stephen Harper a majority, you would think the Liberal Party would get a clue about what the voters want. They are obviously not all that enamoured with Harper but what choice were we giving them? Quebec never did buy Harper and had suffered the Bloc long enough. It took the left-wing populist approach of Jack Layton with his colloquial French to convince Quebec to elect a majority of New Democrats they did not even know.

Nobody really believes that the developing leadership contest is a last chance for the Liberal Party. If it makes a mistake as bad as the Michal Ignatieff goof this time, the party will be sent to the showers for many elections to come. There were times in the last federal election that we got the impression that Michael was running on his good looks! He was certainly not leading anyone anywhere. He let those scurrilous smears by Harper stick to him and he never knew how to respond.

The road to the left is the only open road for the Liberal Party. The NDP can come on over any time they wish. Thomas Mulcair is also welcome but the social democrat branding belongs to the Liberal Party. It can be a very successful party. It has a very big job ahead of it—serving Canadian needs.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Fighting for the Canadian Pipeline.

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The June 20 editorial in the Chicago Tribune was written in the finest Col. Robert McCormick tradition. The famous 20th Century Chicago publisher had his biases and did not like to have facts challenge his opinions. The only part of the editorial that might have raised the Colonel’s eyebrows would have been the opening that referred to ‘friendly, reliable Canada.’ Times have changed.

The focus of this editorial is President Obama blocking TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline to Texas for Canada’s tar sands crude oil. The article accuses Obama of blocking the pipeline as a sop to his eco-green political base.

The Tribune editorial writer seems convinced that the Keystone pipeline will go “a long way toward solving the problem of what to do with all that potentially lucrative and useful oil piling up in the northern reaches of North America. ” The writer says: “The U.S. could use it, that’s for sure.”

What the writer fails to understand is that the secret of being a good writer is being a good researcher. The writer forgot that. A little research would have added the reason that the pipeline wants to go to the Texas refineries is that they are on the Gulf coast of Texas and there are oil carriers that dock there that can take the Canadian product around the world. Why else is the ‘friendly’ Canadian Government trying so hard to get pipelines to the east and west coasts of Canada but to get to even more shipping points?

If the writer extended the research parameters, he or she might have better understood why the ecologically conscious among us are freaking out about concerns for the Ogallala aquifer. This source of clean water for most of the cattle and grain production area of the American Midwest could be devastated by a serious spill of tar sands crude. This is not Texas Sweet Crude. It is called tar sands crude for good reason. Any chemist should be able to tell the writer the difference. It has to be pumped at higher temperatures and at higher pressure. It needs a much bigger and stronger pipe. When it spills, it does not sit on top of your local water supply. It sinks, it permeates the soil, and it is going to be there for a thousand years. There is no effective clean-up possible.

The only way Alberta tar sands oil should be shipped anywhere is after sufficient refining that it will act like normal oil if spilled. The refining has to be sufficient to allow for mopping up the mess.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Whigs end season with a whimper.

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

It was just like another hockey season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. You are never sure if the players or the fans are more relieved that it is over. At Queen’s Park, nobody had expected much from Dalton McGinty’s Whigs and therefore nobody was disappointed.

Sure, we all had a good laugh at the posturing over a possible election next month. That had as much possibility as a metre deep snow storm this June. What really puzzled us was McGuinty’s complaint that Horwath’s people were amending Dwight Duncan’s budget in committee.

Excuse us, but is it not the role of the committee to consider amendments to legislation being reviewed by the committee? Yah, when you have a majority government, you can run roughshod over the opposition and block the amendments but when you are in a minority position, you have to act a bit smarter than that.

It was pretty silly for McGuinty to call media conferences to tell the gullible media people that Andrea Horwath was breaking her word. When would Mrs. Horwath have promised him that her MPP’s were not going to do their job? That might be a promise that Tiny Tim Hudak might make but his caucus does not include many PhD candidates.

The problem for McGuinty is that with the Legislature out for their summer holidays, the attention will be focused on the Ministry of Health. It is going to be a very hot summer for Health Minister Deb Mathews. For a very smart person, Ms. Mathews has really been fumbling the ball on this portfolio. The Ontario Medical Association has been running circles around her and if they keep it up, she will be the one going down the drain.

Maybe it is McGuinty’s fault for interfering with her handling of the situation but the doctors have had possession of the ball since the kickoff. It was obviously McGuinty’s ploy that set new schedules for some medical procedures. The government might have been saving money but it is the public that suffer from the fallout.

The doctors said from the get-go that they will give up any increase for existing doctors but we do have to have new doctors. With a million Ontario citizens without a family doctor, the Ontario Government has much to answer for. You would think that in a province bleeding jobs like an arterial wound, they would be willing to put a few more young doctors to work.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Stephen Harper is no bridge builder.

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

It was the kind of announcement that has you constantly shaking your head. It cannot be real. Here (on June 15) you have the Canadian Prime Minister and the Governor of Michigan announcing that Canada is putting up the entire billion dollars to build a new bridge across the river between Detroit and Windsor. The so-called 600-pound gorilla in the room who did not take part in the announcement was billionaire Manuel (Matty) Maroun, owner of the Ambassador Bridge.

Maroun is already starting to get his licks in. A petition with more than 100,000 extra signatures has been gathered to support putting the bridge on a ballot in Michigan this November. Since the majority of the Michigan State Assembly seem to be on Mr. Maroun’s patronage list, nobody expects there will be a problem putting the Canadian bridge scheme to a vote in Michigan. They just have to figure out how to say ‘get stuffed’ in more family-friendly language.

On the Canadian side of this bridge are the poor people of Windsor. And this announcement can even make them poorer. The announcement was played in the media as another beneficial employment opportunity for Windsorites.

But as they say in Windsor: ‘Been there, heard that, got screwed, had to pay for the t-shirt myself.

These poor souls are still trying to figure out Provincial Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s highway to the new bridge that is already being built at a proposed cost of $1.4 billion. This was also supposed to create jobs. They are becoming a bit annoyed that the highway project has some 100 engineers living temporarily in Windsor while University of Windsor engineering graduates have to go elsewhere to find jobs.

There is little if any problem in acquiring land in West Windsor where Mr. Duncan’s new highway meets Mr. Harper’s bridge. The problem will be on the Detroit side where the Delray Community will likely be well supported by Mr. Maroun to fight Eminent Domain (that is what Americans call expropriation). The battle on that side of the river will take years and millions of dollars for every foot gained.

But before you throw up your hands and complain to your Member of Parliament, you should take a close look at what causes line-ups of trucks on their way to America on the Ambassador Bridge. You will be quite impressed with the thoroughness of the few customs people there and especially with the limitations of the facilities they have to do their job. After all, there is no incentive for them to expedite the flow of Canadian goods into the United States of America.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Harper makes enemies for Canada.

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

As Prime Minister Stephen Harper goes about his extensive world travels, he is not making many new friends for Canada. In fact, he and his cabinet colleagues are making enemies. Judging by the comments of the head of the European Community in Mexico this week, it is not just refugee claimants who are bad-mouthing us.

Our reputation as a country is precious. It is not something for Stephen Harper to brush aside. When working abroad for non-governmental agencies, Canadians rely on the good will our country has earned over the years to help them do their jobs. It used to be that we could go to almost any country in the world and receive a friendly welcome as a Canadian. You would be constantly told that you come from a wonderful country.

It was the same for our military that was respected for its support for peacekeeping efforts. Our people wore the blue beret of the United Nations with pride. Today, there are people in Afghanistan and in Algeria who have learned to fear the Canadian warriors. Canadians died in Afghanistan and for what?

Now we have Stephen Harper telling people how to run their economies. He tells them they have to be firmer. He tells them they have to be more controlling. He preaches austerity to people when he has never known austerity. He wastes millions of taxpayers’ dollars to run G8 and G20 summits in Canada that ran roughshod over human rights.

It is most likely that Mr. Harper has no understanding at all of the Eurozone. He says that the European Community needs to have political control over its money when the entire concept of the European Community is cooperation. Mr. Harper worries about the Greeks more than he worries about how Canadians feel about his autocratic handling of the Canadian Parliament. The Greeks elected the parliament they want and Harper can expect that Canadians will elect the parliament they want at the next election. It is only too bad that the next election in Canada is more than three years away.

We can all hope during that time that Mr. Harper does not start to tell the Americans how to run their country or economy. It is not that they do not need the help but all they want from Canada is that cheap tar sands crude oil.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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