Archive for July, 2012

Canada cursed in Kandahar.

Monday, July 16th, 2012

They no longer think kindly of Canada in Kandahar. The Canadians have left the building. Their promises no longer heard.

Oh, they marched so bravely up the Khyber Pass (figuratively) past the Pashtun tribes of Pakistan into the reality of the Pashtun peoples of Afghanistan. The image of the Canadian soldiers following the skirl of the bagpipes up the pass gives death time to mark those who would be his.

Turn the clock back 200 years and those are British troops marching up the pass. They marched up the pass to make the world safe for the growing of the opium poppy on the Northern Frontier of India—now Pakistan. The British East India Company had ready markets in China for opium back then and the safety of the growing fields was important.

Little has changed in the succeeding 200 years. The Afghans have learned to live on the rations of foreign troops and the opium poppy crop in the country has become the largest in the world. Only under the Taliban has the opium poppy crop been reduced but they became the enemy when they would not turn over Osama bin Laden to the Americans.

Despite the efforts of foreign troops in Afghanistan to kill off the Taliban, there are ample new recruits for them in the Madrassas of Pakistan. These religious colleges are indoctrination centres producing a steady stream of zealots eager to smite the infidels in the name of the Prophet. And the profits of the drug trade pay for their weapons.

In the ten years of Canadian military taking part in active fighting duty in Afghanistan, nothing has been accomplished. Soldiers have died. Pashtun fighters have died. The drug trade continues. The Afghan warlords stay in power. Nothing is resolved.

Canada also has shipping containers full of materiel for its troops left behind in Afghanistan. Trucking this materiel to Karachi in Pakistan for shipment to Canada will take much time and many bribes.  Luckily, the Chief of the Defence Staff tells us there is nothing essential in the containers.

And, oh yes, we should also mention that the Americans started the current war against the Afghan people because the Taliban in Afghanistan would not give up Osama bin Laden. The Americans attacked and removed the Taliban and established a group of warlords in their place. As for Osama bin Laden, he was killed by some U.S. Navy Seals and C.I.A. operatives on May 2, 2011. He was hiding in his home in Pakistan.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The boring bureaucrats of Babel.

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Big city or small, the bureaucrats are the same. When the council members want to get rid of an unwanted idea, they send it to staff, for study. It is the route to oblivion. The idea is unlikely to ever surface again.

This is brought to mind by the machinations this week of Toronto’s antediluvian city council. They were trying to kill the first sensible plan for public transit since the first subway was built up Yonge Street more than 50 years ago. The council guaranteed many more years of traffic gridlock, lost hours and human tragedy in Canada’s major city. All they did was send it to staff to study.

It is the same in Babel. The best advertisement for this city that has ever been conceived went to the staff to study two years ago and will probably never see the light of day again. Every time they are asked about the particular idea, we hear that another study is in process and it is awaiting the findings. This idea is from a private group that wants to fund a single wind generator on top of the town dump. Visible for many kilometres, the turbine would say to the persons passing through town on the provincial controlled-access highway that Babel is an energy conscious city—a green and conserving city.

Speaking of conserving there was a very interesting proposal to divert the compostable garbage that Babel trucks some hundred or so kilometres away from town. This material is free bio-energy that can be used to generate heat and cooling for large groups of industrial and multiple dwelling buildings. With the city’s new lands that it obtained from a neighbouring municipality, it has the opportunity to plan and do things properly. The city can pre-plan the area allowing for underground piping of high and low temperature water to and from a central facility. The energy source can not only function without smell or noise but could be visually hard to find as well.

In a recent presentation at city hall of updates planned for the local sewage works, the city staff engineers and their consultants found that some local residents were well ahead of them in considering ways to improve efficiencies. They were given various recommendations for improving the volume and usage of the methane gas normally generated. While heat and energy needs of the facility are being offset, they were given several suggestions for expanding the capability and providing low-cost heating and cooling for nearby condominiums.

Oh well, maybe they will see the value in the ideas some day.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Calamity in Kalamazoo can cancel B.C. pipeline.

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Enbridge blew it! The company can kiss the Northern Gateway Pipeline through British Columbia goodbye. It is not going to happen. It all came down to a report out of Washington by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In July of 2010, Enbridge pumped over three million litres of bitumen slurry from Alberta’s tar sands into the Kalamazoo River in south-east Michigan and nobody will ever let the company forget it.

Of course, we have known about the spill for two years. There has been a clean-up—of sorts. The damage is more or less permanent. The company spent more than $800 million to clean up the carrier oil—the lighter crude that they mix with bitumen from tar sands crude to help it flow. The tar is settling into the water table, becoming part of the wetlands of the area. It will take a long-term study to determine the permanent damage.

The NTSB report was scathing. The board actually found that Enbridge kept pumping for 17 hours after the first alarms. It was a third-party that finally convinced the company that there was a serious spill. And the company did not even have clean-up equipment available for a bitumen spill. It had some equipment for the floating crude—not the stuff that sinks.

Would anyone trust this company to say it is never going to happen again?

The chair of the NTSB said the company’s response to the spill reminded her of a Keystone Kops effort. That is an image that Enbridge will wear as long as the company continues to operate under that name.

It leaves Stephen Harper and his pseudo environment minister, Joe Oliver, hung out to dry. It is a win for Thomas Mulcair that he did not earn. It leaves acting Liberal Leader Bob Rae with egg on his face. He was trying to find a compromise position on the issue. There is no compromise available. You just lose support from people on both sides of the issue.

Enbridge has given inestimable ammunition to the anti-pipeline forces with this report. It could bankrupt the company. Back when we knew the company as Consumers’ Gas in Toronto, there was a high level of trust. The NTSB said that Enbridge had known for five years that there was a corrosion in that pipeline through south east Michigan. And then they put more corrosive, higher temperature tar sand bitumen through it at higher pressures. That was a death wish.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The Trudeau argument goes on.

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Whenever two or more Liberal Party members meet, the argument rages on. It starts with ‘will he?’ and deteriorates into ‘who else?’ Justin Trudeau has yet to make up his mind, again. He made it up once and most Liberals accepted the decision. He said he was not ready and would not contest the party leadership to be determined early in 2013. It was the right decision.

We have watched him working the Liberal faithful. He is good. He is a relaxed and easy speaker. He gives the party faithful all they expect and more. He needs only to develop his message. He needs direction and we have no idea where that is going to come from—if he decides he needs it.

He is not his father. He lacks his father’s passion. He lacks his father’s distain for the political realities. The intellect is nowhere near as sharp. He has some of his mother in his thinking process. You can see him shift moods. He is easy to read. He is no poker player. When he whaled the tar out of that Tory senator in the boxing ring some months ago, you were pleased that he did it but you were embarrassed by the juvenile behaviour.

Remember his father was almost 50 when he contested the Liberal leadership in 1968. Justin can wait another six or eight years. He also saw what his father’s job did to his family. He rightly wants to protect his wife and young family from that.

The major problem with Justin Trudeau is direction. Where does he want to go and where does he want to lead the Liberal Party? He has that Quebecoise sensitivity to constitutional issues without his father’s intellectual curiosity. He is wary of English-French biases in the simplest of constitutional discussion.

If he does decide to go for the leadership at this time, there are many questions. The party need not to not only listen to him but we really need to know to whom it is that he listens. People who liked Jean Chrétien needed to know that his main mentor was Mitchell Sharp. They thought Chrétien was left wing. Sharp certainly was not. Chrétien’s promises were shallow and rarely kept. What was his legacy? Was it Paul Martin’s budgets?

We have no idea what the full field is for this leadership contest. Members of the party would be wise not to leap on the first bandwagon passing through town.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

What do you get for $60 million?

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley announced last week that it cost $180 million to move the under-construction Greenfield Power Plant from Mississauga to Sarnia. That sets a new price on a seat in the Ontario Legislature. The move, ordered by Dalton McGuinty’s campaign team, saved at least three Liberal-held ridings in Etobicoke and Mississauga. It sets a new level for the cost of a seat in the Ontario Legislature. It is a clear indication of what is wrong with political parties today.

It is only over the past 25 years that highly centralized political parties have become the reality in Canada. When the McGuinty campaign team, under MPP Greg Sorbara, decided to cancel Greenfield, the team spoke with the authority of the Premier. The three seats it meant on the Liberal side of the Legislature were critical. The three Liberal candidates involved stuck to the party line.

So, what do you get for $60 million today? You get a lot less than you got 25 years ago. At that time, we still had members of the legislature and in Parliament who could think for themselves, who could represent their constituents—not as a ward-healer but as an advocate—and who stood up to the Premier and cabinet in caucus and committee. It was a time when elected people held the reins and the paid staff members were the workers.

It is hard to believe that members for all parties yearn for the day when the party leader was beholden to the members who supported him or her. Having the leader as boss of the party destroys our political system. It turns a highly successful bottom up political system into a travesty of bossism and regression.

But leave a little of the blame for this on the news media. It is not that they are lazy or less knowledgeable. They are basically cheap. It costs them far less to only follow and report on the leader of the parties in the legislatures and in parliament than it would to properly report on the political mood and the actions of local candidates. Local candidates are never allowed to concern the local media with facts.

Never having met a political candidate worth $60 million, we are a bit nonplussed at this serious rate of inflation. Maybe Sorbara’s excuse is that he really was showing how decisive McGuinty could be in wasting $180 million of the taxpayers’ money. Beat that Tiny Tim Hudak! Beat that Andrea Horwath!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The effete followers of Stephen Harper.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

How can Prime Minister Stephen Harper even begin to create a new cabinet? There is no second tier of his caucus ready to step up to the task. In fact, it is hard to tell the bottom of the barrel from the contenders. The word ‘effete’ comes to mind when considering Harper’s Parliamentary caucus. To say they are just tired and feeble is to compliment them. The Conservative caucus is a sorry lot with sorrier prospects. And yet all the pundits are calling for a cabinet shakeup.

Bev Oda’s recent resignation from cabinet was the first improvement to the cabinet in a long time. Mind you, promoting a cop such as Julian Fantino to handle international cooperation is an obtuse gesture.  It is as though of Harper were to take the podium at the United Nations and give the rest of the world the finger!

And then there are the Bobbsey twins? They represent Canada to the rest of the uncooperative world. We think of these Bobbsey twins as lemmings rushing for the precipice. They are Foreign Affairs’ John Baird and Citizenship’s Jason Kenney. You are forgiven if you get these two ideologues confused.

Kenney is the twin in the news recently for winning the award for self aggrandizement. There really is a form in his web site where you are invited to compliment him for saving taxpayers money by not helping refugee claimants with medical problems. Luckily most of Canada’s doctors have signed the version of the Hippocratic Oath that promises to do no harm.

If you think about it, you realize that this Harper cabinet minister has disgraced our country and its reputation for less than 0.000001 per cent of national health care costs.

We keep waiting breathlessly for Prime Minister Harper to consider the MP from Babel for his cabinet. What this kid really wants is Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s job. He wants to have his picture taken in a mock-up of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  He could send autographed copies, suitable for framing, to every Babel voter.

Another wannabe on the back benches, waiting for Harper’s call-up, is Chris Alexander, MP for Ajax-Pickering. He spent many years in Canada’s foreign service and was considered the go-to guy with Afghanistan’s tribal leader Hamid Karzai. If anyone knows how much it will take to bribe Karzai to release Canada’s war materiel that was stupidly left in Afghanistan, Alexander should.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Building a new liberalism. Part II:

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The Liberal Party of Canada is far from dead. Pundits prattling about its demise do not make it so. Nor has it succumbed to wounds so grievously inflicted by friends such as the Toronto Star. Being deserted by voters in the last election is a wake-up call for the party to heed.

Existing means choices. And the Liberal Party has choices. The choice of the middle of the road is gone. The voters know it is meaningless. They do not trust it and they are smart not to. Wishy-washy will not work. You have to stand for something.

And liberals have always been good at standing up for the individual in our society. It is where we stand for access to education for all. Where we stand up for women’s rights and daycare and national dental and drug plans. This is equal opportunity for all that means something. And that road is on the left.

Neither Stephen Harper nor Thomas Mulcair’s parties work for the individual in our society. Mr. Harper’s Conservatives could care less. Mr. Mulcair leads a party that looks at people only in the collective. Mr. Harper treats people as commodities—to be manipulated and used and discarded. Mr. Mulcair’s New Democrats are dominated by the NDP’s member unions.

You hardly need to be a mathematical genius to know that the day the Liberal and New Democrat parties unite their votes, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives will be defeated. We can welcome the NDP to work with us. We can keep an open door.

But in the meantime, the Liberal Party needs a new leader. It will have to be a leader pledged to having an open party. It will be a party where ridings pick their candidates without interference from Ottawa or regional headquarters. It will be a party where policy is decided by the rank and file in effectively and democratically run policy conventions.

The new Liberal Party leader will be able to hold out the olive branch to New Democratic Party members who share our respect for individual rights in a caring society.

The new leader must also hold out the olive branch to all Canadians to ensure that our citizens share equally in the bounty of our nation. That we work to having a balance of resource and manufacturing strengths to support a vigorous and growing economy. That our farmers have the marketing assistance they need to ensure a healthy agriculture base to support our food supply. And that is a beginning.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Building a new liberalism. Part I:

Monday, July 9th, 2012

On political seas, liberalism has always been a flag of convenience. It is a political party without heavy ideology. Looking back, the party was its leaders. It was leaders such as George Brown, Oliver Mowat, Wilfrid Laurier, William Lyon Mackenzie King, Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chrétien and lesser mortals. Michael Ignatieff saw the party as a big red tent that welcomed everyone but, with him leading it, he found that it tempted few.

Ignatieff’s main problem in the last election was that he had no concept of where the party should be going. We had fallen on hard times. The party’s promises were too vague for the voters. It could no longer survive on past success. This was the internationalist party that built and glorified the country around the world. It owned Quebec and spoke nationally for a bilingual and multicultural Canada. It was strong in the cities and their suburbs. It was the party that made things happen. It brought Medicare to the nation. Liberals created strong programs to support business and job creation. We were the party of the burgeoning middle class of Canada.

But we lost it. Quebec played with separatists and wandered off to the left and the demagogues of the elite. Like a jaded partner in a dull marriage, Quebec needed to experiment, to live it up, to try what is new and to regain the spirit. In a rising tide of political division in Canada, the Liberal Party tried to keep selling inclusion.

The Jean Chrétien years were the troubling years. The middle class was under attack and shrinking. The Reformers took over the Conservative Party. The rabid right in America was creating a new cant of property rights and small government in which nobody understood the contradictions. This new ideology of the right brought the religious right to their cause and a marriage of convenience was born.

Ontario experienced this new breed of ideologists earlier than the rest of the country when Michael Harris’ Conservatives replaced Bob Rae’s conflicted NDP. The two-term mandate of Harris created a base of support in Ontario for Harper’s new federal Conservative Party. And the resource-rich West gathered wealth to support him as the East bled manufacturing jobs.

In the 2011 General Election, two things happened. A tired Bloc Quebecois was increasing irrelevant to Quebecers and Jack Layton and his colloquial French offered a new and left-wing alternative. The Liberals were in disrepute and Harper’s Conservative ideologues had little to interest Quebec.

The second thing was the dominant newspaper in Ontario, the Toronto Star, abandoned the tired Liberal Party and told liberal voters it was alright to vote NDP. And they did in enough numbers to assure a majority for Harper’s Conservatives. The Liberal Party ended up with just 34 seats in Parliament.

We knew the party was in trouble and we needed time to think.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The honeymoon of the NDP’s M. Mulcair.

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Jack Layton never got it that good. It was as though nobody noticed or cared when he won the New Democrat leadership. It took him another year to even get a seat in parliament. Thomas Mulcair was already a Member of Parliament when he won the NDP leadership on the fourth ballot after Layton’s death and moved directly into the role of Leader of the Opposition.

Until Mulcair got the job, Bob Rae of the Liberal Party had been the de facto Leader of the Opposition. Rae had continuously gone around the NDP’s Interim Leader Nycole Turmel as though she was not there. The media went along with it because Rae knew how to frame the news clips, use effective analogies and provide the leads.

But now Mulcair was there. He also knew the ropes. And the media liked the promise of Mulcair. Most did not know him. His time in the Legislature in Quebec City had been stormy. There were concerns about his ego and his temperament. As a politician, he had never proved to be a team player.

But Stephen Harper had never played nice with his political allies either. Which one is the most determined at micro-managing things is a good question. Mulcair quit Charest’s right-wing Liberal cabinet in Quebec and went to Jack Layton’s NDP on his own volition. Whether based on principle, or pique, we do not know!

What he obviously saw was the growing dichotomy between the political left and right in Canada. His experience with the Liberal Party in Quebec had left him no option but to go to the NDP. The real enemy he perceived was Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Prime Minister Harper returned the compliment with an attack advertisement before Mulcair was settled in office.

Since moving to the Leader of the Opposition role, Mulcair’s moves have been determined and clear. He left Conservatives and Liberals alike behind when he went out to challenge the Alberta tar sands oil producers on their own turf. It was a move reminiscent of Pierre Trudeau’s National Energy Policy. It made strong friends and stronger enemies.

Mulcair has made himself the current rallying point for those who wish to challenge Harper. Recent polls show that he is achieving that objective. He will hold the ground as long as the honeymoon continues.

But (and there is always a ‘but’) honeymoons end. Reality will be when the Liberal Party chooses its leadership and direction in the year ahead. Liberals now know the challenges the new leader will face. They also have to understand that in a Canada of left and right wing politics, there is no middle ground. The Liberal Party cannot leave the political left as the sole preserve of  Thomas Mulcair.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Babel’s boy MPP finds work.

Friday, July 6th, 2012

Remember the old joke when a friend is about to board a bus or train and you shout to them: ‘Write if you find work!’ That would have been a good line to use the first time our new Member of the Ontario Legislature took the GO Train to Toronto to report in at Queen’s Park. As an opposition MPP, he had limited prospects for doing anything worthwhile under the uninspired leadership of Conservative Leader Tiny Tim Hudak.

But to our surprise, eight months later, we can report that MPP Jackson has found work. He is undertaking an ‘accountability series’ to protect us from Liberal excesses on spending for the Pan Am Games scheduled for Ontario in 2015. While the opportunity with the games will be nowhere near the scale of chicanery that federal MP and Treasury Board chief Tony Clement was able to commit in his riding a couple years ago during the G8 Conference, our Mr. Jackson promises to be quite vigilant on our behalf.

While just three years from the Pan Am Games, Mr. Jackson finds it quite suspicious that the Provincial Liberal government claims that the games infrastructure projects are mostly on-time and on-budget. He notes that the true costs could be almost twice as much if you add in the infrastructure that was being built outside the games budget. The athlete’s village, for example, that is designed as a modern condominium, will be put to good use after the games and is not being charged to the games when it will only have a brief stint housing the athletes. The Air Rail Link is being built by Metrolinx in time for the games but is not chargeable to the games. Mr. Jackson does not know who is paying for this but we expect Metrolinx can tell him.

Jackson has found out that some of the people involved in the games organization are Liberals and he considers this as an obvious connection for him to investigate. This does not apply, of course, to the members of the TO2015 Games team appointed to it by the federal government.

We understand that MPP Jackson will be providing weekly updates on this ‘accountability series.’ With a budget of about $1.4 billion and related projects for about as much again, he will have his work cut out for him. And considering that he has nothing in his biography to support any expertise in this field, we can only hope that Tiny Tim Hudak is giving him the full support of the Conservative Party research staff.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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