Archive for August, 2012

You don’t take a lady to the ‘In and Out.’

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Before they got smart enough to call their disgusting stores ‘The Beer Store,’ Brewers Retail (formerly Brewers Warehousing Company Ltd.) was referred to by many Ontario residents as the ‘In and Out.’ They were hardly going to call the stores by their formal name and after all, the largest signs at the outlets were ‘In’ and ‘Out.’ The one fixed rule was that only a degenerate slob would send a lady to buy his beer,

Face facts, The Beer Store is a guy place. If a lady wants to buy beer, let her go to the liquor store. The liquor board people sell beer in little lady-like packages. You take the measure of a man at The Beer Store by the number of two-fours he can carry.

But all the chickens have come home to roost at The Beer Store. They have finally found out that woman can not only vote but some have been known to drink a cold beer from a bottle and belch appreciatively. While the brewers have been catering to the guy thing, women have been singing siren songs and plying those he-men with wines and drinks mixed with hard liquors.

This is a problem. Any idiot can go into one of those disgusting beer stores and see why 80 per cent of beer sales are to men. Those lame brains at Brewers Retail are trying to figure out why the sales of beer have been flat for the past 15 years. During the same period, wine sales have increased by more than 70 per cent. Wine makes you sexy. Beer makes you pee.

If the people who want to sell beer had any smarts they would get behind the convenience stores and talk turkey with the Ontario government. Beer in smaller packages is a convenience store item. Beer also belongs in grocery stores. It can be sold from coolers, ready to use. Primp the packaging, change the advertising and beer could be more attractive to the ladies. The big brewers could take a lesson from the craft brewers in that.

The lessons are in history. Beer has been a universal drink of both men and women for thousands of years. It is a healthy drink—in moderation. It belongs. It belongs on the table with food. It is a refreshing drink when people are relaxing.

The mistake was made almost a hundred years ago when Ontario’s ignorant politicians tried to appease the equally ignorant Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. It is time we gave beer its place. We can let The Beer Stores learn how to be recycling centres.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Stating the obvious for police boards.

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Why should the Province of Ontario further clarify the role of our police services boards? While it has been obvious for many years that these highly politicized boards are largely inadequate for the role they undertake, they have sufficient powers needed to do their job. To outline those powers in more detail to the members of the boards would almost guarantee their usage when not necessarily warranted.

What brings up this concern is the request by the chair of the City of Ottawa police services board for clarification of the role of the boards. The Ottawa board and others across the province appear to be confused by the report from retired judge John Morden on the Toronto G20 fiasco. You hardly need to read between the lines of Morden’s report to see why Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair should be fired and the Toronto Police Services Board should resign for failure to do their job.

But they are like many police board members across Ontario who seem to think they have no right to question those police operations that are managed by the police chief. They appear to be forgetting that the chief works under contract for the board. The board hires and fires the chief.

It is similar, with a few differences, to the relationship of the board of directors of a company and the company’s chief operating officer. The quasi-military chain of command and discipline needs of a police force require the board members to keep their distance from any action that could constitute interference in day-to-day operations.

But questioning policing policies and interaction of the police with the public are very much the right of the board. The board members are responsible for policing on behalf of the community. They work for the public and not the police.

This is one reason why it is very annoying to see police service board members acting as spokespersons for the police. As it stands today, municipal councillors and mayors who serve on police service boards should be declaring a conflict and not voting on police budgets. For the chair of the police services board to present the police budget to the council instead of a representative of the police officials who created it, is a corruption of the role of the police services chair.

But if we continue appointing unqualified people to police services boards, we are going to continue to muddle along. The problem is the people, more than the rules.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Driving Mr. Ford.

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

One of the first assignments in political campaigns that used to be given young political apparatchiks was driving the candidate. A smart campaign manager would always ensure that a distracted and busy candidate had time between assignments such as coffee parties and speeches to read briefing notes and to rest for a few minutes, if needed. The good driver was the one who knew when the candidate needed to deal with personal thoughts and when serving as a sounding board might be helpful.

What brings this up is the current flurry of concern that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is going to kill someone—likely himself—if he continues reading, texting and using his cell phone while driving his very large utility vehicle. The police are in the forefront of those recommending that he have a driver. The mayor has no idea what the fuss is about.

It is amazing that in recent years people have forgotten that Toronto City Hall used to have a fleet of city cars and drivers at the beck and call of the city’s mayor and controllers. (The aldermen had to fend for themselves.) In Ottawa or at Queen’s Park at that time, all members of cabinet had a car and driver assigned to them.

The exception to this was the time when a grand-standing Liberal Premier Mitch Hepburn publicly auctioned off the previous Conservative cabinet’s limousines after he was elected in 1934.

Another event that underlined the need for political figures to have drivers was in 1977. The then Premier of Quebec, René Lévesque struck and killed a homeless person while driving a lady other than his wife late at night. He paid a fine of $25 for not wearing his glasses at the time but this was an object lesson in why political figureheads should not drive themselves.

Obviously there is an ebb and flow of opinion on what political positions, if any, should merit being chauffeured. In an egalitarian society such as Canada, it is not common for people to need to be driven on their routine commutes. There are also politicians who prefer to drive themselves. Pierre Trudeau made a point of showing off his sports car and driving it himself after being defeated by Joe Clark’s Conservatives in 1979.

As for Mayor Ford, he should heed the advice of the Toronto police. There could be a flurry of tickets for minor infractions if he does not pay attention.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Where is our Quebec headed?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Ontario voters should have no problem understanding the quandary faced by Quebec voters. Nobody in Quebec seems to know where that province is headed. The election takes place on September 4 and there is no point in trusting any of the public opinion polls. Nobody can guess at this one. It is an election with too many imponderables.

Liberal Premier Jean Charest chose to have the election just as disgruntled students are headed back to try to rescue what they can of an interrupted school year. Those young people are voters and they are angry with Charest. His draconian response to their protests failed to contain them and caused their parents and others to join in the protests.

But if the student movement is the rock, then the construction industry inquiry is the hard place and Charest is caught between them. He could hardly delay the election until the construction inquiry reopens in September with daily exposure of corruption.

Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois joined the students, beating a pot for them, but is seen as a weak leader and with little new in the péquistes’ political arsenal. Charest sees her as his main opposition and constantly hammers at her for not being clear on a new separatist referendum.

The real opportunity for Marois’ péquistes is their credibility as social democrats. With the wide acceptance of the federal New Democrats in Quebec in the last federal election it opened the door for the Parti Québécois.

Nobody can really read François Legault, leader of the new Coalition Avenir Québec. He is obviously just as right-wing as Jean Charest but he seems to lack the political sensibilities. When he said the other day that Quebec student protesters needed to stop chasing the good life and learn from hard-working Asian students, he stepped in it.

While Legault was a Parti Québécois cabinet minister, he and his party are trying to stay ambiguous on the question of sovereignty. Where he is going to find voters who are neutral on the separatism issue is a good question.

And yet one of these three leaders is very likely going to end up trying to manage a minority government in the National Assembly in Quebec City after the election. Neither Legault nor Marois could hold together a minority in those circumstances for more than six months.

Those of us watching from the peanut gallery will just have to be philosophical about whatever happens. We have reason to be concerned with Stephen Harper driving the truck in Ottawa. He carries no brief for our Quebec. It is an integral part of our country and Quebec’s leadership should note our concern.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Brown’s bounty.

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Babel is certainly blessed. Where would we ever be without Brown’s bounty? Just yesterday, Babel’s city council voted to once again provide the Barrie Molson Centre for his annual Brown Appreciation Night at a small portion of the real cost. This was after a lengthy debate earlier in the meeting about taxpayers having to foot the bill each year because our local hockey palace does not pay its way.

New readers should be advised that we are referring to the guy Babelites know as ‘Little Boy Brown MP.’ In his role as Impresario Brown, he has never found a charity that he could not use for self-promotion. As he has no role in Ottawa other than as ‘King of the ten-percenters,’ in which he has proved he can out-spend all other members of parliament. In Ottawa, he is a fetcher, carrier and voter for the Prime Minister. In Babel, he is always looking for ways to ingratiate himself with voters.

His favourite of all his promotions is his hockey night every summer at the Barrie Molson Centre. It is year five this Thursday night and he has yet to provide the voters with an audited statement of how much goes to promote him and the Conservative Party and how much goes to Royal Victoria Hospital.

As churlish as it might seem to complain about the crass propaganda of these events, there is no doubt that such an event could be even more successful without the political overtones. For example, it is something that could be arranged and promoted by the hospital’s highly regarded volunteer organization. Then, we could all contribute.

We could also move the event to a cooler time of year when it costs less to cool the building and create an ice surface.

Of all these events, the one in 2011 was the most blatant propaganda for the Conservative Party as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper took part.

While city councillors never once mentioned Brown’s role in this event, it was obvious that some had been getting static from voters. Council has regularly turned down requests from charities for reduced costs of recreational facilities for fund-raising functions and the fact that most of the councillors are Conservatives has been duly noted. Now staff is being asked to recommend a policy on charitable use of city facilities.

But that is a standard answer to many questions in Babel: it is under study by city staff.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Handicapping America’s November Stakes.

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Okay, it’s probably a couple months too early. That hardly prevents the American fourth estate from prognosticating about Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney’s choice of running mate. The American media were bound to go after his Vice Presidential choice like vultures to fresh road kill. Just think of what they did to Sarah Palin four years ago.

Representative Paul Ryan from Wisconsin might be a few degrees smarter than Mrs. Palin but he is also a poster boy for America’s extremist right wing Tea Party Republicans. Romney was supposed to be concerned that the Tea Party nuts did not trust him. The choice of Paul Ryan is Romney’s way of showing them that he will toe the line.

From the first flub when Romney introduced him as the next President, Ryan was on the attack against Obama Care. He is promising the right wing that he has the fix for Medicare—denying it funding seems to be his solution. That is the economic solution he has relied on for the past eleven years in the House of Representatives.

Ryan draws his economic smarts from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and his character from her novel Atlas Shrugged. His favourite economist was Milton Friedman of the Chicago School. Ryan is one of those young political idealists who steep themselves in right-wing radicalism and then never grow up.

Romney and Ryan share one crucial characteristic and that is a serious lack of foreign affairs experience. Since Romney’s gaffs in London and Poland this summer, it has been obvious that he needed a running mate with some foreign experience. Ryan is not the answer to that weakness.

This all adds up to Obama being the odds-on favourite in the early betting. He is the incumbent, he is at ease with heads of state, he has successfully negotiated more than one budget with an obdurate congress, he is trusted as commander-in-chief and he has got Medicare off the ground even if it is not really flying.

Romney and Ryan have a hill to climb. Romney has to count on Ryan to keep the crazies of the right wing in line while he works to convince Americans capable of thinking that he just might have something concrete to offer. Just what he has to offer is a good question. There are only a few months left for surprises.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Burghers bet on Babel by-election.

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

It looks like Babel’s Ward 8 voters will get to vote in a by-election this December to replace their councillor. It will require council to agree but that is the staff recommendation. What the staff recognized is that it is the more democratic solution. And that is tough to argue against.

But the real question is can Babel trust its out-of-date voting system in even a tightly controlled by-election? Working with the antiquated computer system in the last municipal election was an exercise in concern. The good news was that the old software could not be hacked because the machines operated off-line. They only came together after the votes were cast to tally the total votes. That final tally period was a lengthy, hand-wringing period of deep concern.

Contrary to what is expected of a computerized voting system, each bank of the machines had to come with a human care-giver. This election official had to change modules for specific wards and school system support for the individual voters. This person was also the trouble-shooter to assist voters confused by the system. And they were confused.

There is an adage in the computer industry that ‘user-friendly’ is a ghost—something that people talk about but have never seen. The basic problem is that what is self-evident to a computer programmer might not be self-evident to a human.

Some of the more interesting problems Babel experienced in the last municipal election were that the election officials were mainly city employees who must have been handed an instruction manual rather than having to attend training. They tended to take their written instructions literally, without comprehending the rational behind the instructions. One polling official had tried to place the candidates’ scrutinineers on the other side of the room to ‘witness’ the procedures. This was changed once the official understood that the scrutinineers had to both see and hear what was taking place.

With today’s software and high speed Internet capabilities, there would be few problems in setting up an Internet voting system for the by-election in December. What might take longer are the demonstrations needed to convince all concerned that the system is secure.

It will be essential though for the next municipal election. The outmoded voting machines will no longer be practical as there are insufficient numbers of them available to handle the potential number of voters. An Internet system is the only practical answer. And if we want to ensure the franchise to the citizens of Babel, it is the essential answer.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Maybe we can make a deal with McGuinty.

Friday, August 10th, 2012

The by-elections called for the Ontario ridings of Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan could be a chance to make a deal with Dalton McGuinty. The problem is that voters will see the by-elections as a chance to kick sand in his face. While you can appreciate that they are sorely fed-up with McGuinty and his Whigs, it is the wrong thing to do.

The Liberals have to win if you really want to get rid of McGuinty. As perverse as that seems, the problem is that Dalton McGuinty is never going to quit as long as his Whigs are sitting in a tenuous minority situation. Give his party some stability in office and there can be an orderly transition to a new Liberal leader in time for the next provincial election. And any member of McGuiny’s caucus (other than the fat Treasurer) would do a better job than McGuinty.

While they are all voting as Whigs in the current Legislature, their basic instinct (other than the fat Treasurer) is to want to be Liberals. After all Whigs are just Liberals who are 200 years behind the times.

And even if you do not want to vote for such an out-of-touch party, the opposition parties are not any better. Tiny Tim Hudak, leader of Ontario’s hapless Conservatives is further behind the eight-ball than Dalton McGuinty. Hudak would frighten Adam Smith, the father of Conservatism. Smith published his seminal work on The Wealth of Nations in 1776 and Hudak seems to still be waiting to read Coles Notes on it.

The seminal book on socialism was more recent. Marx and Engels first published their unfortunately titled Communist Manifesto in 1848. Along with many social democrats, Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats appear to be locked into the unionism of the Dirty Thirties. While the late Jack Layton of her federal party worked hard to reposition the federal NDP, Horwath has shown no comprehension of how a democratic socialist party serves voters’ needs in the 21st Century.

But McGuinty needs to hold Vaughan for the Liberals and to win Kitchener-Waterloo from the Conservatives to get his majority. It means that he needs to make a pact with Conservative voters in those ridings. He has to promise to have an orderly transition to a new leader for his party if they give him a majority. That would be an ideal solution for the 12 million plus concerned citizens of Ontario.

And there is no question but we are desperate for decent political leadership in Ontario!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Casinos: keep clear of Ontario Place

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Those of us who want a casino in the Toronto area are likely not among those who want it on the lakeshore. And it definitely should not be at Ontario Place. We have even hemmed and hawed over the west end of Exhibition Park. You have to be a born and bred Torontonian to really understand the concerns.

Ontario Place was a legacy to Toronto from a dying breed of Ontario Tories. It was Premier John Robarts—who ran Ontario as Chairman of the Board—who announced the Ontario Place plan in 1971.

(God knows, we never expected to ever be nostalgic about those people. Yet, compared to the rabid right-wing Ontario Conservatives of today, Robarts and his key ministers of the time were progressive, benign and human.)

Over the next 40 years, Ontario Place evolved into a people place, a place for families and a place for youth. The highly politicized management of the park did it little good and it often ran behind the trends of what it could have accomplished. The Ontario Whig government of Dalton McGuinty shut down most of the park in 2011 because of that government’s total inability to plan ahead.

Ontario Place is now at a crossroads. Caught in limbo, it stands as a faded and failed Circus Maximus, torn between political objectives and postures. It needs more than former provincial Conservative leader John Tory and his team of planners to propose a future for the site. It needs far-sighted and brave planning—something of which the McGuinty Whigs are incapable. What Ontario Place must never become is a site for an adult-only casino.

It was the children’s area at the east end of Ontario Place that brought out families. It was the key to the long-term success of the park. It locked the park into a family orientation in the minds of Torontonians and it would be a very large mistake to try to change it.

Montreal has already proved with its Casino de Montréal, on the islands that held Expo 67, that an isolated, hard to reach venue for a casino is wrong. Montreal has also shown that shoe-horning a casino into a site that was never designed for a casino is also a really bad idea.

The west end of Exhibition Park is a possibility for a casino because it has always been such a forgotten area for exhibition planners. Toronto’s venerable “Ex” is tired and needs new thinking and a casino might be the stimulus for a new era in the 21st Century.

There are many excellent sites for a casino and surrounding entertainment destination around the Toronto area. And there are many more outside the city’s jurisdiction if the city politicians want to be ignorant on the issue.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Introducing Facebook for hypochondriacs!

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Do you remember eHealth? That is the computerized patient information system Ontario’s Ministry of  Health has been wasting our money on for years. It is the one where consultants were even billing us for pastries for their tea breaks. It has wasted millions of dollars without producing anything. It has taken so long that the private sector has started offering competitive databases in hopes of capturing the business.

When you consider that the computerized patient database has been under development by the Ontario Ministry of Health since the Mike Harris Conservatives were in power, this is hardly a surprise. The problem is that the same question faces the private sector product as has been holding up the government version: how secure is it?

Nobody can guarantee security. You get the same answer from all the security experts: the only secure room is a room without a door. When you need a system that must be accessed by the medical profession to input data for patients and then be accessed by other medical professionals to assist that patient, security is your main problem. Patient confidentiality is the main consideration.

Take this private sector offering called mihealth. This is a database very much like Facebook. The only difference is that Facebook is very successful in that it has convinced more than 900 million people to provide their profiles which Facebook then sells to marketers. It is the largest invasion of privacy ever perpetrated and the joke is that the participants provide all the information. Those who know in the computer world turn up their noses at Facebook. The bad news for the marketers is that the information they are getting is not necessarily the truth, most of it is trite and boring but, frankly, the marketers are the only ones who care.

In the case of this mihealth database product, if it is less secure than Facebook, it might be immaterial. The mihealth marketing approach is to sell the patient a package—a very expensive package—and then go after the doctors to use it as a medium with which to communicate with their patient. The doctors could do the same thing with e-mails but have probably never thought of it.

We should let the doctors solve the problem. This will be after the doctors in Ontario sit down with the Ministry of Health and everyone plays nice. The province needs a better thought-through funding formula for the medical profession and the doctors need to come down from Mount Olympus and walk with the ordinary people.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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