Archive for September, 2012

Defending democracy.

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

The most precious inheritance we Canadians pass to our progeny is our democracy. Yet we do not pass to them a robust democracy. It is more of an acquiescent availability. It seems to lay in wait to be used. It is not in your face. It should be.

While much of our governmental systems were inherited from our country’s European roots and the British parliament, our democracy is home grown. It developed over the years to meet our needs, to deal with our concerns and to meet our expectations. Our close proximity to the United States of America has also contributed to our democracy—and not always to the good. There are times when America contributes false expectations and challenges.

One of the yardsticks—right or wrong—used to measure the strength of our democracy is our participation in the opportunities to vote in federal, provincial and municipal elections as well as the occasional referendums and by-elections. And the declining statistics in that regard is simply bad news.

Maybe this why there is no ongoing outcry at the outrageous democracy-destroying robocalls used in the last federal election to suppress voting. It was exemplified by the Prime Minister needlessly proroguing parliament twice to prevent the dismissal of his government. This also pointed out the dismal failure of our appointed Governor Generals to stand up for Canada’s citizens.

Prime Minister Harper is no friend of our democracy. He is elected to the highest office in our country and he sits there and sneers at us. He runs an empirical presidency with no strings or safeguards. He spends money like it all belonged to him and yet tells us we must conserve. He flies about the world on his VIP-configured Airbus A310-300, with his hairdresser, telling the world how to conserve. He proposes huge omnibus legislation to confound and confuse parliament and Canadians. He flaunts his disregard for our environment as he panders to oil companies and their pipeline deals. He pads the Senate with cronies to feast at the trough of salary and pensions.

Stephen Harper in his perfect toupee smirks at Canadians and their concerns for their country. He is no shepherd, leading his flock. He is a Judas goat, leading us on his dogmatic journey of destruction.

But beware Mr. Harper. There is a time of the end of despots. Democracy is more than just an ideal. It is there to be used. Democracy will not be denied.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The terror of technology for tyros.

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

Tyros are beginners, people who are learning. They are much like many of the staff of the town of Babel. Among the staff are people who come to a small town such as Babel to learn their craft. They come to make their mistakes. They try to minimize those mistakes though and put caution in the way of any progress. It is a caution they carry throughout their careers working for Canadian municipalities.

The reason little happens in Babel is not as much the conservatism of the members of council as it is the conservatism of the tyros. It makes for some frustration with what does not happen with any alacrity in Babel.

An interesting example is the computerized voting system used by Babel for municipal elections. With the speed of change in computer technology, this voting system was obviously out of date the first year it was used. Having been asked to help troubleshoot the voting process for a mayoralty candidate in the last municipal election, it became a lesson in what can go wrong with this type of system. The conclusion of the experience was that the system is too cumbersome, too slow, too expensive and causes too much confusion for support staff and voters.

And the tyros of Babel think they are with it because they use a ‘computerized’ system!

What they are really using is the rough equivalent of the punched cards in Florida state and federal elections with their hanging chads and questionable counting procedures.

But when you ask why the town has not turned to Internet voting, you find that the tyros do not trust the Internet. When you consider the federal and provincial government agencies that use the internet for very confidential information, the millions of citizens who do their banking and bill paying on-line and the billions spent with credit cards on-line, you wonder if these tyros know something the rest of us do not.

Internet voting is something that is starting to take place elsewhere. Babel would hardly be the first if it moved into the 21st Century in this manner. It might not improve voter participation but it would make it convenient for the caring voter to vote anytime over a period of a few days from the convenience of his or her computer or smart cell phone.

We regret to inform you, there will be a ward by-election in Babel in December. City council passed a by-law the other day without a single question from any of the politicians either in committee or as council. The by-law allows for three days of actual voting, at different times and at different places. It will use the old voting machines with their awkward computer counting of the results. It seems that democracy in Babel is at the convenience of the tyros, not the voters.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Mr. Mulcair misses the mark.

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

The media is making much now of  Thomas Mulcair as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Summer is over and the House of Commons is back in session. And Thomas Mulcair is proving just how inadequate he is to take on Stephen Harper.

The Opposition Leader’s first question in the much anticipated question period was on the economy and it rolled off Harper’s back like a light summer rain. Harper ignored the inadequate question and turned it back to attack the NDP leader’s policies.

It is easy to see and understand Mulcair’s frustration and anger at the attacks the Conservatives have been directing at him. They are the same kind of personal attacks that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff never seemed able to handle. To simply call the attacks lies though is not going to work.

Too bad Mulcair is not under the tutelage of Liberal interim leader Bob Rae. Now there is a guy who has been attacked on so many fronts for so many years that he practically has to wear a suit of armour to walk the dog. Rae’s only problem is that he did so many things wrong as NDP Premier of Ontario in the 1990s, Harper’s people had a surfeit of real things to accuse him of and he just laughs all of them off.

As a politician of some experience, it comes as a surprise that Mulcair seems to have no idea of what is called ‘coffee money.’ This is the method used by smart politicians to address serious economic issues. Millions and billions of dollars are lost on just about all of us. We hardly think in those terms in our daily lives. That is why politicians try not to waste their time arguing over those millions and billions.

But politicians know that everyone understands when you deal with economic issues in terms of the cost of a cup of coffee at Tim’s. For example, what Canadian does not feel abused by the oil companies charging more than $1.30 for a litre of gasoline? And what enrages them is that the price is set not by the greed of our Alberta oil sheiks but the American refineries in Texas.

Mulcair obviously has much to learn. He also needs to see what is happening with what he thinks is the third party. The Liberals in parliament have more important things to do these days than posture for the media in the House of Commons. They have a very serious leadership race coming up and we have to recognize that it will set the course for Canadian politics for many years to come. We need to do it right.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Liberal leadership for losers.

Monday, September 17th, 2012

On Tom Clark’s West Block show for Global Television on Sunday, Senator George Baker suggested that former Quebec Premier Jean Charest should run for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. George was talking with Tom and Assistant Professor Ian Lee of Carleton University at the time and you could see where both were temporarily stunned by the idea. And neither is the type to ever be at a loss for words. In a remarkable and lengthy career in politics, it had to be the worst idea George had ever articulated.

For a parliamentarian who has represented Newfoundland and Labrador in Ottawa for more than 35 years, this was almost as silly as his suggestion a few years ago that Newfoundland and Labrador needed its own version of the Bloc Québécoise. To his credit though, George preceded his suggestion of Jean Charest with stating his desire to see Members of Parliament Justin Trudeau from Quebec and Dominic LeBlanc from New Brunswick in the leadership race.

But every race needs losers and George just might have something here. There could be a special reduced rate category for losers in the federal leadership. After his dismal showing in the recent Quebec election, Jean Charest’s first problem would be to establish some credentials as a federal Liberal. A former Conservative cabinet minister under Brian Mulroney, Charest came second to Kim Campbell in the Conservative leadership race to replace Mulroney. Why he wanted the job at the time was never clear as everyone knew that the Conservatives would be soundly defeated in the upcoming election.

Another potential loser candidate is Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.  After losing his majority government in last year’s provincial election, Dalton is guaranteed his loser status after his despicable treatment of the teacher groups who previously supported him. He lost a lot of friends with that.

We could also have Liberal Christy Clark from British Columbia, if she just moves up the B.C. provincial election a bit. Everyone expects her to lose in B.C. She could move up to federal politics and also be a loser there. Just think of the cumulative knowledge of losing between these provincial politicians. They could provide an excellent crash course in the pitfalls of Canadian politics for the eventual winner and fellow losers.

But there is one fiendish thought that comes to mind. What would happen to the Liberal Party of Canada if one of these provincial losers accidently won?

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

In defence of civility.

Sunday, September 16th, 2012

Sitting beside someone the other evening who admired Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was a bit of a trial. When he went on to laud Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s award of Statesman of the Year, there was an urge to use brute force to silence him.

But he had a right to his opinion. While he appeared (to us) to be ignorant and misled, you try desperately to understand where this person is coming from. What will it take to educate him? You try to analyze the situation. Can he convince others to think as he does? If the answer is ‘no,’ maybe you can dismiss him from your mind and go on to weightier matters. And, even if the answer is ‘yes,’ the physical  act of hitting him will feel good but will solve nothing.

A reader wrote the other day that I fear for civility and our ability to get along with one another in very basic and practical ways. He was writing about Mayor Ford’s seeming propensity for breaking laws that were inconvenient for him. The reader could not understand a man, who wants to be a leader, not realizing the impact of leading by example.

The reader goes on to say: I believe I have been witnessing a decline in civility in recent years. Our social fibre is less rigorous, certainly less responsibly social. Unthinking and selfish individualism has been on the rise. It’s part of the “Government back off, this land is my land” ignorance and selfishness. He concludes with the comment: They just haven’t been civilized. They think such behaviour is for wimps.

This thinking was in mind when trying to understand Romney and Ryan’s reaction to the death of American diplomats in Libya. These shallow, crass people used this ugly, tragic event to further their own ambitions, to attack the president of the United States of America. The president is required to speak on behalf of the nation in reaction to incidents such as this and all they are proving is that they are inadequate to the task.

Looking at the incident, the quickly assembled riots throughout the Muslim world seem to be gross over-reaction to a piece of garbage video that had no purpose other than to insult. It seems promoting racial hatred is not illegal in America when it hides behind freedom of speech. The problem is that there are elements within the Muslim communities around the world who constantly seek out supposed slights to continue their war of hatred against America.

The world is going through bad times. Civility needs to start at the top. We need leaders who can set an example.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

A pocket full o’ posies and some royals.

Friday, September 14th, 2012

And we all fall down’ is a nursery rhyme believed to date from the time of the Black Death in England in the mid 1600s. It comes to mind as the Brits continue to send their less luminous royals to grace us benighted Canadians with their presence. It is part of the Queen’s jubilee events being promoted by order of Prime Minister Harper.

Our current visitors are His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, Earl of Sussex and his public relations wife Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Sussex. Why they are visiting Canada is not quite clear. Why Canadians should care is also not quite clear.

But, for some reason, Stephen Harper is giving the British monarch’s diamond jubilee year a leg up. Mind you, we have nothing as exciting as Prince Harry’s recent visit to Las Vegas—which certainly overshadowed his father and stepmother’s visit to Canada earlier this year. You get the feeling that Her Majesty had a quiet word with her fun-loving grandson when he returned to England—something along the lines of a ‘jolly well-done!’

We will not be seeing as much of the Duchess of Cambridge for a while. According to the British tabloid media—who know everything—Billy has done his royal duty and she is pregnant.

Maybe Stephen Harper’s strategy is misunderstood. There is a form of aversion treatment that gives you too much of a good thing to break you of the habit. It is like the Senate. Stephen has decided to keep loading the Senate with mindless Conservatives to teach us that the Senate is useless. If he keeps displaying the useless progeny of the House of Windsor to Canadians, more of us will be hollering ‘uncle.’

It is also a sharp stick in the eye to Quebec. There seems to be an even stronger attitude there that the royals are a load of do-do. One can hardly blame Quebecers. Who wants constant reminders of a bunch of British red coats climbing the cliffs at Quebec City some 150 years ago? Canada has become a very independent country made up of many cultures since then and while we will always have strong connections to our country’s European origins, the English monarchy should be the least of them.

There is no excuse for politicians to continue to hold Canada back from the advances it needs to make in the 21st Century. We need a Constitutional Conference of citizens and a referendum to set Canada on a new path. We need it sooner than later.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Welcome to Mr. Harper’s Canada.

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Did Prime Minister Stephen Harper fly to Vladivostock without his hairdresser? Is she sick? Has she left him? That woman has become more important to Harper than wife Laureen. A wife is just to show the voters he is not gay. His hairdresser keeps him young.

Did you see in the news clips from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit? Poor Stephen was having a bad hair day. His toupee was out of kilter. It looked like it was glued in place about 2.5 centimetres to the left of its normal position. It was not the effect Stephen likes. He could never accept his recent award as statesman of the year with hair like that.

Did you hear about Stephen Harper being named Statesman of the Year? The award is from a Jewish organization in New York City. They want to remind President Obama that he will not even get their votes unless he gets in line with Mr. Harper’s denunciation of the regime in Iran. It does seem a bit perverse though to be named Statesman of the Year for cutting off relations with a country on the other side of the world.

Closer to home, there is a meeting in Montreal this week where people can vent about the growing control of television programming by the largest telecommunications company in Canada. Stephen’s friends at Bell Canada already own CTV, its sports channels and radio stations and are currently in the process of taking over Astral Media for a bit more than $3 billion. This is all in aid of Bell being able to screw a much broader range of consumers. Did we mention that Bell Canada is a major contributor to anything Stephen wants? Did we also mention that complaining to Stephen’s appointees at the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is a terrible waste of effort?

It is a good thing that Stephen got back in time to help destroy the lists of people in Canada who have registered their long guns. The Quebec Supreme Court has decided that the federal government had gone beyond its mandate to destroy the records in Quebec. That decision will now be fought out at the Supreme Court of Canada. Stephen needs to realize that there is something profoundly pathetic about watching someone like Public Safety (sic) Minister Vic Toews railing against what he calls the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry. His problem is that by far the majority of police chiefs in Canada disagree with that view.

Oh, and did we mention that Stephen has appointed more Conservatives to the Senate that is already dominated by Conservatives. Stephen sure knows how to convince us that the Senate is useless.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Hudak, McGuinty, what a team!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Tiny Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario Conservatives and his new best friend Premier Dalton McGuinty passed their Putting Students First Act today in the Ontario Legislature. This legislation denies teachers their rights to collective bargaining and arbitrarily changes their terms of employment. Whether the legislation is even legal under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms will have to be determined by the courts.

But no matter what the courts decide, the act might be the final hurrah for both leaders. Timmy Hudak is the most vulnerable. His party is already fed up with him. He took a strong lead in the polls going into the 2011 election and turned the lead into a miserable loss. The loss of Kitchener-Waterloo (a formerly Conservative seat) the other day was his death knell. He has failed as party leader. He has upset both the rabid right wing and the softer old style Ontario Tories.

The rabid right of Ontario’s Conservatives is dominated by a mix of the religious right and the Ontario Landowners Association. The Landowner members are actually Libertarians and are kissing kin to the American Tea Party fringe of the Republicans and Alberta’s Wildrose Alliance.

Tiny Tim should have realized that when he and his wife set out to make him leader of this pack, the dangers he was facing. Like a scavenging wolf pack, the leader leads only until he falters. Then a new leader emerges, kills and eats the old leader and the pack carries on.

McGuinty, on the other hand, runs with a completely different pack. Liberals tend to be more like lemmings. He was originally chosen as a compromise candidate for party leader in 1996. He is the only person to ever win the party’s leadership after coming fourth on the first convention ballot. He was the choice of the party’s right wing.

Dalton McGuinty answers to his party on the weekend of September 29. So far the Liberal Party web site has made no mention of the mandatory leadership review required by the party’s constitution. There are certainly enough Liberal Party members in Ontario who are aghast at how McGuinty has treated Liberal friends such as the teachers. Let us hope those Liberals do not show their displeasure by boycotting the convention.

The only problem that we see in voting out McGuinty as leader is the need to find an alpha member of the pack to challenge him. Where can you find an alpha lemming except at the bottom of a cliff?

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Harper failing at foreign affairs.

Monday, September 10th, 2012

What can you say about Canada’s relations with the rest of the world? Will we ever be able to dig our reputation out of the dumper where Prime Minister Harper and the Bobbsey twins have taken us?

It was bad enough when Stephen Harper let Flossie Bobbsey (a.k.a. Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird) lose us a seat on the Security Council. It was bad enough when Stephen Harper allowed Freddie Bobbsey (a.k.a. Jason Kenny, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) to put the screws to refugee claimants. The one-two punch of  Harper’s Bobbsey twins is enough to destroy any country’s reputation.

And the Iran affair is beyond belief. Can you imagine a foreign affairs minister of any country to be so rude as to announce the breaking of relations with an unrelated country at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit? Why on earth would Canada’s foreign affairs guy do the deed when in Vladivostock, Russia? This is a gathering of some of the most powerful leaders in the world and if he had just farted, it would be glossed over.

But you cannot gloss over an announcement that had obviously been in the works for a while. This had been decided while Prime Minister Harper and Baird were in Ottawa. It had its roots in the recent visit to Ottawa of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This was the favour Netanyahu had come to Ottawa to ask.

It is hardly a gesture that does any good for Canada. It harms our reputation as peacekeeper. It smears our reputation for fairness. If  it were necessary, it would only follow a long series of speeches and negotiations at the United Nations. For this act to be carried out, there had to be far more grievous concerns than are already evidenced. Is Harper copying George W. Bush with his fictitious ‘weapons of mass destruction’?

If Canada had the money and organization and the smarts to field its own Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), it still would not have enough eyes and ears in Iran to replace our diplomats. Our embassy in Tehran might have seemed useless but it was a gesture that we were willing to listen. Only idiots stop listening.

Prime Minister Harper is micro-managing the Canadian government into foreign affairs positions where we should not go. Is he so keen to destroy the reputation we once had?

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Is equal representation a lost cause?

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Heard from someone the other day with who we shared e-mails strategizing on ways to block the foolishness of the proportional voting proposal in the Ontario referendum held during the 2007 provincial election. That must have been the first time we really wondered what planet Premier Dalton McGuinty was from. Our correspondent was curious as to what we thought should be done about federal electoral district redistribution in Ontario.

The honest answer was that we had put redistribution on the back burner to think about in October, before the hearings come to Babel. The problem you always face with redistribution is that the outcome is will always be unfair until there is an opportunity to change the Canadian constitution. And this is not the issue that will justify that event.

Canada has had many changes in its representation over the years that try to hone to the concept of representation by population. We fail every time because of the minimum seats required by Prince Edward Island, the sensitivities of Quebec, the continued growth of Ontario and the increasing weight of population in the west. As each commission realigns seats, we challenge the elasticity of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. That old building cannot have its walls pushed out further.

And what is the purpose of adding more members to the House of Commons when so many are there doing next to nothing now. As long as Canadians are willing to send people to Ottawa for no other reason than to support this or that political demagoguery, why bother? Why are we spending money on nebbishes?

Face it. It costs a lot of money to send someone to Ottawa. And it is far more than just the salary. It would be a delight to have someone from your district you can respect.

Here in Babel, the redistribution commissioners want to split the electoral district in two. What it would mean, in effect, is that old city would be linked to some of the townships to the north to create a district with a population of 102,361. The west and south parts of the city would then be combined with some of the rural area to the south and that would create a new district with a population of 104,730.

And anyone who lives in Babel will immediately understand the problem we always have with these commissions. They do not know Babel. The smaller northern electoral district will grow some over the next ten years but the bulk of the growth in Babel will be to the south. In the next ten years the district to the south could have a population more than 25,000 larger than the north district.

Yes, we do need to talk to the commissioners.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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