Archive for October, 2012

Babel’s schism of liberalism.

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

It could only have happened in Babel. It was at last year’s federal Liberal association annual meeting that the putsch was attempted. It was an effort by the provincial association to take over the federal association. It was not about to happen. The feds fought back.

And you would have thought that the severe political drubbing of the former MPP and her small coterie of supporters would have seen the end of it. They left the meeting beaten and disavowed. They left behind a stronger and united federal association.

But last week, when Ontario’s federal commission for the redistribution of electoral districts hearings came to Babel, the provincial’s came back, seemingly representing all Liberals in Babel. Somebody had apparently told the federal riding president that the Conservatives had the commission in hand and nothing that was said would change anything. This seemed the case when well-known Conservatives stood and said that they liked the commission’s approach to Babel. What the commission had done was split Babel roughly in half into north and south segments and then added large rural areas to each half of the city to complete the two new electoral districts. It seemed like an undisguised way to use rural voters to keep both districts Conservative.

But here were the provincial Liberals to set the commission on the road to fairness. These people proposed that there be a city district that encompassed most of the old Babel and that some of the outlying, newer parts of the city could be part of a rural district. That way the city could, hopefully, be represented by a Member of Parliament who could speak for the city voters.

As the province uses the same boundaries for provincial electoral districts as federal districts, this was not an altruistic plea the provincial people were making. The proposed two districts with their dominant rural base would not have been good hunting ground for provincial Liberals either.

But why the two groups of Liberals cannot learn to work together is a question for a modern Solomon. It is not as though the provincials are a particularly strong, democratic or creative group. Their antics are what lead us to think of Ontario Liberals as ancient political Whigs from the 19th Century.

The federal Liberals in Babel are democratic, hard-working and inclusive, with a vibrant youth wing. They are active in the community and are due for a real shot in the arm with the upcoming federal leadership contest. This is the organization to watch. They, in turn, need to watch out for those provincials.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Leadership strategy: part 2 – finances.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

This applies both federally and provincially. Before you decide to make an all-or-nothing grab for the leadership reins of your political party, you have to make sure of the money. As crass and pedestrian as the subject might be, we have seen too many good people hamstring themselves politically over the fairy tales they told themselves about money.

Sure, you know that your old friend Sam is good for a fulsome donation and you know Sam is an honourable person. The problem is that unless you have the cheque from Sam and the bank has cleared it, you really do not know about that money. Things happen. People do funny things. Always get the money up front.

And you cannot go cheap. You are going to spend every penny allowed and some pennies in addition that might be questionable. Let your financial person control it and you maintain deniability. The best financial people are the ones who will go to jail for you.

You should definitely try not to get involved with one of these ‘big spender’ campaign managers. A campaign must have a strict budget and a campaign manager who can work within it. No candidate for office should have to dig into their own pockets at the end of a campaign to cover for the campaign manager’s bright ideas.

Leadership campaigns are particularly tough to budget because of the two phase costing involved. The division is between meeting and communicating with party voters in their electoral districts and the television hoopla at the end of the campaign. They are distinctly different activities and both hard to control from the financial standpoint. In both cases, you have to concentrate on your voting lists. If it is a delegated convention such as the Ontario Liberal one coming in January, you have a better chance for control. An open convention such as the federal Liberal leadership in April next year is more like a war where you are never sure where to point your cannon.

In the federal leadership, you need three deputy campaign managers. They are the social media manager, the news media manager and the computer lists manager. The better and the more cohesive the brain trust that supports your four managers, the more effective will be your campaign.

In the simpler delegated convention as in Ontario, the key manager under the campaign manager is the communications person. This requires level-headed texting of hundreds of people in an instant to take full advantage of events as they happen on the convention floor. In all cases it is your managers’ knowledge of who are the delegate’s second and third choices that can make the difference.

And always save a few loonies at the end for the beer and/or the crying towels.

This discussion will continue.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario’s prudent provincial premier?

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

We have not seen the last of Premier Dalton McGuinty yet. His stigma stays with us like a bad smell. The supercilious Toronto Star made it worse today with a laudatory editorial about the coming provincial leadership race. It called the race “well-timed.” It even referred to McGuinty’s edict about cabinet members resigning, if they wish to run, as “prudent.” That is the last adjective we would use for McGuinty after the way he has botched things for Ontario’s Liberals.

And what makes the Toronto Star think that a provincial leadership campaign can be run effectively over the holiday season? They have obviously never experienced what can happen in winter when you are trying to get a candidate the most exposure to the possible convention delegates. It tends to confirm the impression that the Toronto Star’s world ends at Highway 7.

And where does the editorial writer get off saying the fee for entering the race is just $50,000? That is just the registration. What does the writer think of the 25 per cent toll charge on fund raising? That can add another $125,000 to the fees. That is onerous, unfair, undemocratic and greedy.

What this Ontario Liberal leadership race is designed to do is give us another Dalton McGuinty. It is someone who can quickly and easily ask friends to pony up as much as $675,000 while resigning his or her cabinet post. Outsiders are not welcome.

Any of the cabinet hopefuls who cannot forego a third of their income for three months during the contest should not be in it.

The editorial writer thinks the stakes are high because some of the key cabinet members will be away from their jobs while running for the leadership. Actually, the reverse might be true. We have always thought of Treasurer Dwight Duncan as the cork in the bottle of Ontario’s finances. And whatever Deb Mathews has been doing wrong with the doctors might have a chance to be corrected while she runs for the premier’s job. The truth of the matter is that being in Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet is enough to turn Ontario voters against any new premier.

We do agree with the editorial writer when making the statement at the end of an overly long and boring piece that “it’s important that the best possible person be chosen.” Yes it is. It is just too bad that nobody seems to know how to do that!

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario Liberals deny democracy.

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

In a world where there are those who want to build for the future and those who want to control the future, the Ontario Liberal Party managers must be control freaks. They are making the rules to pick a successor to Premier Dalton McGuinty. There will be no dilettantes, crazies, left-wingers, policy mavens or other trouble makers allowed. In seeking to replace Dalton McGuinty, the party seems to want someone just like him.

In making the announcement, Ottawa MPP and Party President Yasir Naqvi was the perfect foil. A proud first-generation Canadian, Naqvi would not necessarily recognize that what was being promulgated was wrong. What he needed to do before announcing his executive’s decisions about the leadership of the Ontario party was ask why the federal rules for its leadership contest are so different.

In a political environment that seeks inclusion, the Ontario party executive chose a closed, delegated convention. In a political environment that seeks broad options, the party executive chose to discriminate. These people have the temerity to put a toll gate outside the leader’s office to keep the riff-raff in their place. The price tag for entry is an initial fee of $50,000 and then another $125,000 must be given to the party if you want to raise and spend the $500,000 limit.

At a time when Ontario is desperate for new thinking and new leadership, the Ontario executive has locked the door to almost all but people tarred with being McGuinty’s fellow travellers. If you were not in a McGuinty cabinet, your chances are slim. The only person willingly admitting that he might go for the brass ring today is Finance Minister Dwight Duncan. The selection of Duncan would pretty well guarantee that the Liberals would be trashed in the election everyone at Queen’s Park expects early in the spring.

This self destructive bent of Liberal party organizations is a tradition that we have lived with for many years. It is as though Liberals cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. If we want to win in Ottawa, we forget about Queen’s Park. If Ottawa is hopeless, we invade the Ontario Legislature.

Liberals need to look ahead.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Dalton McGuinty’s Whig legacy.

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Having listened to far too many tributes to the Premiership of Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty for the past week, we hasten to remind these fulsome polemists that the man is not even dead yet. All he has done has been listen to advice that it is time to quit. And he has.

But if you think Dalton’s legacy to Ontario is in the field of education, you have never heard of Egerton Ryerson. From the same time period as the political Whigs, Egerton Ryerson built one of the finest education systems in the world for Ontario. Full day kindergarten is also a good idea if we had only brought it into being when the province was a little more flush with the wherewithal. It seems it is Dalton’s timing that is lousy.

As a Liberal, we would be happy to write Dalton a letter of recommendation. It would be something like the classic that says: Dalton was leader of the Ontario Whigs for a long time. And when he left, we were pleased.

But let us not get hung up with the donut hole instead of the donut. Dalton McGuinty has left the Ontario Liberals at a time when there is a serious need for new leadership, new directions and new thinking. The days of McGuinty’s Whigs are long past. A new approach to Liberalism is needed.

We need to face the fact that Dalton McGuinty was keeping the Ontario Liberal Party in the same political track as Bill Davis—the last decent Progressive Conservative Premier of Ontario. The difference is there was little progressive about Dalton McGuinty.

Liberals need to take a long hard look around this province. We need a new leader who will not be tarred with Dalton’s Whig approach. We need a leader who is comfortable on the left of the political centre. We need a leader with ideas. We need a leader who understands that the job is to serve the people of Ontario.

That new leader is probably not at Queen’s Park today. He or she is probably on a city or regional council somewhere in Ontario. This person is bilingual and has been able to prove that they can bring new ideas and leadership to a council, work well with the public servants in the community and understand that leadership is not where you are going but where your followers need to go.

That person is out there. We need to find him or her.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Two weeks to save America.

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

The doomsday clock is ticking. America stands ready to destroy itself from within. In a corrupted election, under laissez-faire rules, in a deeply divided country, chaos awaits. In obstinacy and in an overwhelming field of lies, few can discern the truth.

This must be Osama bin Laden’s revenge. He united America against him and, with his death, Americans are free to attack each other.

And they are. It is a political schism between the left and the right. And it is surprisingly equal. Polls show the presidential race is within four points for each of the two major contenders. And as the GOP opened up funding to one and all (mainly the rich), the advertising airwaves are loaded with slander and defamation in both directions. There is no shame. There is only scepticism and desperation.

If every vote counted, President Obama would feel more comfortable but the Electoral College that chooses the President is based on so many votes per state. The race is now being decided in five of the states that could go either way on election day. Whether Obama or Romney proved himself more capable in the presidential debates is really immaterial. People decide according to their church, synagogue, mosque or temple. They will listen to their own greed. They will listen to those who want more guns available. They will succumb to lies. They will believe what they want to believe. Some will recognize the truth. Most will ignore the truth as inconvenient to their bias.

More than ever before, more Americans will vote against their self interest in this election than ever have in the past. For most of them, the problem is they are single issue voters. Take the farmer who likes the idea of medicare but is a member of the National Rifle Association. This voter has a clear choice between issues. Which wins his vote? What about the immigrant who likes Obama’s approach to foreign affairs and knows Romney is lost on this subject? If all his friends in America are urging him to vote for Romney, what does he do? Or what are the choices for the Catholic listening to a priest rant against abortion and the Democrats.

What American needs politically—besides decency and spending controls—are some legitimate third parties to give the voters alternatives and other options. The dominant two party system in America is thwarting democracy.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

CRTC puppy bites Bell master.

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Wow. You have to really wonder at this one. Many of us had taken a pass on going to plead with the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) not to allow Bell to buy Astral Media. We figured that this new chairman, chosen by Prime Minister Harper, was just a new lap dog for Bell Canada.

Boy, were we wrong. This ruling almost made up for the time Bell laughed at us for opposing the takeover of CTV. It helped soothe the bruises we still carried from opposing local television channels charging cable and satellite companies for their signals. While we were always treated well by former chair Konrad von Finkenestein, we had no hope at all for this new guy.

Jean-Pierre Blais, the CRTC’s chair for the coming five years (maybe) was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in June of this year. As an Ottawa insider and a former official of the CRTC, Blais seemed to be the ideal guy to cater to whatever Ma Bell wanted. He is considered knowledgeable in both telecommunications and television which is essential to understanding where these converging industries are heading.

But anyone who has been involved in both industries knows, it takes a very level headed person to understand both and to handle the people involved on both sides of the issues. And that describes Blais.

As The Globe and Mail wrote about Blais at the time of his appointment “Those who know Mr. Blais say he is more of a conciliation-minded type who would seek compromise rather that strike out independently with bold initiatives.”

This seems to tell us that even insiders, who say they know Blais, have been caught off guard by this ruling.

All the rest of us can say is that it is a breath of fresh air in the arid climate of Harper’s Ottawa. While it is considered unlikely that cabinet will overturn the decision, you can be sure that the sore losers at Bell will leave no rock unturned in searching out a legal reason for the cabinet to restore Bell’s wounded pride.

It is good to see Astral’s stock falling to more realistic levels after the ruling. It might be asking too much though for Bell’s people to realize where they have gone wrong.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Leadership strategy: part 1 – timing.

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Having always been a student of political strategy, the strategy used in leadership campaigns for political parties is particularly intriguing. It is entirely different from the challenge of a general election or even of a by-election. With the two largest provincial Liberal Party organizations and the federal Liberals currently mounting leadership contests, now is a good time to start to offer some tips to the contestants.

Let’s start with timing of the announcement for federal candidates and communications with the key audiences for that race.

There are two possible answers to timing. If you are well known and have been assured funding for the run, your only reason to announce early is to pre-empt some possible opponents. For example, Justin Trudeau has announced early and his friend MP Dominic LeBlanc has announced his support instead of that he is running.

If you are not as well known as, for example, Justin Trudeau, you might announce early to optimize the time you have to reach voters. Bear in mind, in the federal race, there are three categories of voters. The first category includes the party’s MPs, Senators, Liberal Privy Council members, national and regional party organization officials, electoral district party presidents and previous candidates. We already know about these people. You can expect around 80 per cent of them to vote. The best way for the candidate to communicate with these people is by personal telephone calls.

The second group are party members. They used to have to be elected as delegates to federal conventions but now all party members have a vote whether they are at the convention or not. They are people who are involved. At least 50 per cent of these people will be expected to vote. These are the people who have to be wowed as the candidate tours the country.

The third group will be the friends of the Liberal Party of Canada who have been signed up to participate in the leadership voting. More than 20,000 have already been signed up not even knowing who will be running. Candidates are sure to encourage more of these sign-ups by people supporting them. Judging by the NDP experience with this category of leadership voter, we can expect 20 per cent or more of them to hang in for the vote. These people have to be left to your Facebook and Twitter experts as well as your provincial organizations.

A best guess at this time is that there could be as many as 200,000 people eligible to vote in this federal Liberal leadership contest. If a candidate spends just $5 per voter, there goes another million loonies.

This discussion will continue.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Liar, liar, pants on fire! The American election.

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

The quality of American election debates for the presidency has deteriorated. Watching the first hour of the Obama versus Romney debate last night was like watching kids in the school yard argue with each other. Whoever helped prepare these two men should be ashamed. The candidates argued, smirked, ranted and, much of the time, were incomprehensible to the audience.

The only time that anyone made any sense was when Romney complained that a gallon of gas that cost $1.86 just over four years ago, now cost over $4. The comment was gold. All Obama needed to do was to handle it properly. Mitt Romney, true to form, blamed it all on Barrack Obama. And then Obama bumbled it. He had the perfect opportunity to build a scenario starting with Hurricane Katrina (on George W. Bush’s watch) disabling much of America’s refining capacity and how the oil companies have taken advantage of the situation every since.

As in most of their childish arguing, you realized that they were arguing from different sets of facts. Romney, for example, always included Canadian tar sands oil in his U.S. energy efficiency statistics. This must be because he wants to make sure that the Trans-Canada Keystone XL Pipeline will be built. Obama never includes this bitumen crude in his figures because whomever gave him his statistics knows that the Alberta oil people want to use the East Texas oil ports to ship that crude around the world.

We hear that the second half of the show was no better than the first. And wherever they got that moderator from, they should return her for a refund. She crapped all over the candidates as though she had never seen a Yankee town hall meeting. Any resemblance to a properly run meeting by a neutral chairperson was purely coincidental.

At least Obama did not laugh and mug for the cameras like his running mate. Yet despite how poorly he performed, Romney must have been worse. We hear that Obama won the debate. Why is that do you think? Was it his turn?

Maybe Obama was not as reticent to mix it up with Romney this time.

But, good grief, somebody has to tell him not to try to explain costs in trillions of dollars. He has enough trouble explaining the inflationary impact on the cost of a gallon of gas caused by the world economic crisis. Even when you consider that an American trillion is only a thousand billion, it is no help whatsoever in trying to understand today’s price of a loaf of bread.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Dalton does the right thing.

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

If someone had told us what was to happen on the six pm news last night, we would have arranged for the brass band. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s speech was a bit of a tease. At one point it sounded as though he was about to call an election but that made no sense as he would not have needed to prorogue the legislature earlier in the day. An election does that automatically.

Dalton ended his leadership of the Ontario Liberals as far to the right of the political spectrum as when he first appeared 22 years ago. While he seemed more comfortable in his role, so does everyone when they have decided to move on. Dalton obviously got some very good advice on how to end the debilitating impasse at Queen’s Park. And he took it.

McGuinty got most of his ideas from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This includes his labelling bills with positive names that bear no relationship to what they are designed to do. A recent example was the Youth Action Plan that included 32 crime prevention initiatives, many of which had little to do with youth.

But Stephen Harper is still the king of parliamentary proroguers! This was the first time, McGuinty had used that devise to save the hides of some of his cabinet colleagues.

Reflecting on the resignation today, there is no question that there is a big sigh of relief. Dalton’s plaint about Ontario’s deficit is now history. The next leader is unlikely to want to bite that bullet too soon. Even Treasurer Dwight Duncan as leader (God forbid) would not be so foolish as to risk everything on the issue.

Looking at the Liberal leadership prospects at Queen’s Park is a sad exercise. If the strongest contenders are cabinet colleagues Health Minister Deb Mathews and Treasurer Dwight Duncan, we are going to have to search outside the provincial caucus. Having the race concurrent with the federal leadership is actually a unique opportunity. And we should not forget that the Quebec Liberals are also in need of leader who is not as far to the right as the last one.

The one thing that we can count on for the next year is that we are going to have lots of Liberal activities to comment on.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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