Archive for October, 2012

“No facts, please. I’ve made up my mind.”

Monday, October 15th, 2012

People must be bewildered by the ongoing arguments in Toronto about casinos. Between the news media, the local politicians and various citizens groups that are cropping up, less and less light is being shed on the issue. Having studied and written on the gambling scene for many years, we will also have to add our few cents.

First of all, there is a misconception that people in Toronto get a vote on this. Is there any reason why they should? The province has said that communities will not get a casino if they do not want one. That leaves the decision to city council. Do you think that a casino on the north side of Steeles Avenue, and therefore in Markham or Vaughn, will not allow Toronto residents to enter their premises? A vote on where a casino can locate in Toronto would be a waste of time and money.

And what right does anybody have to say whether there can or cannot be casinos. Do the bluestockings of Toronto run the city? For your information, casinos are legal in Ontario. That issue was settled years ago when politicians found out about the profits to be made on legalized gambling.

One indication that a person has no idea what they are talking about on this issue is when they tell you that casinos attract crime. That is a ridiculous statement. Some of the most dangerous places around Toronto today are the industrial malls and banquet halls where people are running illegal casino type games. These are magnets for card sharks, thieves and other criminals. If the police do not know where they are located, how can they protect the players from the criminals?

There is also the claim that casinos destroy the neighbouring area. This seems to be based on conditions in Atlantic City when it became a gambling centre. The casinos in that city were dropped into the midst of one of the most tawdry towns in North America. If anything, the casinos have returned some self respect to Atlantic City.

The last resort of the meddler in this question is to claim that casinos create problem gamblers. Well, they do, in a way. They create problem gamblers in the same way bars create drunks. There are millions of people in the Greater Toronto Area. There are some that should not drink and some that should not gamble. What has to be realized is that bars do not want to serve drunks and casinos do not want to cater to problem gamblers. Problem gamblers are bad for casino business. Casinos thrive on repeat business by people who gamble sensibly and have fun in their establishment.

Gamblers just need to realize that it is a mathematical certainty that two out of every three times they go to a casino, they will lose money. If this were not the case, the casinos would not be in business.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

 

Justin Trudeau and the Facebook follies.

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

With more than 50,000 ‘friended’ readers on Facebook and more than 150,000 followers on Twitter, MP Justin Trudeau will be counting heavily on this group of Canadians in his upcoming run for the leadership of the Liberal Party. The best advice we can give him on this is to count on one in ten or less to come through in the party vote and to turn his twits and Facebook entries over to a professional. This is not where he has to concentrate his efforts for the next seven months.

So far, Trudeau has been able to keep one foot in the social media world but his efforts in Facebook are banal at best and he really does not understand the strengths of Twitter. The only thing you can say for now is that he is better then most.

But the strength of the Trudeau name and his novelty as a candidate are in danger of wearing thin before this campaign has celebrated the New Year. Most of his opponents can also hire experts in the use of social media and Justin has to realize that his readers want to hear more from him than generalities. If you are going to communicate with the computer savvy of this country, you had better realize that they are ahead of you in some of the concerns that had not seen the light of day in Pierre Trudeau’s time.

Someone in Trudeau’s campaign group needs to be analyzing the feed they get from their followers on social media. They might not be as radical as the “take back our cities” demonstrators, but they are going to send in their wants and likes. The campaign has to encourage that feed. And it has to respond.

Start with Twitter. It has always been amusing to us that an old-fashioned newspaper headline writer can say a great deal in 140 characters. Twitter is not as limiting as some people think. It is an excellent way to put basic ideas in front of a target audience and to send them to further depth as needed.

Facebook, in turn enables a bit more depth and visuals to putting across ideas. Just remember here that the average attention span in this group is not long. Our advice to people preparing material for Facebook is to write tight!

This opportunity to layer material at different levels is ideally suited to political campaigns. Campaign web sites can have hundreds of thousands of words but the only people who might read it all are your competitors.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

The three act play at Queen’s Park.

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Someone noted that there has been little said lately about the dysfunctional antics at the Ontario Legislature. You should shed a tear for the news media people who have to be there. They have to cover Premier Dalton McGunity, Tiny Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath as though they were real people doing a vital job for Ontario. Even these stalwarts of news media pros have had enough and are talking about the coming election.

It could happen. It will probably be more by accident than design. Horwath and Hudak would never get together and plan anything.

But what an election would prove is very little. You still have the same three leaders and there is no spot on the ballot for the category called ‘None of the above.’

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives missed their chance to dump their leaders. The problem is that, without opposition readily apparent, parties do not fire their leaders. The leader of the party holds too much power over their members. The only independent MP or MLA in Canadian politics is one who has already decided to retire from politics.

But it was interesting the other day when some members of Tiny Tim’s Conservative caucus decided to boost their ‘Right to Life’ ideas against their leader’s explicit instructions. It indicates that some of his Ontario Landowners supporters are becoming tired of his lack of leadership.

It is not that Tiny Tim has not been trying to show some leadership. Why the other day he stabbed his good friend Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in the back and made it party policy to take major transit decisions away from the city. This is not going to win him many city votes. And probably not too many rural votes either.

Meanwhile, NDP leader Andrea Horwath is chortling over the teachers heading for the Supreme Court with Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals over their right to strike. She has to be very careful about what she wishes for. She hardly wants to polarize the voters.

If we citizens get lucky, someone will lock all the doors at Queen’s Park on the outside while all the MLA’s are inside. We could send in enough food to keep them going until they learn to play nice with each other. It’s a cheaper solution than an election.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Stephen and Hair do Africa.

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

The Hair and hairdresser arrived in Senegal yesterday. (Or maybe it was today. World travel is confusing as you cross time zones.) Never one to miss an opportunity for tourism, Stephen and his hair rushed out to do photo ops with local Dakar school children. The hair, of course, was perfect.

There was no report on there being anything wrong with the Canadian Forces’ Airbus A310 that it could not find Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That is where the Hair and hairdresser were reputedly headed. On the weekend in Kinshasa, there is to be a meeting of la Francophonie, a gathering of French speaking countries. This meeting is likely to explain the stop in Senegal. Harper is obviously bad at adjusting to cross time-zone travel. He and his Hair are picking a nearby tourist destination to enable him to acclimatize before the meetings. Why else would his first meeting in Kinshasa be with Quebec Premier Pauline Marois?

It seems appropriate that Marois would have her first meeting with Stephen Harper at this venue. It is the one place where she can act as a head of state. Harper and the Premier of New Brunswick David Alward are also members of  la Francophonie but they represent bilingual states. By attending, Harper is furthering Marois’ agenda.

The one thing Harper would not do is invite Marois and Alward to fly with him at the Canadian taxpayers’ expense in the VIP Airbus. They can fly at their provincial taxpayers’ expense. And besides, Harper needs room for his hairdresser.

What Harper is doing at la Francophonie remains to be seen. His voters in the west do not generally acknowledge that he speaks such practiced French. And he is hardly about to become too chummy with Pauline Marois.

Harper can save his world-statesman stance for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair when he deigns to return to the House of Commons. It would be good if Harper took more Prime Ministerial responsibility for bad meat. Between bad meat and highly polluting tar sands, Harper has lots to answer for here in Canada

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Building an audience on Harper’s hair.

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

This is embarrassing. For four years, Babel-on-the-Bay has been building an audience. It is not in the thousands yet but it has moved up in the respectable hundreds. The puzzle has been that despite the steadily increasing figures, it is a surprisingly consistent third of our readers who have been on the site before. That seems to mean that about half the people who check something on our site consider it worthy of a second visit in a month.

But Google Analytics tells you much more than that about your site. It tells you what people have asked a search engine that leads them to your site. It is this information that told us to stick to political subjects. You also note with chagrin that it is not the most serious political subjects that suddenly bring people in droves to your site. Three years ago we told some stories about our old friend Gene Whelan and his green Stetson. That story has drawn readers every month since.

What was originally written in 2007 as The Democracy Papers has a long-standing readership in Babel-on-the-Bay when people research alternative forms of electing governments. Researchers particularly like the paper that includes ten reasons for using first-past-the-post voting in single-member constituencies.

And now we have Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hairpiece. The spike in readership almost goes beyond the top of the computer screen since we first told that story. You will notice that the main stream media in Canada still refuse to touch a hair on Stephen’s head. Yet that is the type of story that attracts readers. We have the statistics to prove it.

But we also have other things in our life. Writing stories for Babel is a fun part of the day but there are also days when you really have nothing to write about. So you do not. It makes for a strange pattern. There are days when you have two or three ideas that could be used but you select one and save the other thoughts for another day. Occasionally we have written ahead when we are going to be out of town for a while but there are few stories that you trust to that approach. Politics is too volatile a subject.

Babel used to have more balance to the federal, foreign, provincial and municipal stories but the idea is to stick to stories where we can bring a fresh approach. If it is possible to add humour, political insight or political information to a story, that is the objective. At the same time, we spike some of our stories because we are not insensitive to the laws related to slander and defamation in this country. In Canadian politics there is an understanding of fair comment but it does not pay to push too hard on the boundaries of the concept.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Being thankful for democracy.

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Putting some things away today, we came across a scroll (suitable for framing) signed by Pierre Trudeau, 40 years ago. The scroll was in recognition of Canada’s democratic heritage. It extols the creativity, strength and vitality of our institutions because of our political parties. The political parties continue today and we can be thankful that we have institutionalized this aspect of our democracy.

The only people who seem to disagree with the strength and importance of our political parties are the news media. At various times, both print and broadcast media have written off all our major parties as the tissues of previous years. And yet the parties refresh, rebound and renew with amazing ease, despite these doomsayers.

The New Democrats have been written off so many times by the news media in Canada, the party has a permanent underdog attitude.

As recently as 1993, the Conservative Party was given last rites by a non-repentant media clique. Down to two members of parliament, the party came fifth after the dominant Liberals, the new Bloc Québécois, the Reform Party and the NDP. While many see the Conservative Party as absorbed by the Western based Reform Party, it was the much larger membership list of the former Progressive Conservative Party of Canada that brought the muscle to the endeavour. It was this much larger base from the East that finally enabled Stephen Harper to defeat Paul Martin’s right-of-centre Liberals.

It was these right-of centre party people who needed two leadership vacuums to finally install Michael Ignatieff as Liberal Party leader in 2008. It was the combination of a branding Ignatieff as right-of-centre, a poor Liberal campaign and the demise of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec that finally gave Stephen Harper a majority government in 2011.

With the Liberal Party of Canada electing only 34 members to the House of Commons, the media hounds were baying of the death of the Liberal Party. While this might seem a low ebb for Liberals, it is hardly a death knell.

It is a time of introspection for Liberal Party members. The leadership of the party will be determined in April of 2013. The direction of the party will be determined in the process of choosing a leader. The one thing that is clear is that the old directions failed us and failed Canadians. We are not here to mark time but to lead.

And to lead, you must accept challenges, have ideas and determination. That scroll we were talking about earlier talks about a greater number of citizens wanting to become involved in the political process of our country. They want to be part of the process that leads Canada into a new era of realisation and progress. That is what the Liberal Party of Canada can offer.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Obama’s stunning strategy.

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

It is brilliant. We have figured out President Barack Obama’s strategy for defeating challenger Mitt Romney. It is a classic. It will be talked about for many years. It is a strategy based on making Romney look good at this time.

And the strategy is succeeding. Since the first presidential debate, Romney has been on a roll. Republicans are revelling in the misconception that Romney seemed to have won the opening presidential debate. That sly coterie of apparatchiks running Obama must be chortling with glee.

But the key to a winning strategy is that the Obama team know that there are three debates. It was a very smart move to look like a bit of an underdog after that first debate. They know that this opera has three acts and the fat lady does not sing until the last act.

And do not forget there is a mini opera during one of the intermissions. That is when they let the Vice President candidates play as though they were big boys. Joe Biden will enjoy his time in the sun to rip apart Romney’s appalling running mate. That will be this coming Thursday that Paul Ryan will find that you need more than long pants to play with the big kids. That will be a feel-good session for Democrats.

But then we have the next two presidential debates. A more confident Romney will now face a different opponent from his last debate. Obama will be lying in wait for more confident Romney. He will be able to call him on some of the more outrageous lies Republicans are spreading. Romney will either have to refute the slander, for example, against the U.S. Department of Labor that says the department is being partisan or add the slander to his day of reckoning.

But the strategy is to even things out between the two candidates in this second debate. There is no sense in Obama going for the kill shot at this time. They still need a warm body available for the third and decisive debate. There has to be some anticipation and concerns about the third debate to bring an audience. And the third debate will give Obama a chance to shine in the area where Romney is weakest. When considering America’s world role, it will be Obama’s chance to show what a fool Romney could be in role of world statesman.

The only problem with that part of the strategy is that being a fool never seemed to hold back George W. Bush. And we should always remember that Emperor Nero ruled Rome at the time when Rome ruled the world.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

Trudeau and the Justin Society.

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

In the 1972 federal election, Pierre Trudeau told us he was going to have a ‘conversation with Canadians.’ He told Canadians about the ‘Just Society.’ If he had anyone other than the patrician Conservative leader Robert Stanfield as his main opponent, he would not have won the minority government that he did. After that Pierre paid attention to the party apparatchiks. So should Justin.

Justin Trudeau announced his candidacy to lead the Liberal Party of Canada, as expected, last week, and claimed he was going to have a conversation. He tells us he intends to listen. We sure hope so.

With few exceptions, most Canadians would agree that, if pressed, they think of themselves as middle class. And liberals, more than anyone else, identify as middle class.

But we have to get away from the clichés. Sure, giving voice to Canada’s middle class is of critical importance. Without substance behind that though, we are caught in the same trap as President Obama in his race for re-election in November. The promise in Canada has to be more than rhetorical.

In a country bleeding high-technology jobs in the east and gaining resource-based jobs in the west, someone has to start talking about the need for a government that can see a balance that can work for all Canadians.

And, in that regard, we need a government that does not pit region against region for its own electoral benefit.

And why continue the current government’s hypocrisy of restoring the snobbery of the word royal everywhere in a country that has moved so far beyond its colonial past?

This country needs a future far more than it needs its past. It is a country of people from many lands who see it as a land of promise and opportunity.

We have to work on the opportunities. We have to set targets. The goals must be worthy of challenge and the hard work of Canadians. And Canadians must all benefit from them. The challenges can be expanding Medicare to include drugs and dental care. It can be free education to all who can make the grades. It can be better retirement for all.

Justin Trudeau can formulate his own ‘Just(in) Society’ and really be the leader that Canada needs. As we all want to be more than a name.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

When is a ‘windfall’ a fool’s folly?

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said it was probably one of the largest windfalls the city has ever seen, or ever will. It might seem like a windfall to Ford but the reality is that he sold far more than he realized. He sold an important piece of Toronto’s heritage. In a move based on greed and misinformation, he convinced city council to sell its share of Enwave.

Envwave started up in 1964 as the Toronto Hydro district steam plant on Pearl Street. The mandate for the steam plant was to provide heat to municipal properties and institutions in downtown Toronto. Toronto citizens grumbled as the street or just traffic lane closures occurred as piping started to be run throughout the downtown area to carry steam to the district plant’s customers.

Flash forward to 2012, almost 50 years later, and Enwave Corporation is providing heating and cooling to more than 50 per cent of the potential market in downtown Toronto. Because of the capital costs required to built the Deep Lake Water Cooling capability, Enwave has become a corporation under the Ontario Corporations Act owned 50 per cent by the City of Toronto and the other by a branch of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement Savings System (OMERS). This new corporation had the expertise to also take over and run another district heat and power system in Windsor.

Enwave has deserved the awards and praise it has gained over the years. It is successful because it has grown by innovation. It has installed more than 40 kilometres of piping under the streets of Toronto to carry both cold water and steam to cool and heat Toronto’s downtown towers and other facilities.

And now, city council has sold its citizens’ share of this priceless part of Toronto’s downtown infrastructure for just $168 million. With little thought for the future, council has opted for today’s financial gratification and are letting tomorrow look after itself. Those in favour of this fiasco are saying that the city gained a profit of $100 million from the sale as Toronto’s total contribution over the years was supposed to be just $68 million.

But Toronto’s contribution was far more. There are pipes under the downtown roads that were allowed to be placed there by Toronto pedestrians and drivers who endured the disruption to their city. It is money that the citizen’s invested over the years through their taxes and fees. Enwave belonged to them.

And yet Toronto councillors are now squabbling over the proceeds. When you kill the golden goose people, you end up with nothing. You are bad managers of the public trust.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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

More tasking of Babel’s tyros.

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Babel’s tyros (beginners or novices) who run this city continue to be a trial. Frustration with them rose when talking to the city council earlier this week. The problem was part of a presentation about the missed opportunity to make the already operating heat and power facility at the sewage works into Babel’s first district energy operation.

A large part of the problem with the presentation was the blank looks on the councillors—we were not making it clear enough to them. We had also forgotten to bring water to the podium and you know what it is like when your mouth is dry and you cannot clear your throat. The pitch was something of a disaster.

It really fell apart when in the conclusion, the suggestion was made to subsidize garburators for condominium owners to increase solids to the sewage works and improve production of methane gas. It seemed like a good idea to us because condo owners have been paying excessive municipal taxes. These taxes pay for garbage, recycling and green bin pick up from homes but not from condominiums. The condominiums have been lobbying for years for some level of compensation. And since there is no current solution for a way green bin (compostable material) can be stored for pick up at condominiums, garburators are an ideal solution.

One of the councillors innocently asked the general manager of infrastructure and development if garburators were even legal in Babel. We had trouble hearing the mumbled answer but it sounded like they have been discouraged because they would overtax the sewage system. This seems patently untrue as the recent upgrade of the sewage system is designed to handle a much greater inflow than currently handled.

Our expert pointed out that in a study in New York City, two similar districts were tested, one with garburators and the other without. The small percentage increase in the garburator-using district had no impact on the sewage system. The only difference is that for every one per cent of solids from the garburators increased the available methane gas by an average of four per cent. The reason is that garburator materials such as vegetable peels, table scraps, et cetera produce a much higher volume of methane than fecal matter.

But you should not bother the tyros who run Babel City with the facts. They will create their own facts to suit their opinions.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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