Archive for November, 2012

What surprises Stephen Harper?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported the other day that Prime Minister Harper was surprised by the strong “protectionist discourse” coming from the United States. This was probably not as surprising to his business audience who had gathered to listen to him at a meeting of the Canadian American Business Council in Ottawa. Mr. Harper told his audience that he and other right-wing Canadians consider protectionist feelings in Canada to be “virtually non-existent.”

While he considers those who opposed the free trade arrangement of the Mulroney government in 1987 to be proved wrong, there are still many who would disagree with that assessment. What we argued for at the time was for “fair trade” and we have lived with less than that for a quarter century.

There is a virtual wall of Buy America policies at the state and municipal level in the United States that precludes Canadian products or services from being allowed to compete and no federal laws seem to matter. And then when you can export to south of the border, the American border crossing will tie you up for days to try to prevent your successful completion of contracts.

And yet, Stephen Harper is surprised at American protectionism! He does not appear aware that Americans were never really interested in free trade. They were interested in Canadian oil and other resources. They were mildly interested in the Canadian market—because it was handy and seemed much like their own.

But if the Americans gave a damn about free trade, they would have done a lot of things very different. For example, they would have resolved the soft-wood lumber business in a few weeks instead of being dragged into litigation to put an end to the problem after years of wrangling. The State of Michigan would have put an end to the foot-dragging about a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. This is the major artery for trade between the two countries and the Americans treated the obstinacy of the bridge owner as a joke.  As it is, Canada will pay for the new bridge itself—until the Americans figure out what Canada will make in tolls, and demand a share.

The Prime Minister reiterated his claim that “Canada’s most important relationship remained the one with the United States.” The only problem is it makes Canadians feel like the least attractive of the many relationships in the world leader’s harem.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Parsing the provincial potentials.

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Global Television’s Focus Ontario program featured two of the major candidates for the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party this week. It was our first good look at Windsor’s Sandra Pupatello since she left provincial politics in 2011. It also served as a fresh look at Eric Hoskins from Toronto St. Paul’s. Both are considered strong candidates.

Sandra Pupatello has not changed. The woman is still a stentorian speaker and her manner brooks no argument. And if she could just get away from the commercial message for a bit, you might get to like her. Her message was on job creation and was based on some success she felt she had while serving 16 years in the Ontario Legislature.

Pupatello’s message was not interrupted by any discussion of where she might try to take the Ontario Liberal Party. Her message today was only to the voters. It was a “jobs, jobs, jobs” pitch and she belted out every word as though it was a series of sound bites. Reading between the lines of what she was saying, she was just as right wing as Dalton McGuinty. With Ontario Treasurer Dwight Duncan as her principle backer, she was unlikely to ever say anything different.

Having Eric Hoskins on the same show was an interesting contrast. With his boyish good looks and artfully styled hair, Hoskins had the softer, friendlier stance of the two. The surprise though was that he was also talking in rapid sound bites. When Pupatello left McGuinty’s cabinet, Hoskins—the newby—must have got her speaking coach. He was better in his announcement for the news media earlier this week when he was more obviously reading what he was supposed to say.

Both candidates were guilty of the rookie mistake of overdoing the “I” in their remarks. In an interview show such as this, if you do not have an idea of the audience, you should talk to the interviewers. It gives you focus for your statements rather than a scatter-gun commercial for yourself.

Both candidates need to understand that the only audience they want right now is Liberals who are likely to have a vote at the January convention. Focus Ontario can help reach that audience but they have to make it clear where they intend to lead the Ontario Liberal Party. Hoskins did not even come close to making that clear. And Pupatello should reassess the tough-guy message she appears to be trying to communicate.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Provincial Liberals: It’s all about control.

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

The upcoming provincial leadership convention in Ontario stands in stark contrast to the federal leadership convention just a few months later. The provincial convention in January is a highly controlled event designed to stifle dissent, marginalize critics and to maintain the status quo. In comparison, the federal convention in April will be a wide open, democratic exercise producing a foregone conclusion. Neither approach is satisfactory.

The delegated provincial convention at Toronto’s legendary Maple Leaf Gardens will probably be the last of the controlled party conventions. Liberals will no longer allow such a degree of manipulation once they see how little it gains them. The control starts with the delegate elections just two weeks before the event in Toronto. That means nearby preferred accommodation will be completely controlled by the ex officio delegates who decide this type of convention anyway.

From what has leaked out so far, we understand that some sort of a preferential ballot will be in use to choose delegates in each electoral district. It seems that the pre-determined candidates for delegate positions will be required to declare their preference for the leadership and are locked in to voting for that candidate or ‘none of the above’ on the first ballot. Through some method, not yet described, the delegate ballot will produce four men, four women, four youth and four others(?), apportioned according to who they prefer as leader and next Premier of Ontario.

That process alone could possibly elect the new leader on the first ballot. That would delight many delegates who would then not bother to mortgage their homes to pay for a weekend in Toronto’s fabled Maple Leaf Gardens. It is not just the prospect of paying  (an early bird) $299 admittance for seniors and youth or $499 for being middle-aged that will be the main concern. Have you priced food and lodgings in Toronto lately? Even on the cheap, an out of town Liberal is faced with being out of pocket at least $1,000.

And then you realize that the rules are there to ensure that the party’s managers under McGuinty remain in control of the party. They made sure that Dalton McGuinty won in 1996 and they have obviously not lost their touch—considering how they are manipulating this convention.

As we said earlier, the wide open federal leadership is another matter. Now if we could just get some more credible candidates, that one would be an interesting experiment in democracy for Canadians


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Are we talking affinity voting?

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Listening to various speakers to the Ontario Redistribution Commission, you find that people seem to want affinity voting without really saying what they want. It was becoming more obvious the other day when people were asking for an electoral district on the Toronto waterfront made up of just condominiums. They (incorrectly) see that as a natural affinity grouping.

We also heard the same idea in Babel when the local Liberals were trying to convince the commission that the city should remain a purely urban riding. It served the Conservative purpose to see the city split across two rural electoral districts but the Liberals were concerned that it would not leave enough urban base. Supposedly the current tendency of  Ontario farmers to vote Conservative had not occurred to the commissioners.

But maybe we need to take a hard look at affinity voting. This is an idea that comes up occasionally in science fiction and political science conferences. It is the idea of having like-minded people choose their elected representatives. For example all accountants can elect someone who understands accountants and can represent them. With today’s computer technologies, there would be no problem in arranging that kind of voting structure. All it would require would be enough people choosing a grouping to establish an affinity group.

It is simple. Say, for example, the average number of voters required for each Member of Parliament is 150,000. The first 150,000 people able to claim to be a housewife would make up an affinity voting group of housewives. Another couple groups that would be easy to pull together are the auto workers. Teachers would have more than just a few affinity groups. The possibilities are almost endless. You could have a grouping of hookers, librarians and sex surrogates that would be great fun to represent in parliament.

Under this plan,Prince Edward Island could keep its four Members of Parliament by signing up Anne of Green Gables fans across Canada to be part of their four affinity groups. In the same way, francophones across Canada could help keep their language in play by joining Quebec affinity groups. The possibilities are fascinating.

The problem we would have is the stragglers, the lighthouse keepers and the person with a unique profession. There are also those who just do not want to fit in. There would have to be a deadline. Once the deadline has passed, an electoral commission would be required to put all the stragglers into groups that had not met the minimum to be an official affinity group. In the end, everyone would have a vote and if Eastern Orthodox Priests get lumped in with flop house managers, it is their own fault for not making their own deal on time. The electoral commission will ensure that we are all in an affinity group for election day with as close as possible to the average number of voters. It would be great fun.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Sex and General Petraeus.

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

With their damn holier than thou attitude about anyone getting any, it is a wonder that the United States manages the birth rate that it does. Are most pregnancies limited to adolescents in the back seat of their parents’ cars? Are you expected to do all your sexual experimentation before you are 16?

For your information President Obama, there are lots of women in America who want to get it on with an alpha male like General Petraeus. And the truth be known, Mr. President, there are lots of women who would like to polish your particulars if they could just figure their way around the Secret Service and your wife.

Do only the French understand this? Heck, even the Brits laugh off the hordes of women throwing their panties at Prince Harry. Was Jack Kennedy’s string of conquests supposed to be an aberration? Is Bill Clinton supposed to be the only President to get a blow job while in office?

And it is not just that these people are normal, with normal sexual interests. Power, in itself, secretes powerful sex pheromones that can get the ugliest guy laid. Face it guys, it is the football captain, the big man on campus, the fellow with the fanciest car, the richest guy in town who gets laid first and most often.

Now, why can the Federal Bureau of Investigation not recognize this and accept it? To worry about the guy’s vulnerability to blackmail is only of concern to his wife.  Back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover, that pervert kept records on all the politicians in office who got laid by their secretaries and in the long term, nobody cared. Back in those days, you wondered why if a senior person did not take advantage of the opportunity. It led you to question his masculinity.

Maybe we have made a mistake here. Should the President of the United States make it a rule that his senior advisors, cabinet ministers and direct appointees wear chastity belts? Would that satisfy the silly prudes among us? Look at the Roman Church. The clerics of that church are not allowed to marry, nor allowed to keep mistresses, nor to dally with the church organist. That seems to leave open buggering little boys and we find society is just as disgusted with that.

Well, you can try to deny the nature of men and women all you like, this guy, for one, is going to continue to enjoy it.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Say it isn’t so Martha.

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

You have to admit that Martha Hall Findlay can add a little something to the federal Liberal leadership contest. The former MP for Willowdale has been outed as a candidate by her purported campaign guru, Stephen Carter. He says that she will make it official today. Since prairie political strategist Carter is also believed to be working for Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford and British Columbia Premier Christie Clark, it is likely that he is only doing a part-time job for Martha.

While we have to admit that her intelligence and earthy sexuality make her an interesting participant in the leadership race, we are not about to bet heavily on her winning. She will probably prove herself too far to the right for Liberals east of Winnipeg and playing up to the Western vote, is slim pickings.

The paper she wrote a while ago dissing supply management might have pleased Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and the Fraser Institute but it went over like a lead balloon in Ontario and Quebec. While those who think about the issue see lots of room for improvement in how we manage farm commodities, the facts are that Canada has had an enviable stability of supply over the years. When Harper’s government set about dismissing the Wheat Board recently, they found that the farmers themselves were going to fight for it. In politics, being right, does not make things right!

In Martha’s manifesto for the leadership that she published in Options Politiques last March, she put her credo in the headline: Not left, not right, but forward. That is the standard formula for right wing Liberals who have lost sight of the reform nature of the Liberal Party. You can hardly claim to be middle of the road when you cannot even find the road.

Martha complains that less than 20 per cent of Canadian voters voted Liberal in the last federal election. She also complains that less than 0.2 per cent of Canadians are members of the Liberal Party. It makes you wonder what she has done to improve those figures. Having been handed the Willowdale riding in 2008 without having to bother with a nomination convention, she then lost it in 2011. It was one of the safest Liberal ridings in Canada and she blew it!

What people such as Martha do not understand about the Liberal Party is that it is not like an army of militia that goes away until you have a war to fight. It is an active force that needs to be involved in the process of policy development, the choosing of candidates and the ongoing communications of a vibrant and meaningful party. Leadership has to capture that.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The Liberal mystique of Windsor.

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Windsor, Ontario is something of a shrine to the Liberal Party both provincially and federally. The entire area of South Western Ontario is a cornucopia of Liberal Party icons, former cabinet ministers and party thinkers. It was the farmers of this part of Ontario, known as Clear Grits, who joined with George Brown’s Toronto Reformers and created the Liberal Party of Ontario and the Liberal Party of Canada in 1857.

Windsor itself was the chosen home of Paul Martin Senior (not to be confused with Junior) who made a name for himself as a left-wing Liberal when campaigning three times for the party leadership. After Mackenzie King stepped down in 1948, Martin lost to Louis St. Laurent and then to Lester B. Pearson, after St. Laurent stepped down in 1958, and then to Pierre Trudeau after Pearson stepped down in 1968. He served in all their cabinets and, for the times, was very much the conscience of the Liberal Party. Medicare today, is part of his legacy.

Continuing in Martin’s tradition was our late friend law professor Mark MacQuigan who  moved to Windsor from Toronto to contest the new Windsor-Walkerville  riding in 1968. He held the riding for the next 16 years. It was Mark who created the party policy that forces the party leader to submit to a leadership review after every election. He believed strongly in a democratic and responsible Liberal Party.

Another area minister was Eugene Whelan, who served in Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet as Minister of Agriculture. He was very much a farmer but he actually helped transition Canadian farming into the computer era. Eugene was always willing to work with people and for them and left an indelible mark on the agriculture portfolio.

The one person you can never forget from Windsor is the much admired Herb Gray. A jack of all trades in parliament, Herb was not only the first Jewish cabinet member but he holds the record as the longest serving parliamentarian in Canadian history. He also has a devilish sense of humour that he delights in inflicting it on those of us who know and admire him. He is the dean of the left wing of the Liberal Party. The party is feting Herb next week in Ottawa and the federal leadership contenders will be there in hopes that some of his intelligence and knowledge of politics will rub off on them.

We could mention provincial politicos but none of them are left wing and none of them are particularly important. We were pleased to hear though that the locals in Windsor have started calling Provincial Treasurer Dwight Duncan ‘Slight’ Duncan. It seems his crash diet is working and he is reported to have lost as much as 50 pounds. We also hear that he intends to back Sandra Pupatello in the provincial leadership and then quit politics for a while. He might be just slightly ahead of the voters making that decision for him.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Gerard Kennedy has an idea.

Monday, November 12th, 2012

The provincial Liberal leadership in Ontario just turned into a no-brainer. Once again, Gerard Kennedy is the guy to beat. He led on all the ballots except the last when Dalton McGuinty won the leadership in 1996. It was the traditional battle of the left versus the right. The right wing rallied to defeat Kennedy, putting their favourite, Dalton McGuinty, in charge of Ontario’s Liberals. What the Ontario Liberals did was replace rabid Conservative Mike Harris (and his successor ultra-Conservative Ernie Eves) with a Conservative Dalton McGuinty. McGuinty was in sheep’s clothing as a Liberal. It worked, for a while.

But Liberals who try to ride the line between left and right can no longer do the balancing act. The world is changing and we can no longer suffer the lie of being the “good managers” of Canadian governments. Liberals who try to hide the party’s past as reformers are lying to the electorate. It was the right-wing Liberal Party managers who threw Stéphane Dion to the wolves in 2008. They are the same managers who tried to shoehorn Michael Ignatieff into “the big red tent” amalgam of right and left wing Liberals and failed so badly in 2011. They had lost touch with the Canadian electorate and so had Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty.

What saved Ontario’s Liberals in the 2011 provincial election was the paucity of their opposition. Conservative leader Tiny Tim Hudak is a pale imitation of his mentor Mike Harris and the New Democrat’s Andrea Horwath just simply missed the boat in her time of political opportunity.

But Gerard Kennedy can change the scene. He wants to bring the Ontario Liberal Party into the 21st Century. He wants to turn Whigs into Reformers. He wants the Clear Grits of Ontario to embrace the teachers’ unions so they can face the future together. He wants the Liberal government to address job creation and forget the deficit until we have the wherewithal to do something about it.

In reviewing the scenario so far in the provincial leadership sweepstakes, Gerard Kennedy stands alone. To suggest that Kathleen Wynne shares his left leanings is like suggesting that there is a properly equipped and staffed bar at the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Sandra Pupatello takes more time to figure out but, at best, she seems to lean whichever way the wind blows at the time. And anyone who has served in the McGuinty cabinet in the past year is as guilty as he in betraying trust.

To win this provincial leadership, the convention delegates will have to know what candidates are going to do that is different. So far, Gerard Kennedy is the only candidate who understands that.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Stephen and the hair do the subcontinent.

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

Not since Brian Mulroney did his farewell tour to see the only people who still liked him, has a Canadian Prime Minister travelled the world to the same extent. This week, the (almost) perfect hair and wife Laureen did a photo-op for the news media at India’s world famous Taj Mahal.

While there was nothing of import to report on from the trip, our slavish news media did their best to report on the exciting aspects of the hair’s adventures in tourism. The unusually relaxed prime minister mildly explained Canada’s acceptance of free expression when an Indian cabinet minister gave him a lecture on Sikh extremism. After all, Mr. Harper has lots of religious extremists in his own political party back in Canada.

How Harper could look so relaxed knowing his government was in the hands of people such as Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney was the mystery. And it is not as though Defence Minister Peter McKay is a stabilizing influence while he is enjoying his honeymoon.

As an added precaution in India, the RCMP had a Globemaster aircraft  fly in special armoured cars for him to use during his visit. This was probably an unnecessary expense considering how much more experience that India has in political assassination compared to Canada.

At least, while in India, Mr. Harper and his hair were hardly out of touch. We understand that the backup plan for communications was to take over a Microsoft call centre with its perfect connections to North America. This also assured Mr. Harper that he could be one of the first to congratulate Barack Obama on winning his second term.

Mr. Harper knows exactly what Mitt Romney and his GOP team did wrong in the American election. He figures that in four years he will be out of office in Canada and available to advise the next GOP presidential candidate.

In a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, you could see the Indian Prime Minister’s eyes taking in the perfection of the Canadian Prime Ministerial hair. For a guy who wears a turban, you could see his envy of  the freedom of a hair cut.

But we do notice that the Stephen Harper’s real hair is becoming a lighter shade of grey than that which covers his receding hairline. Time to take the hair back to the shop for a redo, Stephen!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Leadership needs a ground game too.

Friday, November 9th, 2012

For all the billions of dollars that were spent on the American election this year, in the end, it all came down to the ground game. Without his team’s skill at the ground game, Barack Obama would have lost. It remains the key to political victory at all levels of campaigning. You always have to identify your voters and then make sure they cast their vote for you. You can never leave it to chance.

The thought came up last night when Kathleen Wynne called. Wynne is the MPP for Don Valley West in Toronto. She is running for Dalton McGuinty’s job as Premier of Ontario. Her team seems to be using robocalls to Liberals in Ontario attempting to identify supporters and potential supporters. This was our first contact with her and it was her recorded voice saying she is running for the leadership and you could press one if you supported her or two if you wanted more information. There should have been a third option saying “don’t call me, I’ll call you.”

You have to admit that robocalls are cheap and she needed something to tell potential delegates that she is in the running but this is not a technique that we would ever recommend. It is presumptive, intrusive and tells us that she has no depth of support outside of Toronto. And if the Liberal Party is releasing the membership database to all candidates, we might have to eventually change our phone number.

It is not that we are opposed to all robocalls. Most people dislike them but they can be useful in a support role to build on your campaign’s basic proposition. Too many campaign managers try to hang their entire campaign on them and then wonder why the campaign failed.

An effective political campaign is a two-way communication. Whether you are into a dialogue on Facebook or talking to a voter at their door, you have to listen more than talk. You are making your proposition, you are listening to the reaction and looking for new ways to make your case. If you cannot listen, you cannot communicate.

In a political leadership campaign, you have to network across the voting base. You need to build your organization across the province (or country) and in workable areas. You need to have people the voter knows (or can identify with) do that first contact. You need a proposition that says why this person should be the new leader. You need to show direction. In fact, you have to demonstrate leadership.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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