Archive for December, 2012

Star beer war missiles miss the LCBO.

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

You can imagine the kindly old editor explaining to Toronto Star scribe Martin Regg Cohn: “Now get this right Martin. We hate the foreign-owned Beer Store monopoly and we love the government-owned liquor store monopoly. Now go give us another 800 words screwing the Beer Store people.”

And that is why Martin started this morning’s column with: “Back by popular demand. The Beer Store, part II.” He hardly needed to be very creative to come up with more reasons to get rid of the Beer Store monopoly. It is a hundred years out of date and he has found that most Beer Store customers want out.

Would it surprise you to learn that letters to the editor can prove just about anything if you decide which letters to publish and do a bit of editing on the ones you do use? This must be why Martin can write: “Surprisingly, most readers grudgingly agreed that we should leave the LCBO alone—at least for now.” Obviously “now’ must be as long as the Toronto Star editorial board think we should keep the liquor monopoly.

The difference between the two monopolies is that the Beer Stores are disgusting and out of date. The Liquor Control Board stores are just out of date.

The only real difference between the two monopolies is that the LCBO knows a bit about marketing and is not in the bottle returns business. That gives the liquor business a leg up on the non-disgusting side of things,

Martin pads his story with quotes from a former Beer Store insider whose ten-year non-disclosure agreement must have expired. This person reports that Labatt’s Blue and Molson Canadian do not sell as well in self-serve stores where all brands are available. And what else would you expect than the Beer Store pushing the larger owners’ brands?

The reality is that both beer and liquor monopolies must go. They are archaic and bad business models. Beer and wine and liquor are best sold along with food. They complement each other. Beer and Ontario wines should also be available at the corner convenience store. And there is a marketing rationale for specialty liquor and wine stores. Selling the liquor stores might be a one-time capital gain for our province but the taxes on alcoholic beverages will more than make up for the LCBO revenues.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Problem gambling or problem busybodies?

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

We all know who the people are who will tell you what is sinful or wrong with having a casino in your town. The most vocal are the bluestockings, afraid you might have a little fun, and the hypocrites who know nothing about gambling. They are the paternalistic politicians trying to stand out in their negativity and they are the bureaucrats who do not want to be bothered.

The truth is: people gamble. Some gamble more than others. There are also people who see no sense to gambling and they are entitled to their opinion. For the rest of us, gambling starts at a young age. It is buying that first lottery ticket with a prize you want and liking the feeling of believing you can win. It is the rush of the first time you ever shout “bingo” in a church basement. It is the thrill of playing poker for the first time, for real money. It is that first wide-eyed visit to Las Vegas, where gambling is king.

The thrill of imagining your possible winnings in lotteries has morphed into a multi-billion dollar industry in Ontario—run by the government. What started as a way to compete with the Irish Sweepstakes has turned into a nationwide industry. And what must have started as a totalizer on the chariot races in the Coliseum has become a world-wide network of racetrack betting. There is a time-honoured tradition in Canada of the office pool for lotteries and hockey games. We support the 50-50 draw to raise money.

And yet we let hypocrites in public office tell us if we can or cannot have a casino in our town. Ontario Lottery and Gaming has made an open offer to cities and towns throughout Ontario to have a casino. Our councils shilly-shally and shame us. They offer public consultation and listen to the wrong people.

Here in our town, we can add the local Medical Officer of Health to the naysayers. It is reported that he sent a letter to the mayor recently saying that problem gambling is linked to alcohol and drug misuse, mental illness, hypertension and digestive-system disorders. And to make matters worse, he adds that associated social harms include bankruptcy, family disruption, and possible involvement in crime.

The question that comes to mind is whether this man is lacking meaningful challenges in his work? Surely his job description does not include paternalism.

It is further reported that he said in his letter to the mayor that there are a large number of low income people in this town. He quotes a figure of 2,300 families. He worries that they may be put at risk.  At risk of what? They obviously would not have the funds to become habitués in a casino. Would they be at risk of getting jobs? Would they be at risk of having their high municipal taxes reduced?

Our municipality has the amenities. It needs the breadth of activities to attract people to come here. A casino can be an excellent year-round addition to the mix.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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The mathematics of Ontario Liberal leadership.

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

In the 2007 provincial election, Ontario voters firmly rejected a scheme for proportional voting. It was a non-starter. That does not mean that the Ontario Liberal Party is not about to use a similar scheme on its own party members. Imagine a voting system that can eliminate the person with the most votes in a riding from being a delegate to the January 25-26 Leadership convention in Toronto.

It can mathematically happen. The Liberal Party in Ontario has confused the voting system for delegates to such an extent that the arguments about who can or cannot be a delegate will continue until after the convention. The voting scheme is based on the proportion of supporters for a specific candidate and the age and sex of the people wishing to attend the convention. If the age and sex of the convention hopefuls is out of balance with the choice of candidate, it is going to be tough luck!

The greatest danger is bad mathematics by the people running the leadership election meetings (LEM) on January 12 and 13. Where the party hopes to find enough mathematicians for the task is a question mark.

The first error is to ask people to mark their preference for leader separate from the choice of convention attendee. Since there are seven hopefuls in the race, there will be eight options. The eighth option will be someone called “Independent.”

Of the 16 members of the local electoral district who may attend the convention and vote on the various ballots, four must be youth. Of these four youth, one must be male, one must be female and the other two can be anything at all. Similarly, of the other 12 people, four must be female, four male and four are optional.

Now overlay those demands on the eight choices and you can understand the problem. And, by the way, did we point out that it costs anywhere from $250 to $1000 to attend this convention in the heart of Toronto. If you just park your car in that area of the city while you attend the convention, you might not have the funds to buy your car back.

And you wonder why it is so important to return control of this party to the members?


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Murray wants a 21st Century Liberal Party.

Monday, December 17th, 2012

This is MPP Glen Murray’s plan. It arrived among our e-mail today. Glen is the Ontario Liberal leadership candidate from downtown Toronto. While he only has a couple years under his belt at Queen’s Park and came here from Winnipeg, his approach to reforming the Liberal Party in Ontario is bang on.

This puts Murray at the head of the list for party reform. We suspect that leadership hopeful Gerard Kennedy agrees with this approach but he has yet to articulate that message. At the same time, it appears that the other former MPP candidate Sandra Pupatella is not listening. We received an e-mail from her the other day saying that Liberals are telling her the issues are jobs and the economy. That seems to suit her right-wing approach.

Talking to MPP Charles Sousa along with some other Babel Liberals yesterday, he assured us of his support for party reform but he obviously needs to do some broader research on the subject. Meanwhile MPPs Kathleen Wynne, Harinder Takhar and Eric Hoskins have so far been missing on the subject.

What is most commendable about the Murray plan for reform of the party is that he establishes the concern and then provides a process and timetable for correcting the problems. He believes that people want to reconnect with the party. He recognizes that it is their party as much as his or any other member. This is something that young Justin Trudeau in that other race has yet to realize.

Murray believes that we can put most of the basic reforms before the provincial party at its annual meeting in the fall of 2013. There will have to a lot of brainstorming and some tough negotiations before then but we can come up with a modern Liberal Party in this province. He believes that members have to lead the way in deciding on leadership, candidate nominations, policy direction and means for more affordable participation in party events.

Murray wants a Liberal Party where it is easy for members to discuss their ideas, that listens and acts on the better ideas and makes sure that people can always participate. In such a broadly based, multi-generational party, the party would have to be much more than a social media site on the Internet.

Murray makes a strong point in asking members of the party to consider alternatives to the current system of nominating candidates in vacant ridings. He seems to disagree with the current practice of having the leader choose a candidate without a riding nomination meeting. Potential delegates across Ontario should be hammering leadership candidates on this issue alone.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Tiny Tim should be careful what he wishes.

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak wants a union-free Ontario for Christmas. He figures he can make this happen by attacking the Rand Formula. For more than 60 years, the Rand Formula has supported industrial peace in Canada by the simple measure of making sure all who benefit by a union’s actions pay the equivalent dues. What Tiny Tim does not realize is that the action of dumping the Rand Formula can help destroy the quality of life in this province.

Despite the old images, the union worker today is not a dirt smudged individual in coveralls and a hard hat. Today, union workers are the back-bone of the middle class in this country. The union member can be a teacher or fireman, a scientist or lab worker, a carpenter or brick layer, a police constable or an engineer. And you can sometimes be hard-pressed to find a socialist among them.

But without the Rand Formula, the infighting such as we saw in the Depression would bring back the class hatreds that beset our society in those times.

What Tiny Tim also does not seem to realize is that many of the union members in Ontario do not necessarily vote NDP. He does not seem aware that there are unions with a heavy investment in the status quo. They are almost as conservative as he. To declare war on them with an ultimate plan for right-to-work legislation is to polarize them and push them into the wrong camp.

If  Hudak is really out to stop the unions from spending member’s dues to tell people not to vote for him, there are lots of NDPers and Liberals who agree that third party advertising should require clear identification of who is paying, who it is for and come under the control of the Chief Electoral Officer of the Province.

There is no question that the McGuinty Liberals have let Ontario down at a time when the rules should have been stiffened to provide proper spending limits for parties and candidates and more rigid accounting for candidates’ expenses. The time is long past that we should allow those with the money to call the tune at election time. Neither business nor unions should have an unfair advantage.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Mr. Harper has his apologists.

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

You tend to forget that some professional writers take pride in that someone can write a headline for them and they can write a story to support the headline. The issue is not what you believe in as much as that the client is willing to pay for the work. It is part of making a living. You just need to be careful about who signs it.

This comes to mind in relation to an op-ed by Carol Goar of the Toronto Star the other day. It was headlined Harper got it right on the Nexen deal. Writers in the Toronto Star rarely write their own headlines and, in this case, it is also hard to attribute some of the statements in the article to such an excellent and experienced writer such as Ms. Goar.

She starts the article by saying how easy it is to forget what a fine mind Stephen Harper has. She sure grabbed our attention with that line. You expect her to follow up with a discussion of his possible narcissistic traits.

But no. Ms. Goar credits the Prime Minister with every so often coming up with a smart solution to a problem. We suppose he has to—when he creates the problem in the first place, such as with the Nexen deal. Traveling around the world on his military A310 Airbus as Canada’s super salesman, Harper is probably making many promises that Canadians should know more about. They are often the kinds of deals that need to be reviewed under the Investment Canada Act which Harper finds so inconvenient.

Carol Goar seems unaware that Mr. Harper delivered a huge net benefit in capital gains to Nexen shareholders. That was the really vulgar aspect of the deal. The Chinese were so eager to buy the world-wide resources of Nexen that they paid far more than the company was worth in today’s dollars or in dollars decades from now. The Chinese have been had for $15.1 billion. And that nice Stephen Harper ran the shell game on them.

Nexen is, by the way, not a big time player in the oil sands. It gives the Chinese a foothold. If Harper actually makes good on his suggestion that it might be a “this far but no further” deal, the Chinese are going to be really unhappy customers.

Carol Goar might believe this deal is complete but the one thing Mr. Harper still has to deliver is the Enbridge pipeline across British Columbia to take oil sands’ bitumen to ocean tankers at Kitimat. That could be Emperor Harper’s Waterloo.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Shame on you Mr. Stevenson.

Friday, December 14th, 2012

You can be excused for not knowing that Howard Stevenson is president of the Liberal Party of Canada (Ontario). It is unlikely that he would be among the hundreds of loyal readers of Babel-on-the-Bay. When we reported the other day that we had not heard from Charles Sousa, the Mississauga MPP running for the Ontario Liberal leadership, it was probably a coincidence that an e-mail arrived extolling the good news of Charles’ candidacy. The e-mail was ostensibly signed by Howard Stevenson.

As president of the Ontario wing of the federal Liberal Party, it seems an improper use of his position for Mr. Stevenson to use his position to support a provincial leadership candidate. First of all, if this was on behalf of a federal leadership candidate, he would be expected to step down from his position on the National Executive for the duration of the campaign. To use his federal position to try to influence votes for a provincial candidate is likely to be considered more in the category of ill mannered.

But worse news is that the letter is supposed to be about Charles Sousa’s detailed plan to renew the Ontario Liberal Party and provide MPPs and their communities a greater voice. Stevenson seems to be giving the federal party’s endorsement to a really bad plan. Charles Sousa’s answer appears to be to give the constituency people money and maybe they will be quiet. He is suggesting nothing about returning democracy to the electoral districts. His really great suggestion is that MPPs should be given the authority they are supposed to always have. It is to be heard.

Sousa appears to be running a policy-oriented campaign and there is nothing wrong with that. We are told that he has released plans to create jobs in the north and he has suggested priorities for the Greater Toronto Area. That leaves him a long way to go to address the mess the McGuinty government is leaving for the next Premier of Ontario.

And while some reporters who claim that Sousa is “Premier-like” are quoted in the letter (with a link to the article), there seems to be no great ground swell for Sousa north of Highway 401.

But we are told that momentum is building, Charles cares, he has the right ideas and is ready to act. We should therefore keep an open mind and wait to see how he develops his campaign in January. Maybe, in the crisp cold air of mid-winter, it will all be clear!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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More updating of the provincial leadership.

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Yes, this was the theme yesterday. More has happened. Some good.

We see that, according to the news media, Gerard Kennedy has taken the gloves off. He is going to be a peacekeeper in the war against teachers. As a former Minister of Education, he probably could bring peace to that conflict. Somebody has to. Gerard has also noted that the party is running a series of namby-pamby debates for the leadership and he thinks they are boring people. (That is the first sensible thing anybody has said about those debates.)

We got an interesting call last evening from a live volunteer from Eric Hoskins’ campaign. If this guy did not have two university degrees, he would have an assured career ahead of him in telemarketing. He was good. The only thing wrong was that he kept referring to Hoskins as “doctor.” Hoskins had better come down off his perch and talk to the people. It was a good conversation with his volunteer and the Hoskins’ campaign probably has us down as “undecided/possible/leaning.”

Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star revealed this morning that of the seven candidates for leader of the Ontario Liberals, one is a lesbian and one is gay. It does seem to be a higher ratio than the average population. Since we have known about this sexual orientation since these people announced their candidacies, what is the big deal? Do we know how it is going to fly in Barry’s Bay? No, we do not.

Asking former MPP George Smitherman’s opinion on this was really quite amusing. George was the openly gay former MPP running for mayor of Toronto who got trapped between his strong showing in downtown Toronto and Rob Ford’s solid support in the suburbs. There will be a lot of small “l” liberals among the Liberal Party delegates in January and they could probably care less about a person’s sexual orientation. We need to choose the best candidate and worry about their sexual orientation later.

In the meantime, Kathleen Wynne’s team is aggressively selling her as a tough kind of grandmother. She seems to have some support up here among Babel’s Whigs. We have seen little of Glen Murray’s campaign to date but he does seem more intelligent than some of his opponents. It will be interesting to see his campaign, if he ever launches it.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Updating the excruciating.

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

We started to watch the Ontario Liberal leadership debate on the Internet from Thunder Bay the other day. It was not exciting. As luck would have it, unexpected company interrupted before we fell asleep in front of the computer.

The debate—as it was called—was not particularly enlightening anyway. What is interesting are the campaigns being waged by the various candidates. If this is a sample of the more intense campaign in January, we will have to get call display to control our telephone calls for the month.

The most aggressive campaign is being waged by former MPP Sandra Pupatello. She did a province-wide telephone town hall late the other evening. We stayed on the line as long as the wife would let us but we were unable to ask the one question that we have not heard her answer yet. It was the question about how to fix the top-down nature of political parties these days.

Kathleen Wynne is the other very aggressive candidate and we have heard her answer to the question; she is going to create a consensus. We have had a number of calls now from Wynne’s campaign. These include annoying robocalls as well as the other day a live telemarketer who wanted to know who we were supporting. The caller was a bit nonplussed when she got a lecture on the responsibility of elected electoral district representatives to represent their riding rather than a candidate. We are likely to be recorded now as a probable/undecided.

Other candidates were caught off guard in Thunder Bay by how much Glen Murray seems to know about problems faced by Canada’s aboriginal population. Anybody who knows Winnipeg knows the answer to that and Murray used to be Winnipeg mayor.

The best marketing award in this campaign seems to have already been awarded to the Eric Hoskins’ team. His team has very little to work with and even uses humour to fill the gaps. His e-mail campaign makes excellent use of third party commentary, when they can find it, and is on top of things.

Which begs the question: who is Charles Sousa and why does nobody hear from him? Or are we just lucky?

Harinder Takhar records his own robocalls. He is not getting good advice.

That leaves Gerard Kennedy who is probably keeping his powder dry until the campaign intensifies in January. Or whatever!


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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Beer wars make strange bedfellows.

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Ontario Opposition Leader Tiny Tim Hudak, the Toronto Star and Babel-on-the-Bay on the same side of any issue is the day there are also three moons in the sky. Yet here we are: all three concurring on doing something about the disgusting state of beer sales in Ontario. Maybe we all come at this for different reasons and with differing agendas but thankfully, we can all agree on screwing Brewers’ Retail.

There is a wonderful hypocrisy to the Toronto Star’s stance. As artfully explained by Martin Regg Cohn in the Star today, we can screw the foreign owners of the Beer Store but we need to preserve the provincially-owned Liquor Control Board stores. It seems that the free enterprise Toronto Star thinks there are good monopolies and bad monopolies. And only Torstar knows the difference between them.

At least Tiny Tim is consistent. The Conservative leader is having a hard time these days. He has to overcome the natural tendency of the news media to ignore him. He needs ink. Half his caucus are busy plotting how to dump him and the other half are looking around for a place to jump ship.

But give Timmy credit. Instead of going home to his loving wife and daughter and hiding under the bed, he has writers preparing papers on promises to please Ontario voters. Privatising beer and liquor sales is certainly something to please the discriminating voter. He would forget all about it if he ever accidently came to power but it sure sounds good today.

Babel-on-the-Bay has always fought the good fight against big box beer stores and monopoly liquor stores. This blog still believes that the most disgusting Beer Store in Ontario award should go to the Anne Street store here in Babel. We still believe that the dregs of beer and liquor bottles on the floor in that place will rip the Birkenstocks right off your feet. Luckily, we have never seen a pair of Birkenstocks in that store.

But we do not discriminate against foreigners. We want that Brazilian, Belgian, American, Japanese beer, sold as Molson Canadian or Labatt Blue, available in the corner convenience store. Let the Beer Store continue as a recycling centre. They already smell bad enough anyway.

And the Toronto Star will have to forego its hypocrisy about the LCBO. Beer and wine and liquor need to be sold with food. They belong together. Specialty liquor and wine stores also need an opportunity to flourish where the market will sustain them. Nobody wants the government making decisions about the brands of booze they can buy. We have to get out of the middle ages.


Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

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