Archive for January, 2013

The tribalism of the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair.

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Is it some sort of right of passage in Quebec? Is it an inferiority complex? Or is it just the political games of Canada’s politicians? Since the not so quiet revolution of the 1960s, we have had Quebec politicians jerking around the rest of Canada about imagined slights and questionable rights. And every Quebec politician, of every stripe, wants in on the act. Now, we have a separatist premier in Quebec kicking sand at the nationalists and the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Ottawa joining her in that political sandbox.

It certainly puts the lie to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s federalism. He is engaging in the cheap theatrics we have seen from Quebec politicians for many decades. Mulcair has decided that he wants to win kudos in Quebec for talking about emasculating the Clarity Act. This is the act passed by the Chrétien Liberal government in 2000 to ensure that questions about secession be asked honestly and that a realistic majority have voted for it. And Mr. Mulcair wants to throw his galoshes into that soup.

To be fair, it was not Thomas Mulcair’s bill. Toronto-Danforth MP Craig Scott acted as the Judas Goat to propose the bill to save the NDP from having to vote for a similar bill proposed by the Bloc Quebecois. In the usual machinations of Canada’s parliament, the NDP version of the bill will never see the light of day again. The entire act was just a play to Quebec voters.

But you may be sure that Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is paying attention. She will use every chance she gets to show that Thomas Mulcair is on her side. This is the lady that even uses the proposed separation of Scotland and England as a rational for her own political ambitions. All she has shown in her statements is that she seems to have no idea of the history involved and the complexities of the relationship of the Scots and the Brits.

In comparison, Quebec’s relationship with the rest of Canada is very simple. The Scots and the Brits, at least, speak a somewhat similar language. They are of the same race as are the early French and English-Irish-Scots and Welsh settlers in Canada. The problem in Quebec is tribalism based on language.

But Scotland belongs to the Scots. Quebec belongs to Canadians. Quebec separatists cannot put their supposed tribal rights ahead of the individual rights of Canadians. As Pierre Trudeau explained many times, tribalism does not override individual rights.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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The Hair reviews the Conservative troops.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

There is a ‘tell all’ photo in the Ottawa Citizen today. It was provided to the Citizen by Canadian Press. It is sure to be in many other Canadian newspapers. The picture is about the Hair doing what the military calls ‘trooping the line.’ You often see the Queen doing it—going up and down the lines of well-turned out troops, stopping at intervals to make some minor pleasantry. It is as close as the Conservative backbenchers are allowed to get to the Prime Minister.

What the Prime Minister and the Hair are doing back in Canada, we are not sure. Maybe he is filling in for Finance Minister Flaherty who is off for his annual holiday in Davos, Switzerland. When not attending the World Economic Conference in Davos yesterday, Minister Flaherty could have been entertained by a group of ladies staging a topless demonstration. We are not sure what these ladies were protesting but, according to the news photos, they were certainly well equipped for it.

But we digress from the Hair. As he trooped the line, you could imagine the backbenchers peering quizzically at the Hair, trying to determine where the real hair ends and the world famous hairpiece begins. The consensus of the caucus is that probably only his staff hairdresser knows for sure.

Protecting the secret of the Hair is becoming quite an elaborate process and there were serious questions in the House about these expenses. The cost, for example, of shipping armoured limousines to India last year was just one incident. To have the Canadian Forces use a C47 Globemaster to fly the two limousines to India was claimed by the NDP critic to have cost more than a million dollars. That does seem like a lot of money to protect the Hair.

When Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird put down the protest, he pointed out that India has a poor reputation for protecting Prime Ministers. He failed to note that India has a good reputation for protecting tourists. It is just their own Prime Ministers whom they sometimes assassinate. Most Indians wave respectfully to limousines with a Canadian flag on the fender. Frankly, the RCM Police can rest assured that the people of India have too many relatives here to want to mess with the Hair.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Premiers aid tar sands trip to the sea.

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Where is the least resistance? Wherever it might be, Canada’s pipelines people will find it. Their objective is to get that damn tar sands bitumen to a seaport, onto ocean tankers and off to where they can get world crude oil prices. Their latest allies in this quest are Canada’s provincial premiers. The premiers weighed in on the subject at their annual roast of the federal government on the weekend. It seems they want to have their own national energy strategy.

This is not to say there was universal agreement with the idea among the provinces. Premier Christy Clark from British Columbia told the other premiers to butt out of her game with the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline across her province to a shipping point at Kitimat. Premier Alison Redford of Alberta said they should all keep their hands off Alberta’s oil revenues.

Many oil people are betting on U.S. President Barack Obama giving the nod to Trans Canada’s XL pipeline down to the Texas coast. Most Americans think that is to make use of the Texas refineries but reality is that the Americans do not need the oil from bitumen and it would most likely be shipped from Texas to markets in Europe and the Far East.

The same holds true for the proposed eastern routes to Portland, Maine or Saint John, New Brunswick. Both Portland and Saint John have the refinery capacity to handle the refining of the bitumen slurry but, again, it is the shipping capabilities that interest our Canadian tar sands people.

Premier David Alward of New Brunswick thinks there is a pot of gold at the end of that eastern pipeline to Saint John. All he needs is one spill of bitumen slurry in his province and his citizens will change his mind for him. When that tar seeps into ground water, the neighbouring potato farmers will be on welfare for the rest of their lives.

What is the most surprising is that the Idle No More movement among Canada’s indigenous population has not realized their ability to use pipelines to their advantage. If they ever wanted to bargain effectively for proper schools and assistance for remote living, as well as control of their reserves’ resources, now is the time.

The National Energy Board (NEB) has already approved the initial stages of reversing older pipelines such as Line 9 between Sarnia and Westover, Ontario. The next phases in Ontario and Quebec will open up the route to Portland, Maine. Ontario’s Liberal Premier-elect has been too busy to pay attention and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has a different agenda.

The NEB approved Line 9 because it is not a new pipeline. It is just a new use for an old pipeline. The problem is that bitumen slurry requires higher temperatures and higher pressures to move it through an older line. The approval can be a death notice for the land it passes through.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Walking with the workers.

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Watching the Liberal convention in Toronto last weekend, there was lots of time for other thoughts. The mood kept switching from being glad not to be there to being annoyed that we were not. There were many old friends popping up in the crowds of Liberals—some that we had not seen in years. We saved a lot of money by staying in Babel but it would have been so good to say hello.

There was a camera shot from a helicopter during the day of Carlton Street in front of the old Maple Leaf Gardens site. It showed a massing of an estimated 15,000 workers who were protesting the use of the draconian Bill 115. If we had been there for the convention, we would have gone out to be with the workers. It would have been in honour of the late Senator David Croll who said in 1937—as he resigned from Mitch Hepburn’s Liberal Cabinet—“I would rather walk with the workers than ride with General Motors.”

Babel-on-the-Bay hit a milestone in readership on Saturday and we noticed when looking at the figures that this site is still one of the major sources for information on first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting. The Democracy Papers from 2007 are archived on the site. The Democracy Papers were prepared in answer to the McGuinty government’s very foolish attempt at changing Ontario to a Mixed Member Proportional voting system. Thankfully, Ontario voters rejected the suggestion by about two to one.

There seem to be as many opinions about this blog as there are readers. We have never been able to get over it that the best read postings are the ones about Stephen Harper’s hair. It is the wife’s fault. We got into a discussion of politicos with hairpieces one day when it was pointed out that former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory would probably look more distinguished without his rug. And then the wife said, “Well, what about Harper’s hairpiece?”

While Google Analytics tells us quite a story about the blog’s readership, it does not tell you that the lone reader in the United Arab Emirates yesterday is probably a Canadian consular officer. What helps are the e-mails we get from people telling us how much they enjoyed or maybe hated a particular posting. And there is a particularly attentive bureau of accuracy out there ready to let us know if we make an error. They are also welcome.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Wynne wins; Liberals lose.

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

It is no surprise that hard work pays off. Kathleen Wynne won and she deserved the win. When she came second in the electoral district races, she kept on working. She came to Babel in heavy snow squalls to shore up her support. She intensified her e-mail campaign. She did everything that an undemocratic selection system demanded of her, and more. The only unanswered question is whether her selection as leader is best for the Ontario Liberal Party.

Most politicos agree that this was probably the last delegated leadership convention by a major political party in Canada. (It was traditional right down to the paper ballots.) Saturday at the convention was hours of excruciating boredom interspersed with a few minutes of surprise and bad theatre. The early morning speeches with the obligatory demonstrations were as expected with the notable exception of that by Kathleen Wynne.  It was claimed that she wrote the speech herself. If she did, she missed her calling.

Those who had heard Wynne speak before were the most surprised. A person who often is more impressed with herself, opened up and spoke with a surprising honesty and lightness. She lost the teleprompter occasionally but recaptured her words with humour. It was a speech she will never regret or forget.

And nobody knows the work behind the scenes. MPP’s Glenn Murray, Eric Hoskins and Charles Souza were expected to support her and they did. It was the support at the end by Gerard Kennedy that put Wynne over the top. These were two people who had worked together in the early days of the McGuinty government and outsiders had no understanding of the relationship.

But where does this leave the Ontario Liberal Party? It has just proved at this delegated convention that democracy is not on its agenda. It is a top-down political party that operates as a propaganda machine for the Premier. It has chosen a new leader who is beholden to party bosses across Ontario for her ascent to the Premier’s job. The one leadership candidate who recognized the weakness of this was Gerard Kennedy, who is not even in the Ontario Legislature. The party has no advocate.

Delegates have returned to their electoral districts and to their increasingly irrelevant role in the Ontario Liberal Party. The party only wants them as troops for elections. They have no say in the creation, setting or reviewing of party policy. They do not even set their own rules of procedure. They have no say in who will be their candidate or when the candidate will be chosen. They are just supposed to do what they are told.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Toronto Star ramps up the casino war.

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

The Toronto Star has something against casinos. What started as a bias in news reporting is now a constant editorial diatribe. In a lengthy editorial Friday, the paper suggested that a vote on a new mayor of Toronto could include a referendum on a casino. The editorial suggested that a $7 million by-election for mayor could be justified by including this referendum. It is likely that the Star was a bit disappointed with the announcement by the court that Rob Ford could stay in office.

The only problem with the Star’s proposal is that a referendum on a casino would be meaningless. Nobody really cares if a majority of Torontonian’s want a casino or not. It is not their decision to make. Ontario Lottery and Gaming did say that they did not want to put a casino in a municipality that did not want one. They were just being polite. They can put casinos pretty well anywhere they want in Ontario.

Is it illegal to have a casino in Toronto? No it is not. That decision has already been made by the Province. Is it a zoning problem? If it does become a zoning problem, it has to be dealt with by city council—subject to being overturned by the Ontario Municipal Board. Sorry folks, the question as to whether you are for or against having a casino is irrelevant.

And frankly, after listening to and reading the comments of many hundreds of people who do not want a casino in their backyard, you find that the ignorance on the subject is appalling. This is like arguing over a neighbourhood restaurant in the plaza at the corner. If the Italian restaurant there has gone out of business, you do not get a vote on whether a Tex-Mex restaurant can move in. It makes no difference if Tex-Mex food gives you heartburn. You do not have to go to that restaurant.

You probably feel that you are very lucky to live in our democracy. That does not mean that the majority can tell everyone else what they can or cannot do. Democracy means that the people rule but they rule best by respecting the rights of others. Our Charter of Rights makes that point well. The Toronto Star editorial people need to catch up on it.

We fondly remember the days when the Toronto Star was the voice of liberalism in Toronto. It cared about people. It cared about the important issues. It stood up for individual rights. It fought bigotry. It mattered.

Today the Toronto Star appears to be just another cog in an unfeeling corporate machine. It seems it is nothing but a profit centre in a rough, tough media world. It certainly needs better editorial direction. The Star used to be a pretty good newspaper.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Report cards tell us more about the writer.

Friday, January 25th, 2013

There is quite a difference between report cards on young students and report cards on city councillors. Grade school teachers today seem to use prepared comments and a uniform grading system. Municipal reporters appear to be free to give more rein to their biases as they report on our city council. A report card published in what we call the Babel Backward provided an excellent example of this bias in a report this week on the first two years of the Babel council’s four-year term.

The Babel Backward reporter who spends many hours at city hall seems to be one of the gang. She reflects the fact that most of the council are active members of the Conservative Party and, along with them, she is a fan of MP Patrick Brown. And before you say that there is no involvement of political parties at city hall, we can assure you that it is more overt than covert. School boards and city councils have been the training grounds for politicians of all parties in Ontario for the last 200 years.

The Mayor of Babel, a liberal, is something of an anomaly. His predecessor as mayor had earned the animosity of the electorate in time for the last vote and it was apparent to most people that he was beatable. The liberal contender was just a one-term councillor but he had made a good name for himself and was blessed by being able to take on two strong conservatives for the job. With an innovative and aggressive ground game, his well-financed campaign proved successful.

But that gets him little slack from the conservatives on council or from their reporter friend from the Babel Backward. Despite his holding back on many of his ideas, she gives him a barely passing grade on leadership and vision. What must really gall him is that he has held back on being known as a liberal and when he ran for a delegate position to the Liberal leadership convention this weekend, he lost because not many of the newer Liberal supporters knew of his liberal background.

Among the councillors, it is easy to see who the reporter likes and dislikes. She is already promoting the Ward 10 councillor for higher office but that will have to be federal or provincial as he is not about to challenge a popular mayor.

It is also easy to see who she dislikes by whom she dumps on—fairly or unfairly. You can be sure that Ward 2 and Ward 5 are being studied by hopefuls planning ventures into civic politics.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Is there a liberal in the house?

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Think of the old Maple Leaf Gardens this weekend. In Pierre Trudeau’s day we used to fill that old barn with more than 15,000 liberal supporters for rallies. Senior party members would have panic attacks all day worrying about whether anyone would come. It was always a highlight of the campaign. Somebody would innocently arrive late with a bunch of buses, be barred from entry to the Gardens and we would have the Prime Minister address them from a flatbed we had parked on Carlton Street.

But who are these people we are going to listen to this weekend at this Maple Leaf Gardens Lite? In this new cut-down version of the old Gardens, the party will gather fewer than 3000 rigidly controlled delegates. On Friday night there will be a joyous farewell to Dalton McGuinty as Premier. It will be a happy time. The candidates will entertain.

Starting early on Saturday morning, there will be speeches and voting and the selection of a new leader who will also be the new Premier. This is a serious time.

And yet, we have no idea if most of these possible leaders are really liberals. Can they even tell you what a liberal believes? Do they understand the demands it places on us to be the political party that stands for individual rights in a society caught up in self worship? And what happens to individual rights in an economy such as today where we are fighting the doldrums of destructive protectionism?

Individual rights mean that free access to education for all must be the liberal objective. It means healthcare is a right. It means poverty must be vanquished. Opportunity for all is not accessible in gated communities. Liberalism cannot continue to support the one per cent. Liberalism rejects the collectivism of the left and the bigotry and paternalism of the right. Nor can we allow our children to be divided by religion or the mores of other parts of the world.

Liberalism is easy for those who have never thought about it. We can no longer just take from this new society of North America and not take responsibility for its future. We can no longer neglect the environment. We must protect it as our legacy.

Liberalism is not complex. It is serious. Can we choose otherwise?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Hitting just the right note.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

There were e-mails from the three leading candidates for the Ontario provincial Liberal leadership candidates yesterday. They speak volumes. They tell you more about the candidates than their campaigns. They set the tone for the weekend convention.

Windsor’s Sandra Pupatello is the front-running candidate and hers was the first read. While most of her team’s communiqués have been personally addressed, this was the first that you could feel was direct from her. It was brief. It was personal. It set exactly the right note.

It talks about the race. It recognizes her opponents and their strengths. It offers a connection to the Toronto Star’s editorial endorsement of her, in case you have not yet had an opportunity to read it. She also points out that the real battle is not this weekend. It is in the months to come. She is modest in the conclusion and points out how we need to come together as a party.

MPP Kathleen Wynne’s e-mail was more aggressive. It is signed by her two co-chairs, Health Minister Deb Mathews and former MPP John Wilkinson. It consists of excerpts from major Ontario newspapers. It is strong stuff. It goes for the jugular. It is trying to maximize every potential ex officio vote on the first ballot to try to close the gap between her and Sandra Pupatello.

Maybe some of the quotes go too far. The e-mail is heavy reading. At a time when you want to bring the thinking about the candidates to a logical conclusion, some of the statements about Kathleen are not very credible. And there is no need to hit out at others at a time when what you want to do is sell your candidate’s known strengths. It will be very interesting to see how her campaign team plans her final speech to the convention.

Meanwhile, Gerard Kennedy is still working. He might be third on the first ballot but he continues to prove that he has ideas and is the only progressive Liberal in the race. He released his policy paper on equality. It makes a good read.

The paper makes the point that before we can really offer equality to everybody in Ontario, we have to offer equality within the Liberal Party. That would be a positive start.

On the road of life, we have the darkness closing on the past behind us and the dawn reveals the future ahead. When we choose our leaders, we are choosing paths for ourselves, our children and their children. We should do our best to choose well.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Pupatello: She’s not McGuinty lite.

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Babel-on-the-Bay has often referred to the McGuinty Liberals as Whigs. That was what liberals were called until the middle of the 19th Century. It was only when compared to the regime of Michael Harris’ Conservatives in Ontario that you could consider McGuinty’s Liberal government to be progressive.

But where would a government run by Sandra Pupatello fit? The former MPP from Windsor brings some good news with her to next weekend’s convention. And as the front runner in the first ballot, we have no choice but to pay attention. She not only leads in committed delegate support for that ballot but she has been the logical choice of the largest block of ex officio voters from the beginning of the race.

The good news for Ontario is that she says she would put jobs and the economy of the province in the forefront. That would certainly have better public support than continuing a foolish attack on the deficit. How her campaign chairperson, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, feels about this recanting of his financial direction is not told.

The bad news for Ontario is that Sandra Pupatello is clearly the favourite daughter of the Liberal Party’s right wing. She seems to be more of a Clear Grit–they were from South Western Ontario back in the mid 19th Century that joined George Brown’s Toronto Reformers and founded the Liberal Party. Her acceptance of anything smacking of reform might be a murky subject.

Yet she has to accept the fact that she cannot stay on the same track as the McGuinty government has been headed. She has to be fully aware that the only thing that kept the Liberals in power in the last election was the weakness of the opposition. Conservative leader Tiny Tim Hudak is a sad caricature of his mentor Mike Harris. Andrea Horwath of the NDP let opportunity pass her by. Sandra Pupatello has more spunk and drive than the two of them combined.

Her only problem is that she would be inheriting a seriously weakened led-from-the-top party that has ignored its roots for too long. Without major reforms in party structure, policy development and riding support, she has nothing worthwhile to lead. It is a party that will be unable to win those marginal seats that are essential to a majority.

Sandra Pupatello is certainly not McGuinty lite but she has to be her own person if she wants to be Premier—for long. We will find out on the coming weekend, where she thinks she is going.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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