Archive for February, 2013

Climbing aboard the Senate bandwagon.

Monday, February 18th, 2013

The news media love to discover an issue such as the Senate of Canada. Abolish or reform is the question. They feast on the issue.  They milk the story. It is their reason to be. It was no surprise therefore when political reporter Tom Clark made the Senate the lead story in his West Block show on Global Television yesterday.

But are Senator Brazeau’s problems enough reason to complain? Is Senator Duffy’s living arrangements reason to scold him? Or has Senator Wallin been travelling too much? Part of the problem is that Canadians have absolutely no idea what the Senate costs them or benefits them.

When Babel-on-the-Bay cast out the figure of $16 million the other day, that is the Senate’s own figures for salary and pre-authorized expenses. A couple readers insisted the total cost is well over $100 million for everything connected with the Senate but they had no answer as to what the value is that we receive.

On Tom Clark’s show, he must have been surprised when NDP ethics critic MP Charlie Angus backed away from abolishing the Senate. Angus has always been assumed to be a flat-out foe of the institution. Instead, he told Tom that the NDP stood firmly in favour of a referendum by Canadians. It was interesting later on the show when Liberal leadership contender MP Marc Garneau said a referendum was not necessary to fix the problems.

They are both very, very wrong. The Harper government is currently asking the Supreme Court to rule as to whether it is possible to set term limits or elect Senators without changing the Constitution. The Court has also been asked how we can go about abolishing the Senate. The Harper government also want the answers tomorrow.

This is not an opportunity for the Supreme Court to be creative. Canada’s constitution has been tied in knots for too long by a series of inept politicians trying to appease provincial governments. The one avenue that could possibly open things up would be a national referendum but the judges are unlikely to agree to piecemeal changes. While a national referendum would be a method to bypass the provinces, we would be colossally stupid to use that route just to change the Senate. Canada has more constitutional problems it needs to fix than that.

After almost 150 years, Canadians are entitled to an elected constitutional assembly that can address all our constitutional needs. This can be followed by another referendum to consider proposed changes. It will not be cheap. It will certainly not be easy. It is just what one of the finest countries in the world needs to be on a better path into the future.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Martin Cauchon: You are off that island.

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Babel-on-the-Bay reluctantly kicked former Montreal MP Martin Cauchon off the leadership island yesterday. It was a toss-up between him and Deborah Coyne. Ms. Coyne got to stay because of her intelligence and knowledge of Canadian politics. She adds to the quality of discussion.

While only 50, Cauchon, a lawyer, comes across as being part of a former generation. He has disappointed many Liberals since he came into the race late promising to bring a more left-wing approach to his platform. Todate, he has said nothing that would cast him on the progressive side of the party.

With Martin Cauchon, Karen McCrimmon, David Bertschi and George Takach off the island, we can ignore their roles in the Mississauga, Ontario gathering of the candidates.

And, by the way, the Mississauga event was much better planned than the first two leadership presentations in Vancouver and Winnipeg. The only criticism that might be voiced is that it would be nice to have a professional ask the questions. Asking candidates to question other candidates does not work when they hog the microphone and never get around to the question.

One of the best dialogues was the three-way debate between former MP Martha Hall Findlay, MP Marc Garneau and MP Joyce Murray. They were talking about long-term stable federal support for cities with sharing of revenues such as gasoline taxes.

It was too bad that former MP Martha Hall Findlay stuck her foot in it later when she tried to make a point about Canada not being a class-conscious society and turned it into an insult directed at Justin Trudeau. Young Trudeau had every right to be annoyed.

And yet, there were some good lighter moments during the two hours. There was some friendly banter about lawyers. There was a wonderful shot of Trudeau putting his arm around Marc Garneau as though to say collegially: What do you think we should do to those guys?

The one image that started to emerge in this debate was that of Marc Garneau as the senior statesman and young Trudeau as his amiable sidekick. They made a joke of the supposed confrontation between the two of them. Yet Justin never did say what in his resume justifies his grabbing for the brass ring of leadership.

But give him credit. Trudeau has grown in these debates. He has learned. Did you listen to how firmly he promised reform of candidate selection for the party? It was the promise that many in the party have been waiting for


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Ontario’s Beer Stores find their niche.

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Ontario’s Environment Minister Jim Bradley went to a Beer Store yesterday. He was there for another ribbon cutting ceremony. It was to recognize the new role of the Brewers Warehousing and its Beer Stores across Ontario. This Beer Store is now officially Recycling Plus.

Instead of the cooling glass of beer, symbol of the Beer Store for many years, the new store sports a Statue of Liberty with the slogan: Give me your empties, your tired electronics, your muddied paint cans…the contents of your teeming garage (paraphrased from Emma Lazarus, American poet, 1849 to 1887).

Instead of wielding a giant pair of scissors, Jimmy Bradley pushed the first bin of junk to be recycled down the rails of the store. All of this was duly recorded by the news media. The only regret was that the Minister could not then offer the media a cooling beer for all their hard work covering the event. This recycling place does not have any beer.

And that has been our point for years. The stores should either sell beer or be recycling depots. They are lousy retailers and they are destroying Ontario’s beer business. Step two is to get Brewers Warehousing completely out of the beer business. The company is not good at that job. Maybe it has a role in distribution but that is up to the beer companies. They might appreciate the efficiencies of having their products all delivered at the same time but we really should return to a more competitive beer business in Ontario. It is also better for business to ask for the elimination of government price fixing.

Convenience stores and grocery stores need to be free to create their own specials and price cuts  on six packs to attract business. All that government should care about is that it gets its due in tax revenues.

We had better admit that this first Beer Store/recycling centre is just a pilot but Babel-on-the-Bay has been advocating getting the Beer Stores out of retail beer sales for many years. There is hope on the horizon.

But one question, if we may, about the new role: Will the employees of these new recycling centres have to wear hazmat outfits?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Timmy Hudak confuses ideology with thinking.

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Ontario Opposition Leader Tiny Tim Hudak has come up with another of his white paper policies. The subject of this one is education and return on investment. If you have read this one, please raise your hand,

Seeing no hands raised, it should be noted that this so-called white paper is almost unreadable. If you attempt to read it on-line, you are in for a technological treat in just finding out how to read it. After you have finally figured out how to do it, you will find that the effort is not worth it. It is a pedantic, badly written, boring document with nothing new to say. It cries out for enforced standards in the English language that would allow us to pillory the miscreant who did such a disgraceful job of editing.

To be fair, the document is nicely designed with excellent type selection and good quality pictures. Now if it had just said something worthwhile.

The essence of the document is that Timmy wants to tie student loans to marks. Get good marks and Timmy’s professorial police will approve your next semester’s student loans. Mind you, in Timmy’s Brave New World (sorry Mr. Huxley) most students will be directed to the labor force and streamed through the community colleges for faster trades training. He is not about to support mediocre university students who try harder.

Timmy’s penchant for cost savings is evident in the document as he searches for areas of left-wing waste. He is determined that he is going to save us money—no matter how much it hurts us.

Some of the white paper is believed to be authored by Cambridge-North Dumfries MPP Rob Leone. A former assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, he says he wants to fund institutions of higher learning based on the jobs won by their graduates. That is certainly an unusual idea and many people are interested in learning how he expects to be able to do that.

Timmy must be disappointed that his white paper has not won universal applause since being released earlier this week. No doubt some are still trying to read it and many more have given up. It is surprising though to read a document about higher education written in language that should be easily understood by someone with a grade eight education. Maybe Tiny Tim is just defining his market.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Good on you Marc Garneau.

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

When chatting with MP Marc Garneau when he visited Babel last weekend, your friendly blogger made some negative remarks to the Liberal leadership contender about the party debates and the boring love-in being presented. Marc defended the party, as best he could, but was hopeful that the upcoming format in Mississauga might be better. He also nodded agreement when it was suggested that somebody needed to stir things up. And yesterday, he did.

Not only did Marc stir it up, in a release to the media, he landed it right on Justin Trudeau’s chin. The former naval captain knew just where to attack. Like the rest of us, Marc has become impatient with young Trudeau’s rhetoric on the middle class, youth engagement, his ‘bold’ plan and his ‘clear’ vision—without telling Canadians what any of this means. Marc equates it to being asked to buy a car without being allowed to test-drive it.

Marc, of course, softened his attack by lauding the excellent job Justin has done in signing up people to the Liberal Party and contributing to party funds. It would never do to have two such stalwarts of the Liberal caucus really angry at each other.

Marc made his point very clear for the media when he said, “Too often in the recent past we have put our faith as a party in one individual without asking the tough questions: Where do we stand? What is our vision for Canada?” Marc wants the party to do better. He said, “Now is the time to get it right. In this race, we must know what it is we are voting for, not just who we’re voting for.”

Go get ‘em Marc.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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On tar sands, politicians, pipelines and greed.

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

If you like how you have been ripped off on gasoline prices, you have to love the Alberta tar sands exploiters. Whether corporate or political, these are the same people who have been lying to you for years. And, like it or not folks, the bastards are winning.

There are just too many pipeline strategies at play for an ecologist to track or to fight. It hardly matters the tragedy that Enbridge caused near Kalamazoo, Michigan a couple years ago. People forget, unless you live there.

And what is the difference between Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway in British Columbia? Is Northern Gateway just the stalking horse for the Kinder Morgan plan? After all, the first stage of the Kinder Morgan route is in place from Edmonton to Burnaby—now they just want to triple the volumes.

Did you know that experts for the pipeline people have testified that bitumen slurry from the tar sands is lighter than water and therefore floats? Those living along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan can probably point out that the bitumen, as would any form of asphalt, eventually separates from the slurry and sinks.

The one excellent use for bitumen is to pave highways. And these roads are not gold as your Alberta politicians think. Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford is weeping buckets these days because the tar sands exploiters are getting ripped off by the Americans who have adequate supply and are not as committed to buying that bitumen. Would you want to refine gunk that pollutes about three times as much and costs more to convert into gasoline or heating oil?

We would never want anyone to freeze in the dark but Canadians from outside Alberta probably expect Albertans will eventually pay taxes like the rest of the country.

Can you believe that New Brunswick Premier David Alward actually thinks the Irving Refineries in Saint John will want to refine bitumen sent through reversed pipelines from Alberta? Those pipelines are to be used at high temperature and under high pressure to get that bitumen slurry to sea ports where it can be shipped to the markets that will pay for it. It will work—as long as the pipelines last!

And then there is the conundrum of poor President Obama. The guy is listening to pleadings from the Canadian government to okay the damn Keystone XL pipeline to the Texas coast where bitumen can be shipped to countries that do not care about pollution. What is a guy to do when a good neighbour pleads? And if he rejects the TransCanada Pipelines bid, there is always the Enbridge back-up route through Illinois as an alternative. As Mr. Obama can tell you: it is tough to care about the environment!


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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If you were wondering why Wynne won’t?

Monday, February 11th, 2013

There is a feeling of deep sadness to the announcement of the Wynne Cabinet in Ontario. On Global Television’s Focus Ontario yesterday, former Ontario Tory leader John Tory forecast that there would not be an election in Ontario this year. As you know, John has been wrong before.

Looking at this cabinet tells the story. Wynne has chosen the losing options. She has gone with the city mouse’s solutions. In a scenario of limited choice, she has chosen badly.

Cabinet making is a tough job at the best of times and this is hardly a good time. A new premier’s options for cabinet are there in the party caucus. It is one of the reason’s the party with the most seats in the House is asked to form a government. It is the new premier’s opportunity to surprise, thrill, affect change and to set new directions.

And the vultures gather in case it does not happen. If there is no vision, no chutzpah, no future, there will be carrion for the feasting. There is no forgiveness in the opposition. There is no cease fire for the asking. Conservative leader Tiny Tim Hudak can just about taste the vindication of his hero Mike Harris. New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath can see the opportunity for herself as Ontario’s second female premier.

Wynne’s problem in cabinet making is that she is dealing the cards with an insider’s knowledge but the public reaction is based on perceptions. Laurel Broten cannot be in a cabinet that must outlive the use of Bill 115. It spelled her death knell as a liberal politician. For Deb Mathews to stay in the Health Ministry and become deputy premier was an acceptance of the errors of McGuinty’s final year. This does not indicate change to the voters.

For people to label MPP Charles Sousa as second choice for finance minister was an attempt to castrate him before he takes out his banker’s pen. For Wynne to retain the agriculture minister’s position is an insult to Ontario’s farming community. If she is to do a proper job as premier, she has no time for the farmers. People will probably welcome the addition of MPP Nasir Naqvi to the cabinet but they will not be as complimentary about the re-appointment of MPP Harinder Takhar.

Our new premier might not welcome comments from the boonies about her cabinet making but life is not always fair. And, after all, has she ever listened to us before?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Our MP astronaut lands in Babel.

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Liberal leadership contender MP Marc Garneau came to Babel yesterday. He was doing the route from Sudbury to Toronto, down Highway 400—stopping for an hour here and an hour there along the way. There were about 20 Babel Liberals and one belligerent drunk at a local bar to greet him.

At least 20 of the locals liked what they saw. Garneau is a very sophisticated, charming gentleman. He needs to stop wringing his hands while talking but that is a habit the best of speakers can pick up if they do not have it pointed out to them. His stump speech showed him to be a kind and concerned person but it lacked the spark of leadership that the party needs. When he was finished the set piece, your impression was that this is someone you are glad to know and you desperately wish there were more like him in Canada’s parliament.

Garneau is a highly intelligent man and, within his fields of expertise, he probably has few who exceed his knowledge. At the same time, even his empathy for people failed him when one chronic complainer got him caught in the complexities of federal-provincial responsibilities. He listened very politely and then honestly told the person that he could not provide an answer but that he shared her concerns.  That was when the drunk chimed in and started to harangue the MP for not answering the question. Luckily the electoral district president is a large person and he went down to invite the gentleman up to join the group to ask his questions. The gentleman decided nursing his beverage was the better idea.

That left our guest from Ottawa standing there looking as though he had stepped in something soft and squishy in our barnyard. We quickly got into some softly lobbed questions to cover the balance of the hour he had promised us.

One question that was asked during the question period was how he described a liberal. It drew a lengthy response. It was the wrong answer. It was the kind of answer with which a truly progressive conservative would be comfortable. Garneau never once mentioned the liberal concern for the rights of the individual in society. Nor did he really describe the party as reformers.

Marc Garneau is a Quebec Liberal and you have to make allowances for that. Quebec Liberals think of themselves as good managers and they attract many of that type. They are just not philosophically liberal.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Location, location, location: builds casinos.

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

It has finally been deduced that the main argument in Toronto over casinos is where they will be located. Some people got it into their minds that the Toronto Convention Centre would be a great location. All that has done is confuse the issue.

It has already been determined that nobody cares what the residents of Toronto feel about the issue. The level of ignorance among the citizenry, their politicians and the news media has made it clear that any discussion of the facts for or against the issues involved is a waste of time. There are just too many people who are neither interested in facts nor willing to allow others their individual rights.

The few politicians actually willing to fairly discuss the pros and cons of the casino issue are lost in the overwhelming rift between the Mayor Ford supporters and the Mayor Ford haters. If you are a Ford supporter, you are expected to favour a casino. If you are a Ford detractor, you are expected to shun casinos, demon rum and the devil in equal parts.

But the biggest problem—mentioned earlier—is the location problem. The people promoting the Toronto Convention Centre location for a casino are crazy like foxes. They could care less about the infrastructure problems involved. So what if the area is hyper congested and unable to support the sheer numbers of people. That is bonus day to these developers. Congestion makes them rich. That is their nirvana. It assures their future.

If you have never stood outside the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas on a Saturday evening to watch that panorama thingy they do in Vegas, you might not understand. There is a magic to the event. And if you do not have your pocket picked and get groped by at least three hookers, you have not fully enjoyed the scene.

But realistically, the better Toronto locations for a casino are at the west end of the Exhibition Grounds, Woodbine Race Track or at the far end of Scarborough. In any of those locations, the land should be owned by the city and the city’s share of the proceeds are easily ensured.

Of course this might require that some of the city politicians grow up and realize that they cannot stand Canute-like against the tides of human nature. The people in Toronto who want to go to a casino will go anyway. Why give the profits to bus companies?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Now is the winter of Mr. Harper’s discontent.

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Prime Minister Harper might see himself in the role of Shakespeare’s much maligned Richard III but he must still reap the rewards of his own perfidy. When he sought to carelessly swamp the Liberal Senate with instant senators, ready and willing to do his bidding, he did not choose overly well. In that other place of supposedly sober second thought, there was no guarantee of sobriety, honesty or parsimony. And now what is a Prime Minster to do?

Harper must be keeping constitutional experts burning the midnight oil to find him a way to either rid himself of the Senate or to change its errant ways. While a signatory to the idea of an elected, equal and hopefully effective senate, Harper would probably be happiest just to get rid of the damn place. At a cost of more than $16 million per year for the Senate, Harper probably figures he has enough useless Members of Parliament in his caucus in the House of Commons without paying for more in the Senate.

And what guarantee does he have that a Triple ‘E’ Senate would have a majority of Conservatives. He knows as well as the next politician that an election can be a crap shoot and he could end up with another Liberal dominated Senate.

He wants to rid himself of those pesky Senators. Not the ones that play hockey out in Kanata but the ones who call themselves parliamentarians. And he has a particularly large mad on at the moment for Senators such as Brazeau and Duffy. He sent those guys to the Senate to do what he wanted not for them to do what they wanted. Brazeau can be a bit of a blowhard and he cannot even beat young Trudeau in the boxing ring. New Democrat MP Charlie Angus had the best line in the House of Commons the other day when he asked what Anne of Green Gables and Senator Mike Duffy have in common—they are both fictional residents of Prince Edward Island.

The problem facing the Prime Minister is that the constitutional experts are explaining to him that the only way to get rid of the Senate is with the agreement of the provinces. And he is hardly going to start horse trading with that bunch just because some senators are annoying him.

The problem we have folks is that even if the Prime Minister and the provincial people could ever agree on anything, the Canadian people have the last word. And we all know what happened to the foolish Charlottetown Accord.

The process has to be reversed. We have to start with a popularly elected Constitutional Conference, followed by a referendum. That way, what the provincial politicians think becomes academic as their own people will have had the say. And that is democracy.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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