Archive for March, 2013

Making the Toronto casino the bogeyman.

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

This fiasco has gone too far. Surely there are more important issues for Toronto Council and the Toronto newspapers to worry about. Constantly stirring the pot on a proposed casino is really counterproductive. It is a simple decision.

And any councillor that does not know the difference between guarantees and estimates needs to go back to grade school. If some councillor’s vote can be bought for an estimate of $100 million, why should he or she be reluctant to settle for a more realistic $50 million? It is not as though the money is going anywhere but into general revenues.

Would it really surprise the councillors and pundits to learn that Toronto will likely get more revenue from a casino than Ottawa? It is a simple difference in scale. Toronto serves a market area of over six million people. Ottawa is less than a third of that. Toronto also has some demographic differences and it does not have a pretty little casino already drawing from the market just across a bridge in Gatineau, Quebec.

And the question of a casino has very little to do with mathematics. It has more to do with what the city wants to be when it grows up. Toronto is a city that attracts people from around the world. It is cosmopolitan. It is sophisticated. It has fabulous restaurants and is a centre for design and fashion. It has world-class theatres and entertainments and festivals. It has great hotels, draws huge conventions and tries to have good sports teams in its excellent sports facilities. A casino is just another brick in that yellow brick road.

In reality, the Greater Toronto Area could probably support three world-class casinos. Does the casino have to be part of a larger hotel-entertainment complex? That is a question that the marketing experts can argue. If you were building the casino in the middle of a desert, you would probably need other amenities to attract families. Why does a casino in Toronto need all that additional cost hung on it? Why not use the casino to attract business to the good hotels the city already has? And casinos can support the international cuisine of the city.

When Premier Wynne called Ontario Lottery and Gaming tsar Paul Godfrey into her office the other day, she hopefully told him to try to tone things down. Nobody needs all this foolishness over a casino. And after all, when you have a guard dog like Paul Godfrey to guard your casino profits, you have to let him do the barking.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Stephen Harper is the message.

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

The Harper rule must be that the larger the lie, the larger the advertising budget has to be. And if the federal government only spent $21 million to lie to us about The Economic Action Plan in the past fiscal year, think of how much they will ramp it up for the election two years from now. Can Canadians afford it?

And it is not just the paid advertising. The big lie of The Economic Action Plan is seamlessly applied to all government announcements, ministerial speeches and planned appearances of Stephen Harper. Those exposition backdrops put up as background for the speech or remarks make sure that the theme is clearly visible in every camera shot. And all speeches are carefully vetted to ensure continuity of the theme. Is there a schoolchild in Canada who does not know that the bountiful Harper Government has an “Economic Action Plan” to benefit all Canadians?

What is particularly disturbing is the increased concentration of ownership of Canadian media—particularly among friends of the Harper government. Nobody seems to want to question this increasing mind control. And judging by the quality of the Conservative MPs in the Harper government, few seem capable.

Introduced in 2009, The Economic Action Plan theme has become better known than the Conservative Party’s stylized “C.” In that first year, the Harper government spent $41.3 million on advertising and has come close to doubling the figure every year since. It hardly matters what the government is promoting but some of the less subtle messages are extremely annoying.

Have you noted the new oil tanker in one of the most used versions of the television commercials? After reducing staff in maritime inspection, you have to wonder what the government is promoting in the way of tanker safety. And including foolish tax cuts from more than five years ago is hardly part of any sensible economic action plan.

Initially The Economic Action Plan was used to promote the government’s desperate use of municipal infrastructure programs in the face of the world economic crisis of 2008. While the stability of Canadian banks saved us from being hit as hard as other countries, the Harper government’s providing extra funding for municipal programs was gratuitous, ill-advised and the wrong thing to do. It has left us with municipal taxes that are outrageously high for what we getting today and a serious lack of industrial employment for our young people. The sad reminder that Stephen Harper was trained as an economist is a very bad joke.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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We are finally getting some ‘deficit’ help.

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

It is a lonely road. Ontario Treasurer Charles Sousa is busy working on his budget and he is hardly going to listen to some bloody blogger from Babel. His Premier has told him to fix the deficit and that is what he is going to do. It hardly matters that squeezing the economy at this time is stupid. Charles has his marching orders.

Only a few of us said that Don Drummond’s report to Premier McGuinty and his Treasurer Duncan last year was crap. It was a banker’s report that said the province had to stop running deficits. Every banker in Canada is potty trained on that idea. It is like they know that they only lend money to people who do not need it. They are not exactly Keynesian economists. Banking has nothing to do with economics. Some of Canada’s banks issue economic forecasts as the closest they can get to any form of humour. They are usually wrong but it is a tradition, like giving out calendars.

But help is at hand. It is not exactly neutral help but we will take what we can get. The help is from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Sure, the centre is a bit to the political left but it is a hell of a lot more responsible than the right-wing yahoos at the Fraser Institute. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has always done responsible and well-reasoned work.

And the name of the study says it all. More Harm Than Good is the very appropriate title.

And that is what faces us. With Finance Minister Jim Flaherty bringing down his austerity budget this week, with Ontario’s budget to follow, we are faced with the combination destroying our fragile recovery. We are told that Flaherty’s budget will take us back at least a half century to times of high apprenticeship. This seems like a band-aid solution to a haemorrhage but it is a typically Conservative Party answer. The only problem is that if Ontario follows up that conservative budget with another conservative budget, we will end up screwing the economy.

The authors of the report make it very clear that Liberal Party austerity efforts over the past year have done more for Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak than the voters. They point out that Ontario’s misguided and ineffective efforts at austerity could be creating a self-defeating vicious circle.

The one thing that seems to puzzle the authors is how the Ontario government can keep changing the deficit figures. They are probably like the cost of not building gas fired generating plants. The figures just keep changing.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Everybody wants the perfect mayor.

Monday, March 18th, 2013

You can spend a lifetime wanting what will never be. Last week there was a story in a Toronto paper about finding the best candidate, saying the city needs a mayor everybody can get behind. That will never happen.

It is important to remember that in the last municipal election in Toronto, Rob Ford was not the frontrunner early in the year. It was not until well into the campaign that his promise to get rid of the gravy train started to resonate. The only problem was that when elected, he found that there was no gravy train. He also found that bombast and a media following do not replace leadership. Ford had nothing for the voters.

As a councillor, Ford used a personal approach that worked with the voters in his ward. He was never re-elected in the ward because of his accomplishments but because of that relationship. The only problem is that as mayor of a city the size of Toronto, that kind of personal approach is impossible.

Even here in Babel with a population of about 135,000, the present mayor could hardly run for re-election with the approach he used so successfully in his first run for mayor. By your second go-around, your failures start to catch up with you. The best hope is for no competition. More politicians have been re-elected by weak competition than by accomplishments.

Toronto is much more complex. And to try to get elected in a city of that size without the open participation of political parties makes the situation close to impossible. Anyone who thinks that party organizations are not involved behind the scenes also believes in fairy tales. If, for example, Olivia Chow was foolish enough to leave federal politics for a run at the Toronto mayoralty, she would have a solid phalanx of New Democrat workers behind her. She would also find out what Liberal George Smitherman learned: Being strong in the centre city and Scarborough does not mean you can win in Etobicoke and North York.

Surprisingly Toronto today has the same problem as Babel. It is just a matter of scale. Both cities are lacking a sense of what they are and what they can be. A city is not just a place to live; it is an extension of you as a citizen. Today, both are insecure. Politics is not trusted. Hope is tenuous. Aspirations lack succour. People feel used. Where is the leadership of a future? What is that future? It all starts where we live.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Getting Jean Chrétien at his best.

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Anyone in Canada interested in Canadian politics has to start the week with Tom Clark’s West Block on Global Television. Tom is older than he looks but he was also weaned on Canadian politics. It is in his blood. His father Joe Clark was one of the great Canadian public relations professionals, a founder of Canada News Wire and one of the smartest communicators who ever worked with the Liberal Party. That means when you put that background together to interview former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, you have the elements for dramatic television journalism.

And it is fun. There was a glint in the eye of the former Prime Minister as he led on his interviewer. When interviewing Chrétien, it is always a question as to who is in charge.

And with Jean Chrétien there is that wiliness that has always been his trademark. You can be furious with him one day and the next he has you laughing. He always found people willing to do the nasty jobs and he could attempt to keep his hands clean. It was as though he would not want to dirty his hands destroying Unemployment Insurance or squeezing the provinces on Medicare costs but he was quite willing to let Finance Minister Paul Martin carry the can for those actions.

If you ever wanted to understand the difference between Stephen Harper and Jean Chrétien, it was there in the comments about keeping Canada out of the Iraq War. Chrétien handled George W. Bush with ease and kept us out of the foolish act, while Harper wanted to go to war. Since then, Mr. Harper has put Canadian military in harms way and the damn fool is proud of it.

Chrétien has always been a conundrum to many people because they think he is politically to the left of centre. The truth is, he is a populist—a man of the people. Like Prime Minister John George Diefenbaker of an earlier era, he was loved by the Canadian people. With people like that, the voters can feel that they care.

With the exquisite timing of both Chrétien and Tom Clark, they teased with the idea that the former Prime Minister was going to comment on the policies of likely Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. While you thought the older statesman was going to criticize the younger politician, he turned it around to positive in that Trudeau did have policy and that was to defeat Stephen Harper and that was a policy of which many would approve.

It was great to see M. Chrétien looking so good.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Mulcair rides pipelines to Washington.

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

New democrat leader Thomas Mulcair took the pipeline route to Washington last week.  He agreed with President Obama that global warming is a real issue. He also told the Americans that he does not want to export 830,000 barrels of Alberta bitumen slurry a day to the Texas Gulf coast. He said that represents 40,000 Canadian jobs.

And if we keep those 40,000 jobs in Canada, there is no way in hell we would ever be able to do anything to stop global warming or to reduce our carbon emissions. Mr. Mulcair wants it both ways. He will blame the Harper government for the carbon emissions while showing Canadians that he will secure a ten-year supply of oil products for Canada.

The conundrum for President Obama is that if someone points out to him that the bitumen slurry can be loaded on tankers in Texas, to be shipped elsewhere in the world, he will not have to worry about the carbon emissions refining it. Mind you if someone also points out that bitumen slurry has to be piped at higher temperatures and at higher pressures, he might realize there is far more likelihood of a serious spill that will destroy some of America’s farmland.

But Canadians should also worry. Mr. Mulcair is in favour of reversing Ontario and Quebec pipelines to send the bitumen slurry down to Maine and New Brunswick oil tanker terminals. Luckily NDP MP Nathan Cullen is from B.C. and must have talked to his leader about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline plan. Mr. Mulcair came out flatly against that scheme. Obviously Ontario and Quebec need better advocates in the NDP.

Where Canadians are over the barrel on all of this is the need to meet our own energy needs. We are hardly going to shut down the oil sands. It is a viable source of hydrocarbons. At oil pricing of over C$90 per barrel, it is viable for mining and processing. If the scientists can just find a way to convert it into synthetic oil without destroying the environment, it would be safe to send by oil pipelines wherever it is needed for Canadian, North American and off-shore users.

What people need to realize is that this must be a federal government initiative. It is not just for the benefit of a single province. Canada’s strong economy was built on the mines and the manufacturing of Ontario and Quebec. Canada needs to retain that memory and belief in working together. We have become a much more complex and accomplished country over the years but we can only continue to grow by working together.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Toronto is no Vegas North.

Friday, March 15th, 2013

One of the stupidest statements we have heard lately is the claim by some people that they do not want a Las Vegas in Toronto. In a city that is so paternalistic that it used to chain up the swing sets in its public parks on Sundays, there is no fear of that.

You sometimes wonder why people run for municipal elections in Ontario cities. Is it some ingrained belief that only they are fit to tell the rest of us how to live? In our experience in working with neophyte civic politicians, we have found that most are naïve and have nothing beyond a few simple issues on their to-do list of political objectives. Some of the older ones are there to fight a particular change. The younger ones are there to build their credentials for higher office.

It has also been our impression that the longer one stays in municipal politics, the more the brain atrophies from lack of use. It is the singular reliance on the ultra-conservative city staff that allows the civic politician regular re-election for doing nothing. And God forbid, the moribund city staff be called upon to do anything more creative than raise the municipal taxes each year.

In Babel, for example, the question of a casino came and went before most citizens knew it was possible. The city staff wrote a report on the subject that reads as humorous fiction. They quoted every ignorant statement made by people in Babel who had no idea what they were talking about. The quotes from Babel’s own civic politicians were a sad embarrassment of misinformation.

In Toronto, the fear of becoming Vegas North is the silliest argument of all. Anyone who knows Las Vegas can assure you that there is absolutely no danger of Toronto becoming anything like Las Vegas. When hoodlum Bugsy Siegel decided to get into the casino business in the desert town of Las Vegas, it created a notoriety and panache to the resort town that has carried it to this day. The source of hundreds of films and television specials and series, Las Vegas thrills millions of visitors and convention attendees every year. When you play in Las Vegas, you leave reality behind.

Casinos in Ontario are a very small escape by comparison. They are sadly in-your-face authoritarian, badly designed and worse run. You have to close your eyes very tight to imagine that you are in wondrous Las Vegas.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Nobody said Marc Garneau had to go.

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

All the elements of a race for the federal Liberal Party leadership have ended. We are ending up with the coronation that nobody wanted. The crown now goes to MP Justin Trudeau by default. He has no competition.

Sure, MP Joyce Murray is still there and she has a loyal following because of her willingness to challenge. She wants the Liberals to recognize the need to work with other progressive parties to defeat Mr. Harper. She wants to take a hard look at how we vote. She does not see anything wrong with smoking the occasional joint of marijuana. Some people think she might know more about marijuana than voting systems.

But other than the two Members of Parliament, there is nobody else left. We knew that David Bertschi and George Takach were wasting our time from the first debate. Karen McCrimmon would need a putsch that involved all our military and cadets to get her a seat in the House of Commons. Former MP Martin Cauchon promised us something from the left of the party but has never delivered. And if Deborah Coyne has some better ideas for running this country, we have never heard any of them.

And then there is Martha Hall Findlay. She has always reminded us of a character from the musical Damn Yankees. You know the one: Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets… While we wanted to kick her off the island a few times, you have to admit that she has added something to the Liberal race. She has run an edgy and tough-minded campaign. When you realize that the same guy is working on her campaign as worked wonders with Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s last campaign, you get an idea of why she is probably standing at about five per cent with Liberals. She might just be running for Stephen Harper’s job next time.

The toughest part about liking MP Marc Garneau was the fact that he is a right-wing Liberal. Some of that is understandable in that he is part of the Quebec Caucus. That is hardly a hotbed of reform. Justin Trudeau is not as influenced by the right-wing Liberalism in Quebec because of his broader identification with the country and being born into a political environment. He is quite comfortable discussing the need for constitutional change in Canada among Liberals and takes some fairly firm stands.

But, in reality, we wish that Marc Garneau had not dropped out. No real liberal would criticize him for his showing. He did a valuable service for the party by giving Justin Trudeau some serious competition and asking tough questions. It earned him our respect.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Timmy Hudak wants casino referenda.

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak is as firm and decisive as ever about casinos. He still wants citizens to have referenda on whether to have them. Where he stands on the question, we do not know. Timmy also says he wants gambling to be turned over to the private sector while government collects the taxes and does the regulating. If you get the impression that he wants the tax money, you might mark him on the pro side of casinos.

But there is no forgiving his ignorance. Tiny Tim is asking for referenda that are inappropriate in a democracy. What he is doing is implying that the people who want to have a casino are doing something wrong. Why do you need a referendum to enable something that is legal and regulated? Have we reached the point when we have to have a referendum every time someone wants to open a bar?

We are a society that believes in the rights of the individual. We show this everyday in our acceptance of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Gays are a very small segment of our society and yet we are broadminded and accepting of their choices. That is not as common around the world and there are still a few in our society who oppose our allowing people those rights.

And what people cannot argue against with logic, they will sometimes argue against with falsehoods and half truths. After listening to and reading the claims and counter-claims of those fighting the supposed casino monster, one gets the impression that nobody knows what they are talking about. Gambling can be fun. It is just another form of entertainment. There is an adrenalin rush to winning. From your first bingo game in a church basement to the share the wealth ticket you bought to help a worthy cause, there are people who like to gamble.

And yes, there are some gambling addicts. If our alcohol and drug addicts were as well looked after as the relatively few gambling addicts in this province, we would have a very healthy society.

But let us have the gambling without the hypocrisy. If we must have the hypocrisy in our politics, do not wrap it in phony paternalism. Good government respects the citizens.  Referenda are an ideal solution to matters that impact us all. It is how we choose our governments and decide on how we will vote and address our constitution.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Enquiring readers ask about Harper’s hair.

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Ever vigilant to see what our readers want to know, it was intriguing to see that Babel-on-the-Bay reached new heights  in readership yesterday. Imagine the embarrassment when much of the added traffic was found to be people with questions about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hair. For a writer who likes to believe he gives serious depth to the political concerns of the day, this is embarrassing.

But there are going to be some slow news days for political observers. These are the times when the devil finds work for idle hands. You sometimes address those questions that strike you as funny rather than the ones you think the reader will find insightful.

But for gosh sakes folks, it was six years ago that Harper hired make-up artist Michelle Muntean away from CTV. She has been travelling on the public nickel ever since to keep Mr. Harper in perfect picture-ready condition. His hair is really an old and tired joke. Is it all real? Who cares? It is just too damn plastered to his skull, too perfect to be pure Harper, too immobile and has not aged with him.

Vanity, your name is Harper. Real men from our generation do not wear make-up for picture opportunities with world leaders. They let their hair be a bit wind-tossed when doing an outdoor announcement. They do not continually have backdrops added to naturally interesting location shots. They do not corral the news media to prevent cameras from getting behind the PM for back shots. The guy is just a prime minister, not God.

Mind you, he traverses the world as some kind of potentate. You would think that Airbus A300 was his own personal aircraft. It is likely that his staff and Cabinet enjoy his travels as when he is home in Canada, he micromanages the business of his government. And Mr. Harper does not micromanage well. The only people who are worse managers are those in his cabinet.

And would you believe the other day at the big Reform Party Rodeo in Ottawa, people were promoting the Cabinet’s own Jason Kenney and Tony Clement as potential new leaders of the party after Harper’s departure. Clement is a Neanderthal who Harper let destroy Statistics Canada. Kenney is just the saddest example we could think of as a Neanderthal with training wheels. Either of them as leader of the Conservative Party is almost as sad an event as dear old Preston Manning giving the Conservative Party a lecture on preserving the environment.

See what we mean about a slow news day?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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