Archive for April, 2013

“I’m just a lonely boy, lonely and blue.”

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Ottawa’s Paul Anka said it best. You can understand the anguish of his famous song when you feel lonely. And, wow, can you ever feel lonely when you find you are allied with that rag-tag group of misfits on the Toronto Executive Committee. These people want a casino in Toronto for all the wrong reasons.

Toronto Council, according to most of its spokespeople, is motivated solely by greed. They want casino operators to guaranteed hosting fees of at least $100 million per year. No responsible developer can guarantee that from a casino. And woe-betide the casino operator who has to put paying his nut to the city ahead of building and maintaining a healthy base of happy customers.

This fiasco draws you to the conclusion that neither side of the casino issue knows what they are talking about. And that hardly stops them from telling you all about what they do not know.

And now we find that a staff report for city councillors recommends that they use the casino as a carrot for a developer who will include an over-sized convention complex with the casino. The report thinks that such a complex could attract some $392 million in direct spending in the city. What the report fails to tell the councillors is that a casino by itself, properly located and promoted, could keep as many as five per cent of visitors in the city for an extra day and probably generate three times as much direct spending.

The report does, grudgingly, suggest that council support the expansion of Woodbine Entertainment into a full-fledged casino operation. This should have happened years ago and it draws on an entirely different market than a downtown or Scarborough location would serve.

People in Toronto should remember that theirs is the fourth largest English speaking metropolitan area in North America and it attracts over 20 million visitors a year. Nobody cares if you like to gamble or not. Some people do. If we are going to continue to attract visitors to our city, we need to offer a wide range of attractions, activities, sports, theatre, dining, etc. Casinos are just part of the excitement and fun of a great city experience.

Casinos are not a cash cow for lazy city councillors who are bereft of good ideas as to how they can fund the infrastructure and services that make a great city work.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Justin Trudeau and servant leadership.

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

In his speech to the Liberal faithful from Toronto last weekend, Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau referred to the concept of servant leadership to explain his approach to greater democracy in the Liberal Party of Canada. One of the most successful leadership techniques in business and organizations around the world, you rarely hear of servant leadership in politics. Too often, people question the sincerity.

And yet servant leadership is what politics is all about. The essential step to becoming an effective leader is to first be a good servant. That rare person who is a natural leader knows that instinctively. It is the desire to serve that brings that person to a position of leadership. To remain an effective leader, you remain an effective servant. It is leadership that can corrupt the servant.

While examples of servant leadership have been around for thousands of years, it was only in the late 1900s that an American, the late Robert Greenleaf, studied and tried to explain servant leadership. He listed the characteristics of servant leadership and identified how they contributed to successful organizations. His foundation today continues to train leaders and servants.

Many of us in business saw these relationships as just an ethical basis for moral dealings with the complex relationships of business publics. When Greenleaf was writing his books, we were addressing university business classes on the importance of ethics in all business dealings.

And yet in politics the struggle is always to find the people whom you can serve. The knowledgeable political apparatchik can always find takers. And they take until they bleed you dry. The more freely you give, the less likely it is to be paid forward or back. Your usefulness becomes finite to those you serve.

The greatest danger is for the need to serve to be taken as arrogance. The best example of this in politics was the rhetorical question Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau asked on a western trip: Why should I sell your wheat? What is always left out of that quote was his continuing with a defence of the Canadian Wheat Board.

It is expected that Justin Trudeau will be more cognizant than his father of why you should never ask rhetorical questions of an audience. He also appears to have more intelligence than people want to give him credit for. That could be the ideal balance.

It will be fascinating to see how Stephen Harper’s people decide to attack Justin Trudeau. He will not be as easy a target as they think.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The challenge of the Liberal-NDP merger.

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Nobody is giving up on this issue. MP Justin Trudeau did not lay the issue to rest in his address to Liberals and supporters in his speech from Toronto last week. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair cannot brush the issue aside. The decision belongs to the parties; not the leaders. The rationale of these parties working together is too persuasive to go away. We have to find a way for the Liberals and NDP to cooperate going into the 2015 federal election. It is simple as that and as complex as that.

We are not talking about anything that might be novel or new. It has been done before and it works.

As recently as 2003, the Canadian Alliance (the former Reform Party) merged with the Progressive Conservative Party and became the Conservative Party of Canada. The difference was that these parties were losers. The Reform Party was a Western rump unable to make inroads in the east and the Progressive Conservatives had hit a low of just two seats in Parliament after the 1993 election. And the Canadian Alliance experiment was short lived. It was these losers who united the right.

Why cannot a strong left create a more vibrant party, a progressive party and a winning party to better serve Canadians?

It is not as though our respective leaders of the left would let their ego’s interfere with the needs of Canadian voters? Would they?

It is certainly time for the merger. Canadians want to get rid of the Harper Conservatives. They want to be proud of their country again. They need a government that can restore their pride.

The New Democrats are obviously moving to the right, away from their socialist origins. The Liberals are far more conscious today of the social needs of Canadians that the Conservatives have been ignoring. Both Liberals and the NDP are moving into the space of social democracy. Their combined objectives can create a better future for Canadians.

In the next year the new Liberal leader and the New Democrat leader will be directing their parties to develop and endorse election platforms that will say very much the same things. The same needs have to be met. The same voters have to be served.

If these parties intend to fight each other in the coming election, they will be helping the Conservatives defeat them both. When you come together with strength, when you work together with pride, you are building a future for all. Think about it.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

“A leader for the 21st Century.”

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

With those words, MP Justin Trudeau summed up his campaign Saturday for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. It is all over now but for the voting. In a modern campaign when time is supposed to collapse, the experience of the past six months was the bonus. It gave Liberals and their supporters time to consider. It gave candidates time to choose their route. It gave everyone time to grow.

It was a warm, chastened, intelligent and more experienced Justin Trudeau who discussed the leadership Liberals and Canadians need and want in the 21st Century. Gone was the playboy who laced on boxing gloves with a Conservative Senator. Gone was the seat of the pants policy pronouncements. Gone was the young man who let his name speak for him.  This was a leader.

And the other candidates knew that there was no brass ring for them. MP Joyce Murray carried on her campaign in the finest political tradition of finishing strong. She is obviously our Minister of the Environment post 2015 and hopefully she will have an effective voice in the Liberal Party for reform of Canada’s antiquated and creaky political structures. The best of her address was the claim that “Liberals are the heart of Canada.”

The weakness of Deborah Coyne’s campaign was obvious with her warm-up spot on the program. The realization, listening to her speech, was that she is a remarkably intelligent but is no politician. Ms. Coyne sees the attempts to unite the Liberal Party with the New Democrats in ridings where there is a sitting Conservative as an attempt to “bend the will of the electorate.” She does not see it as giving the voters a solution.

Speaking of non-politicians, Karen McCrimmon was there in a white pant suit. She was the first person we have ever seen running for office in Canada in a white suit. At least Martha Hall Findlay was there in a more feminine dress. She showed more skin than she needs to at her age but she still looked good. Watching her, you could only agree with her claim the “you know what you get with me.” She painted a strong picture of the 2015 election and it will be interesting to see where she runs in that election.

There is no comment on former MP Martin Cauchon as the streaming video from Toronto crapped out just when he was supposed to speak. Mind you, without simultaneous translation, Cauchon is hard to follow even for us sesquilingual Canadians. (That is those of us who grew up not needing to turn our cereal box to read it.) You would think that those cheap Liberal officials in Toronto would consider simultaneous translation essential for the Toronto event.

There were lots of old tricks used to make the crowd look bigger and they helped. Justin brought them all to life though but he warned the audience there and at home that “hope needs hard work.” He has a tough road to travel in the next two years and Liberals need to get behind him.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Stephen Harper’s haphazard economics.

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

It must be Stephen Harper’s biggest lie. Opinion polls consistently show that Canadians believe he is strong on the economy. Yet, it is in managing the economy that he continues to fail us. He is always pulling the levers of the economy in the wrong direction at the wrong time. And his ‘big lie’ government advertising program—the mythical Economic Action Plan—emphasizes his economic errors.

Canada lost a record number of jobs in April in the key provinces of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. Here we have been shoring up the manufacturing losses in the east with resource jobs in the tar sands of Alberta and now we find out that both sides of the issue are losing.

And the budget full of federal job creation programs in both Ontario and Quebec is proving to be nothing other than smoke and mirrors promises. The Harper Conservatives are so busy firing civil servants in Ottawa, they have lost sight of what it takes to make this country a success.

Recently our Foreign Minister went to Baghdad to trumpet the opening of a consular mission in Iraq—which despite sectarian troubles has the fastest growing economy in the Middle East. The Canadian presence in Iraq is now an office for Canada in the British Embassy. That was the way Canada handled its foreign affaires before World War II.

And speaking of things British: Canadians thought they had come a long way from being a colony. Yet the Harper Conservatives are spending money to put the word ‘Royal’ back on the military and everywhere else.

But in foreign affaires, the Harper Conservatives have been making enemies for Canada around the world. A country that was once noted for its peace keeping activities is now recognized as a simple sub-set of American imperialism.

As Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has constantly proved that he does not tell Canadians the truth. He has defied parliament. He has defied his own budget officials. His government has gagged Statistics Canada. He makes it easy for his friends to control Canada’s news media. The truth becomes a random thing.

And where are we as Canadians? We no longer trust the media. We no longer trust the government. We no longer trust our institutions. We are a nation of distrust and anguish. We are a country seeking a future.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Just how much should Liberals stand for?

Friday, April 5th, 2013

The federal New Democrats are still trying to hide their socialist roots. They will debate the question of deleting any reference to their socialist origins from their history again at their meeting this year. Thinking of this lead us to a re-examination of what Liberal.ca had to say about the principles of Liberals. It is a pleasure to report that we have some.

In a section of the Liberal web site, entitled What we stand for, there is a list of stands that reads like something written by committee. It seems that we not only stand for opportunity but for equality of opportunity. That is as close as the current crop of Liberals get to admitting they are a party that once cared about individual rights.

This list features a stand in favour of fiscal responsibility. The Tories must have accused us of irresponsibility again. This must also be why we only stand for affordable access to post-secondary education. If we really worried about individual rights, we would ensure access to post-secondary education for all.

It must also be why we add the word ‘sustainable’ to universal public health care. God forbid that Liberals should look like spendthrifts over healthcare.

Maybe some people do not understand the difference between principles and promises. That is like the Tories being tough on crime, while Liberals say they stand for an ‘evidence-based crime policy.’ Does that mean we are not soft on crime but want more evidence in court?

We were particularly pleased to see, in this otherwise insipid list, that Liberals stand for “open, fair, and strong democratic representation. We must have been out for a beer though when Liberals decided they were ‘committed to exploring parliamentary and electoral reform.’ You would think that if this was the case, there would be more than a groundswell of support for British Columbia MP Joyce Murray’s efforts for voting reform and cooperation with other progressive parties.

Besides needing a more knowledgeable editor to fix the grammar and punctuation in this pathetic manifesto, the creators of Liberal.ca will need to check with the new leader to see if he (or she) wants to be connected with such tripe.

And there is also the possibility that the new leader will want to check with the party rank and file and find out where they want to go and how they want to identify their efforts.

Frankly, we are willing to bet that Liberals and most Canadians would very much like to return to the pride they once felt for their country. Mr. Harper has damaged it enough.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Citizen says pipelines are here to stay.

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

You have to hand it to the Ottawa Citizen. Despite its right-wing bias and hand-in-glove obeisance to the Harper Conservatives, it is still one of Canada’s better newspapers. Which, to be honest, does not say much for the rest of the newspapers in Canada. In a country that used to have inspired, inquisitive, insightful newspapers, written with integrity and intelligence, the road downhill has been a sorry sight. That was why there was a deep sadness felt the other day when reading an Ottawa Citizen editorial in praise of oil pipelines. It shows how far the craft of journalism has fallen!

The editorial has the colossal nerve to start by recognizing the anguish of the citizens of Mayflower, Arkansas who had Alberta bitumen pooling on their streets from a ruptured pipeline. The Citizen writer thinks that the Mayflower incident should have no influence on President Obama’s decision in regards to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. That is certainly one opinion.

The premise of the editorial is that pipelines are here to stay and we better get used to it. It daringly says that Ottawa needs to put more pressure on the tar sands companies to improve safety and their environmental record. It thinks turning down Keystone XL would be a costly, symbolic gesture.

What this editorial and most apologists for the tar sands ignore is that there are different types of oil products moved around the continent via pipelines. The first was crude oil. This commodity makes for messy spills that are hard on the local wild life but can be mopped up with a lot of work. And now we have bitumen slurry. This highly corrosive tar sands product has to be moved through pipelines at a higher temperature and under higher pressure. This is why we are seeing ruptures such as in Michigan and Arkansas. The pipeline people are trying to send bitumen through older, less reliable pipelines.

The big difference is in the clean up. Oil floats; bitumen sinks And that is why Enbridge is still trying to clean up the Kalamazoo River. There are no estimates of the long term cost in Mayflower, Arkansas.

Rather than argue about this though, maybe we should wait until the old Enbridge Line 9 is reversed to take tar sands bitumen east through Ontario to the sea. That line goes right through Toronto in the area where Paul Godfrey used to live. It was Paul who cobbled together the American and Canadian investors for his billion-dollar PostMedia Network that owns the Ottawa Citizen. It would be fun to watch what happens when Paul’s neighbours show up with a long pole and a sack of feathers. They can use the tar that will be running down Bathurst Street. It might be an old-fashioned idea Paul, but publishers should take responsibility for their papers’ editorial opinions.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Condolences for condominium city.

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Would the last sucker to get out of the condominium business in the Greater Toronto Area, please remember to turn out the lights. You should have seen the writing on the wall four years ago and realized the growing problems in the market. What you probably did not realize was that the biggest problems were created by the Ontario Government’s Condominium Act. Like most provincial legislation, it was written by lawyers to keep lawyers working. The act shows little concern or interest in the needs of condominium owners or residents.

The largest single headache in the condominium market has always been the speculative buyer. These are people who put a down-payment on low-end condominium properties before a shovel goes into the ground. The plan is to resell or rent when the building is completed. You really wonder where these people get their dreams of resale values or rental rates but you can be sure they are in for disillusionment when reality sets in. The really unlucky among them are the ones who move in to try to ameliorate their losses.

Owning a condominium is not like private home ownership nor is it like a rental environment. Owning a condominium is keeping up with the Jones’ in spades. You never know when you will be hit with unexpected assessments and increased condominium fees. This is your property buster and if we do not all look after it, what do you think will happen to property values? And if you are too busy to be on the condominium board, just wait until you learn what those people you did elect are doing.

And to say that the board you helped elect is just incompetent is probably an understatement. Not that you can sue them for incompetence. The Condominium Act gets them off the hook…if they take the advice of someone like an accountant, lawyer, engineer, etc. who might know something about the subject. This has created an entire industry in Ontario of people who are living off the avails of condominiums. Having once watched, in horror, as an engineer parlayed a $20,000 to $40,000 refurbishing job into a $750,000 bonanza for his friends, we can assure you that these people are certifiable experts at screwing the owners.

And the most serious problems are among those companies that are there to provide professional management. These companies will tell you all about the high standards, training and assistance available to their managers but where these people come from for all the new condominiums popping up, we are not sure. What is really chilling is the knowledge that no matter how little they know, they probably know more than your condo’s board of directors.

You might ask at this stage how the Ontario Government protects condominium owners. Pardon us, we cannot stop laughing.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Babbling on our blog in Babel.

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

It seems that bloggers can get accredited as news media for the Liberal Leadership Showcase in Toronto this coming weekend. The party must be doing everything possible to add warm bodies at the convention centre for the wrap-up of what has become something of a lame-duck leadership race. You can imagine how annoyed the print media editors and broadcast news directors are about having to pay weekend rates for the professionals to cover this non-event. There just might be a lot of Liberal Party of Canada executives sweating over whether they can make the turn-out look like a crowd.

But it is one of those times when people do come to the aid of their party. It is like back in 1967 when due to the sudden resignation of Andy Thompson, the Ontario Liberals had to have a leadership contest with just one candidate, Robert Nixon. The challenge at that time was just to fill the Canadian Room at the Royal York Hotel for the weekend without losing money. We did and it was good fun. Bob Nixon got a rousing send off for his stint as leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario.

And we did not even have bloggers back then to swell the ranks. Mind you a blog is by definition a web log of a person or group of people in which they can record their ideas, thoughts, opinions or anything else they wish to write. Today, there are even blogs that are video clips. The one thing that a blog is not credible at is news. Since blogs are most often opinions, people would be wise to question whether the content is real news.

What seems to weaken most blogs we read is the overwhelming use of the word “I.” You certainly need a bit more ego than most people to sustain a blog over a long period but to constantly write in the first person is not only boring to the reader but becomes a turn-off.

And if you write honestly on your subject area, your blog can also be something of a piss-off. Babel-on-the-Bay has its share of enemies. We have never forgotten the rather unusual e-mail we received once from a Babel Liberal who said that he did not have time to read Babel-on-the-Bay but had been told how awful we were to certain politicians and so he would not read it. This was not particularly devastating.

While the author has worked very hard at times to improve the level of politics in Babel, there has never been any appreciation expressed for the effort. All we note is that the readership of Babel-on-the-Bay continues to grow. It is also good to see the number of repeat readers. While not all the articles will please every reader, you will occasionally find something of interest. We will just not be reporting from the Toronto Convention Centre this weekend.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Bringing you the ultimate casino debate.

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Would someone please tell Toronto City Council to get on with it! The Toronto Star ran what must be story number 50 in the anti-casino debate last week. The embarrassment was that it was written by David Olive, one of the Star’s better writers. It just goes to prove that people will most often write what they are told to write to keep their job.

David Olive’s story was headlined Time to walk away from the casino debate. We only wish the Star would. This story was about the “astonishing” report released March 12 by the Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) at the University of Toronto. (Why it took almost three weeks for the Toronto Star to discover this “astonishing” report was not explained.) In his typical colourful language, David tells us that the MPI report “knocks the stuffing out of the casino advocates’ bloated claims…”

The MPI report and David Olive and the Toronto Star seem to see the possibility of a casino in Toronto as being a “blizzard of numbers—all of them meaningless—and conveyed in a remarkably skewed and misleading manner.” And that certainly seems to be the Toronto Star’s style.

It is David Olive’s premise in the story that there is a limit to how much money the gambling industry can drain from bettors. He thinks we have reached it.

We all need to be reminded that it is not Ontario Lottery and Gaming that is promoting all the smoke and mirrors of large scale resort gambling complexes in Toronto. OLG has finally realized that it is not the organization to be running gaming in Ontario. It wants to turn the business end of things over to the private sector. If those private sector advocates want to make asses of themselves with stupid projections, that is their game. OLG is just being honest and open and offering an opportunity to the Greater Toronto Area.

It might have been fine to have casinos in the major border cities and up in Orillia at the beginning but the price of gas is hurting the casino business in Ontario. People in Toronto should not need to pay bus companies or gasoline retailers to have fun at a casino.

And the MPI people are probably right that Toronto hardly needs a casino to continue to grow, expand and be an economic success. If anything, a casino can be equated to Gay Pride Week, Caribana (or whatever we call it now) and closing down Yonge Street for a street party. These events and a casino are just part of the fabulous mix that says Toronto is a great city. It is saying “We are big kids now and we can play at adult games.”

And Toronto Star editors can stick their anti-casino bias in their ears!

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me