Archive for May, 2013

Premier Wynne, taking on Ford Nation.

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Premier Kathleen Wynne could be taking on far more than she has bargained for in commenting on the situation at Toronto city hall. It is more like a yappy cocker spaniel taking on a couple of pit bulls than a premier dealing with her responsibilities. She is definitely trying to pick a fight way out of her weight class.

While the province has responsibility for the city, there is nothing in the situation over the past couple weeks that requires the Premier to act on behalf of Toronto citizens. Neither Premier Wynne, nor the Toronto Star, nor the Globe and Mail can serve as judge and jury in this situation. As long as Rob Ford is free to carry on his responsibilities as Mayor and the city continues to function, there is no reason for the province to interfere.

Even if the Premier was answering a direct question from the media about the Toronto situation, she needed to be more diplomatic and to stay out of it. If the questions about the Mayor’s recreational preferences are ever really answered, there is going to be serious spatter for everyone involved. She hardly wants to be a bystander when that hits the fan.

And do not forget that any politicians or news media outlets that go after the Fords are also taking on Ford Nation. While amorphous and unstructured, Ford Nation is still real. It is more of a concept than a movement. It is the same ‘get even,’ ‘get ours’ mentality that Conservative Leader Tiny Tim Hudak counts on across the province. It is no bastion of liberalism. They are the same people as those moving their lips as they read the Toronto Sun on the subway each morning.

If Wynne even wanted to neutralize some of the Ford Nation vote, she never would have fired Lottery and Gaming tsar Paul Godfrey. Paul wanted a casino in Toronto and he was the one person who might have made it happen. Wynne crippled his efforts by ordering that there would be no special deal for Toronto and then fired him because he could not do his job. Paul hardly headed back to his duties running Post Media to pout.

The Toronto Star recently helped Kathleen Wynne celebrate her first 100 days as premier. The newspaper thinks she has done a pretty good job so far. The Toronto Star has been wrong before.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Premier Wynne: Hiding in plain sight.

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Tell us more about Premier Kathleen Wynne. During the current fiasco at Toronto city hall and the Senate scandal in Ottawa, the Premier of Ontario has been getting a free ride. That is cause for concern. And an even greater concern is that we have absolutely no idea what she stands for or what she hopes to achieve as Premier of Ontario.

And what is particularly disconcerting is that when she wants to hide in plain sight, she does another photo-op at a day-care centre. There are two million stories in the big city and Kathleen Wynne’s is just one of them.

After listening carefully to some of her speeches, it is still impossible to tell if Kathleen, the politician, is right wing, left wing or simply confused. The Toronto Star labels her as left-wing but there is very little whole cloth on which to sew that label. Her riding voters know her as reactionary. It is what brought her to their attention. She has done little to change their attitude.

When she celebrated her first 100 days as Premier last week, Wynne pointed to the teachers’ unions as an accomplishment. She might want to give that relationship time to heal before testing it. It is not like the negotiations with the Ontario medical Association, as we still have no idea what peace in that territory cost.

We already have an apology from Wynne for the close to a billion dollars that buying off the gas-fired power plant NIMBYs cost in Mississauga and Oakville. Wynne might have a reputation as a negotiator but it must be fun going around with her pockets full of our cash with which to negotiate.

Wynne is no farmer’s daughter but she has made her first inroads with the farmers by restoring some our funding to horse racing. It is interesting to note that some of the provincial farmers’ organizations are giving her the benefit of the doubt. She is finding a receptive audience to her talk of restraining the proliferation of wind turbines.

Where Wynne might be failing is with members of her own political party. And if New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath ever grows a backbone, a weak, unenthused provincial Liberal Party in Ontario will not save Kathleen Wynne’s new job. She won the job by manipulating the inner workings of the party. She has no real mandate from Ontario’s Liberals. They might not give her another 100 days!


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Lessons learned from Ford and Harper.

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Toronto’s Mayor Ford and Prime Minister Harper are providing very good examples of what not to do in a crisis. Crisis management mangers are having a field day pointing out the errors the two men are making. Instead of pulling themselves out of the mess they are in, they are compounding their problems as they try to fight off their detractors.

In Toronto, the bear baiting continues as the news media tear at the rags of Rob Ford’s dignity and honour. In Ottawa, in the more genteel atmosphere of parliament, the organized protests of the opposition are fended off by the cricket bat of the Prime Minister. In neither case is the beleaguered principle taking the advice of those who understand the psychology of the situation and the need for special handling.

And in neither case is there going to be a sudden reversal, ‘mea culpa’ or confession. It is not in either man’s persona to honestly discuss the problems with the news media. Nor is either going to be believed at this stage if they attempt to redirect the media attention onto someone else.

Both men have made the same mistake in throwing their chief-of-staff under the bus. By that action alone, they have locked all sights on themselves. Neither will ever attain that level of trust again. They have left themselves slim pickings in the narrow field of available chiefs-of-staff. There will be no trust.

Of course, Rob Ford’s friend Stephen Harper is not so foolish as to tell the media ‘no comment.’ Harper had an excuse to get out of town and he took it. While Opposition Leader Tommy Mulcair accused Harper of skipping town, he looked a bit silly suggesting that Harper could make arrangements for such a trip at the spur of the moment.

While Mr. Harper may wish to call the Senate kafuffle a ‘distraction,’ He needs to remember that he created that distraction. He was promising six years ago to do something about the Senate and he ended up packing it with Conservative Party sycophants. That was not what he promised. And he got more than he bargained for.

But both Ford and Harper have convenient memories. Mind you, you might not want to ask Rob Ford about the deleterious effects of crack cocaine on short term memory. Mr. Harper seems to micromanage everything in Ottawa. He needs to explain how he let us down about the Senate. And the Supreme Court will not help. Maybe next year the judges will tell him he needs the support of most of the provinces to fix the Senate problem.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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The creative vacuum at Metrolinx.

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Would someone please put the appointees to the regional planning group Metrolinx out of their misery? These sage advisors have combined their wisdom to tell us not only how to solve Toronto’s gridlock but also how to pay for it. They gave it their best one-two punch. It is now time for them to go. Their job is done. They have failed us.

Without truly creative thinking, the taxes proposed by Metrolinx will become the noose that hangs the Wynne Liberals at Queen’s Park. The buck stops there. The opposition are chortling. Nobody can sell these new taxes.

Look at the suggestions. They are a mish-mash of guaranteed failure. Hike the Harmonized Sales Tax they say. Add parking taxes in Toronto. Throw more taxes on gasoline. Pay for parking at GO stations. Add to land taxes on GO lines. And then there is that old favourite, tolls on HOV highway lanes.

Hudak’s hypocrites on the far right are sanctimoniously condemning these taxes without question. They offer the old chestnut cost savings as the panacea. Last time that was tried, they killed people.

Horwath’s left says tax the corporations. What else is new?

And the axe falls on Finance Minister Charles Sousa. Say what you like about Charles but leave out the word ‘creative.’ That, Charles is not. People knew he had lost it when he first suggested using the High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes on nearby highways to generate revenue from drivers in a hurry. He would clog those lanes so badly that they would have to bar high occupancy vehicles.

Charles does not want to take the blame for his first budget. He calls it his New Democrat budget. They wrote it for him. They had to agree with him. Nobody told him that if the voters wanted an NDP budget, they could have got it by voting for that party.

One little tidbit in all these taxes is that there is a proposal for a mobility tax credit. These people think if the government screws you out of hundreds of dollars for transit, you will forgive them if they give poor people back a few dimes on their taxes. And, of course, by then, we will all be poor.

Metrolinx chair Robert Pritchard is not held back by his voters. He has none. He thinks the people of Toronto will really appreciate what these new taxes buy for them. Maybe he should run for election and ask them.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Leadership in a dark place.

Monday, May 27th, 2013

For three days in a row, this blog wanted to explain crisis management in less than 500 words. It cannot be done. It is not only a very complex subject but it still requires leadership. Without leadership, the political ship drifts in the shoals, an easy target for the land-bound detractors and sceptics. In the City of Toronto, at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa, we are in a dark place and there is little succour in sight.

In Toronto, the city’s warring forces are in full cry. You have the Fords with their vacillating right wing, the militant left with their sometimes camp followers and the rampaging news media, all confusing the public. What is today’s truth is fleeting and stay tuned for tomorrow’s episode. And where is the leadership? What leadership?

They take a survey and tell us that if Olivia Chow runs against Rob Ford, all will be corrected and the sun will shine once more on city hall. And those who know Olivia Chow’s record at city hall are wondering where this sudden leadership is to come from?

The ownership of Toronto’s problems belongs at Queen’s Park. The problem is that the Ontario government is like a bear beset with dogs set on bringing it down. And the dogs will eventually win. Leadership at Queen’s Park is a compromise on top of a deal made by strange bedfellows. Premier Wynne has had her chance to be a new broom, a fresh face and a new direction. She stalled and can hardly fight on all the fronts facing her administration. That takes leadership.

And then there is Ottawa. This is Canada’s compromise in leadership. It took Stephen Harper’s Conservatives three elections, attack ads and robocalls to get a majority. We already knew how bad a leader he could be. We were offered no alternative. He could only pass Michael Ignatieff by destroying him. And Jack Layton was just another pawn.

The new Liberal leadership in Ottawa is a glimmer and still in the chrysalis stage. It has yet to take wing. The need in this country is for a leadership of change, a leadership of challenge and excitement. It can happen in an open party, a party that accepts its responsibilities for policies, new candidates, funding and new structures. It can happen in a party that says to Canadians that the options are open to the type of country we all want. It takes leadership to make that happen. The potential is there. It will take all of us to make it happen.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Is Lord Connie rehabilitated enough?

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Conrad Black is reported to have used his time in the United States federal prison system to write a book. It seems like a strange place to write a book called Flight of the Eagle, extolling the greatness of America. Not having read the book yet, we cannot wait to read what he thinks of Chicago. Maybe the book is a retroactive appeal for a change of venue.

But where does Lord Crossthepond go next? While his books get some critical acclaim, nobody appears to be rushing to buy them. This latest hardcover is already selling at a cut price of $20 at the local Chapters. Lord Connie might as well be writing a blog for all the wealth his writing efforts are generating.

Not that he needs a tag day. It is just that Conrad has always lived by his wits. He would never accept the fact that he is at an age where most of us think of retirement and an easier lifestyle. Even if he could get his Canadian citizenship back, it is unlikely that Stephen Harper would send him to the Senate to get it to run properly. A Senate salary might barely pay for Barbara’s shoes.

But if he is going to continue to pick fights with New Democrat Leader Tommy Mulcair, he needs to be in a position whereby he could benefit from it. Just the other day, he was razzing Stuffy Tommy for the loss by the NDP in British Columbia. Connie seems to be the only talking head in the business who thinks it is Tommy’s fault. You have to admit that Connie always has had a unique perspective on this country.

Obviously Lord Connie cannot return to the publishing business. While Paul Godfrey at Post Media seems to like him, it is hard to imagine shareholders sharing any level of trust. Connie might not be rehabilitated or ready enough to return to the publishing business. He has already been away too long.

That leaves the tried and true of politics. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper seems wearied. All Lord Connie has to do is renounce his lordshipness and his friend Stephen will restore just plain Connie to his Canadian citizenship. The only job that Connie wants is Stephen Harper’s. Canadians could go into the 2015 federal election with Prime Minister Conrad Black versus Stuffy Tommy and Justin Trudeau.

The mind boggles. The stomach rebels. What excitement. What a challenge. Can you imagine the ensuing campaign? We will report further on this idea.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Is Mayor Rob Ford the problem in Toronto?

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Sure, blame Toronto Mayor Rob Ford! You need to understand that even if you remove Rob Ford as mayor, Toronto’s problems will not go away. You will still have a dysfunctional city council and a badly run city.

But no city of its size or larger seems to be run much better. Have you looked at New York’s problems? And do you really want to be like Chicago? Montreal has a construction probe in progress that is delving into levels of corruption that are even surprising the crooks.

You have to think of Toronto’s problems at city hall as former Premier Michael Harris’ gift to the citizens of Canada’s largest city. And no provincial political party will rush to fix the problems he created. When Mike Harris finally amalgamated the city, it remained less than the sum of its parts and Queen’s Park was in control. The large size of the city council that Harris provided practically guarantees a lack of cohesion on council.

Party politics is not there on the surface in the city but it exists in fact. Many councillors use party politics to get elected and then act as independents. Alignments can be a temporary convenience but can shift with the issues. The left-wing of council has an advantage with the strong New Democratic electoral district associations in the downtown. The suburbs have Liberal and Conservative strengths. There are a few councillors who are not members of any party but they often align themselves with the right or the left of council.

Many citizens do not seem to realize that the mayor has just one vote among the council of 45. The mayor has an advantage in being able to work with a like-minded executive committee and set the agenda for the full council. As was noted last week in the casino vote, the left-wing of council got the 23 council members needed to overturn the mayor’s decision to take the casino off the agenda. The council decision on a casino was more of a rejection of the mayor but it still made council look ignorant and prudish.

While Toronto has had some bad experiences with both municipal-only and traditional parties at city hall, the only solution is to end the hypocrisy and put together parties that could then select their own mayor. The voters need to know who they are voting for, what the agenda will be and who is responsible. Until then, you can enjoy the funny farm.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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An appropriate salute to Queen Victoria.

Friday, May 24th, 2013

Happy birthday Your Majesty! As children in Ontario, we used to set off fireworks to celebrate your birthday. It was a joyous occasion. It was wonderful to know that the sun never set on your empire. We were all British subjects. You were the image of our strength. You were a moral compass. We all got passing grades in our loyalty.

But times have changed lady! You have been dead for some 113 years. The children that you spawned to repopulate the palaces of Europe are long gone. Your great-great granddaughter, Elizabeth II is fast coming up on your length of service to your people as one of the few reigning monarchs left in the world. When she joins you in history, there are no bets on where the English royals are headed.

Elizabeth II has certainly done a fine job on shoring up the monarchy but her own son, the Prince of Wales is one of the stumbling blocks. There is just no respect for a man who was provided with a story-book princess. She gave him a couple of nice kids but he was too busy boffing an old flame. The demise of the princess almost turned into a public relations disaster for the Brit royalty.

So how do we honour you Victoria? What is appropriate in Canada to recognize the sovereign who was the midwife of our Confederation? In four more years, Canada will celebrate 150 years. It is way past time to release us from your apron strings. Canada has proved its loyalty in the blood of wars and support in times of need. We should, in your honour, write a new constitution for this country, this Canada.

Canada has surpassed its origins. We have welcomed the peoples of the world. We are not just English or French anymore. We are all languages, all races, all religions and our perspective is of peace and hope and progress and compassion. Sorry Madam but a country such as this must stand on its own.

And it is also past time when we need to recognize our needs as a country. We tried to import your Parliament of Westminster to this new land and failed. We have the weaknesses in our parliamentary structure that Oliver Cromwell noted hundreds of years ago. We have been unable to patch them with the customs evolved over time as has Westminster. Our version of a House of Lords is a sham. Outdated, misused and misunderstood, the Canadian Senate has failed. It needs modern thinking.

Canadians pride themselves on their democracy. Yet we need checks and balances to the power of our Prime Minister’s Office. We need to distance our court and administrative agency appointments from politics of the day. We have much to rethink. And even if we reason that the time is long past for a royal head of state, in Ontario at least, we will be sure to keep our Victoria Day long weekend holiday.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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The Hair’s in Lima, Baird’s in Ottawa.

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Have your pathetic mewling in parliament if you wish, the Hair is doing South America. Far from the foolishness of the Opposition and the tulip festival of Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on a mission. In a strange reversal of their roles, Foreign Minister John Baird is in full fledged denial in parliament.

Unlike the Americans, where the Secretary of State does the travelling while the President minds the store in Washington, the Canadian Prime Minister gets far more frequent flyer points. In fact, recently Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Mr. Baird’s Bobbsey twin, has been travelling more than the Foreign Minister. That could be telling us something about the upcoming cabinet shuffle.

But, there is a big ‘but’ if you think Jason Kenney will end up in Foreign Affairs. Jason Kenney wants Stephen Harper’s job. That would not be so crucial if it were not for Jason Kenney also being one of the leading sons of the religious right of the Conservative Party. If he chooses Kenney for Foreign Affaires, you would have to assume that Mr. Harper is not going to be around for the next election.

This does not mean that John Baird is not auditioning right now for Peter Van Loan’s job as Government House Leader. Baird has far more of a pit bull mentality than Van Loan and it might be a good trade off.

Not that we have any intention of building a better cabinet for Stephen Harper. He is on his own in that regard. Mind you when he does shuffle his cabinet, the most common question will be “What was all the fuss about?”

There is just one other observation about the Hair and Harper’s travels. This trip confirms that Mr. Harper has visited every continent and we lost track of the number of countries a couple years ago. It has been learned that the purpose of this trip is to repay the generosity of party supporters in the mining business. Our trade levels with Peru are almost non-existent but it is rumoured that we do import some of Columbia’s major export product. Mr. Harper is encouraging those countries to be kind to his friends in the mining business. They are probably the same mining magnets who explained that they could not hire Canadian workers for their Canadian mines because the Canadians could not speak Mandarin.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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“Will no one rid me of this troublesome…”

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Since the days of Henry II, civilized society has found ways of ridding our leaders of their troubles. Today, we call these trouble shooters chief of staff or principal secretary. It is a position that wields the authority of the leader, on the leader’s behalf. It is a position of considerable trust.

But it is not deniable. The chief of staff is not a fall guy. He or she is not there to take the blame. The role is that of alter ego. You do not guess at the needs and wishes of the leader. You have to know what is wanted. You are a team. And you are jointly responsible for the actions of the office.

If you are looking up the job description, good luck. Every job of this magnitude is different. Every relationship is different. The key to power is the “Pen.” This is a very simple machine that can sign the leader’s name on letters and documents. The chief of staff is expected to have the key to the Pen. That is what signifies the level of trust.

How does this relate to Prime Minister Stephen Harper? This is a man who micromanages his job. This is a methodical man. While his chief of staff would pick and choose those things that he would report to Harper, there is no way that he would keep information from the Prime Minister. Yes, he might say simply that “the Duffy matter has been looked after sir.” That would mean that he has followed instructions to find a solution. The details of the solution are immaterial to the Prime Minister. He is responsible because he gave the authority to do it to his chief of staff.

While it might be very convenient to have a chief of staff who can write a cheque for more than $90,000 to help out a friend of the Prime Minister, that can hardly be the end if the matter. When the Prime Minister’s chief of staff wrote that cheque to Senator Mike Duffy, he obviously had no concern about being paid back anytime soon. There is always a pay back. It comes with the job.

Having known various chiefs of staff—for different parties and different jurisdictions—we are pleased to report that all are comfortably off, thank you.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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