Archive for June, 2013

Why is Ontario buying into by-elections?

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

By-elections are sometimes fun but the five coming up in Ontario will be a serious waste of time and money. Why are we doing it? What will we prove? All five electoral districts were formerly held by Liberals. They are Liberal seats to lose. If the Liberals lose just one, does that mean that the voters are just a bit annoyed? If the Liberals lose all five, does that mean the voters are really pissed? Are we really paying for these by-elections to provide the Wynne government with a barometer?

But the vote will not change the legislature. It will still be a Liberal minority government. So what is to be won here?

If the strategy is to have all five by-elections at once, it means that the Liberal strategy mavens at Queen’s park do not expect they will win them all. So they might as well get it over with. It is like pulling off a band-aid all at once.

That is a bad strategy. It does not work well with band-aids either. If the mavens are right, the opposition will unite sooner rather than later to pull Wynne’s government down. The Liberals can beat them to the punch by going for the general election now.

The media think by-elections are a test of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s leadership. They are not. Nobody seriously expects that the Liberals will be so badly trounced that Wynne would resign. Neither will the New Democrat’s Andrea Horwath nor the Conservative’s Timmy Hudak, should their parties get blanked out.

And how long will the five new Members of the Provincial Parliament get to sit in the legislature before Horwath and Hudak pull the plug? Not even Horwath would be silly enough to keep supporting bad budgets to keep the Liberals in power. All she is doing is giving Wynne time to get comfortable in the role of Premier and get the gas plant scandal out of the way.

In turn, all Liberals want from Kathleen Wynne is to learn where she wants to lead the Liberal Party in Ontario. And it would certainly be nice if she would make an effort to restore democracy in the party. Surely she has had enough time to settle in and find out where her new office is located.

But time is up. She has a summer ahead of her without that pesky legislature making noises. She has time to think. Obviously, she has to call at least two of the by-elections. She can also call a general election. That is a far better option.

And the good news for Kathleen Wynne and her party is that the same old team of Andrea Horwath and Timmy Hudak are the opposition. The voters already know those two are losers.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Big Brother blows the bitumen bugle.

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

When you live in a country where most of the news media is controlled by friends of the government, do you think you should believe all the news? Do you believe that Big Brother loves you? Do you believe that the managed media are on your side? Do you believe that the large corporations who own Canada’s news media care what you think? If they are supporting the government’s plan to pipe bitumen across Canada, do you expect them to tell you the truth? No, but you know that Big Brother loves you.

Did you notice the other day that Bell Canada can go ahead with a $3 billion purchase of Astral Media. Maybe that does not mean much to you. Maybe you do not care if Bell Canada now controls a third of Canada’s broadcast media. It has taken Bell Canada several years to pull off this level of control and the company’s good friend Big Brother seems to have helped the company do it. Bell Canada loves Big Brother.

It is not that Bell Canada does not have competition. More than 25 million Canadians every week see shows and specialty programs from Shaw Communications. Shaw is based in Calgary, Alberta. Shaw Communications loves Big Brother.

In fact, when you think of it, three huge corporations—Bell, Shaw and Rogers are earning massive amounts of money from Canadians because they control most of the airwaves. Have you ever tried to negotiate a better rate from one of these companies–when you have no choice as to which one? And why do Canadians have to pay more than anyone else for their cell phones and Internet and television services? It really pays to love Big Brother.

That leaves the newspapers, but do you know how few people control Canada’ print media? There are people like Paul Godfrey of Postmedia in Toronto. Paul Godfrey is a big fan of Big Brother. There is Pierre Karl Péladeau of Sun Media who seems to be torn between his love for Big Brother and his love for Quebec separatists. Judging by his print publications in both English and French, he must think all Canadians move their lips as they read.

Of course there are a few voices of dissent out there but ones like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation keep losing funding for not loving Big Brother.

So why is it that Enbridge–the pipeline people—are so confident that they can convert an old pipeline running through Toronto into a reversed, high-temperature, high pressure line to take bitumen slurry east to the sea lanes.

Enbridge can do it because Big Brother loves bitumen. And Big Brother believes that he can handle any dissent and the news media will sit back and allow it. They have so far.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Babel backs a ballot bollix.

Friday, June 28th, 2013

A year ago, there was an interesting meeting with the City Clerk in Babel. A very charming and knowledgeable person, she was generous with her time and interested in the subject of the meeting. It was about the voting system used for Babel municipal elections. It was suggested to the Clerk that Babel had some citizens knowledgeable of ballots and computers who could lend some free expertise to help move Babel towards a more modern, efficient, accessible and secure municipal voting system. She was not interested in the offer.

This subject is being revisited because of a news article recently about the report to the Ontario Legislature by Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer on Alternative Voting Technologies. The 271-page report is similar to what we were offering the city for free. The City Clerk should read it.

Greg Essensa, Ontario’s chief electoral officer wants more citizens to vote. He thinks only 50 per cent turnout for provincial elections is bad for democracy. How about a turnout of closer to 30 per cent in municipal elections? That is the real disgrace.

What was most worrying in the last municipal election in Babel was that in the wards where we were getting a high turnout of voters, we were getting impossibly long line-ups to vote. If more than 50 per cent of those eligible had tried to vote, thousands would have been denied their franchise.

Some of the things noted over many years of helping people vote are that people like ease of access to familiar voting locations and simplicity in voting. Nobody gets that in Babel. The polling places are always being moved, the system is cumbersome and very slow and the civic employees given the job of helping voters appear poorly trained.

To say that Babel’s voting system is computerized is a joke. It is an extremely cumbersome system that only uses a computer at the end to compile the votes. It is also very slow to load the votes into the computer. The real surprise is that the Babel system is more vulnerable to voting fraud than the old-fashioned paper ballots.

There is no question that we have to be extra vigilant as we move toward Internet and telephone voting. The key is in having people involved who have a stake in the reliability of the systems we use.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

And that must be the length of it.

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

When you are always intending to write something about blogs and finally get around to it, you wonder why. As a blogger, you should be able to say something positive about the practice. It is neither illegal nor immoral, we hope. The fact is that most bloggers are cranky egotists. And if you want all three of the people who read your blog to admire you for your discernment, erudition and verve, you better have something pithy to say.

But despite the breadth of bloggers on the Internet, there does not appear to be much depth. This is the five-year anniversary of this blog and we wonder what the hell it has accomplished. You end up with some of the local Liberals hating you, some thinking you might be a bit angry and a few thinking you might be right. That does not explain the readers across Canada and around the world. (The person in Qatar who reads us regularly, who are you?)

In trying to answer your own questions about blogging, you pay close attention to what you hear from readers and you also read other blogs, hoping it will be helpful. We must report that reading other blogs is an exercise in self-abuse. We freely admit there are thousands of absolutely awful blogs out there. And all of us need editing help. Mind you, a few errors are allowed but not three per line of copy.

What we cannot get over are the twits who think a blog is a tweet. While we always considered tweets of less than 140 characters as a delightful challenge, that does not mean you can use emoticons and bad spelling.

Years ago, when we were teaching neophyte politicians how to handle television interviews, we would put them on a cable show. You would point at the camera and tell them “When that red light comes on you are going to be talking to 12 people who have tuned in by accident. You are going to capture their interest and tell them something so important so that they will forget to change channels.” And welcome to the modern version of a cable show: blogging.

That is why we always tell bloggers “Look stupid, your doting aunt cares about you and that is why you start a letter to her with ‘I.’ Nobody else gives a damn.”  When you are talking to a blog audience, you tell them what you are going to tell them about. And you better make it interesting.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

The delayed masquerade of the Tories.

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been saved by the rain on the plain. With Calgary recovering from serious flood conditions, it is no time for a Conservative Convention. Stephen Harper must think that God is smiling on him. If he had his way, the convention would never happen. He does not need it.  He probably thinks of it as a masquerade for people with dyslexia. Party goers will wear masks to allow them to have their say.

Regrettably, few will be able to say what they really wish to. It will be difficult to contain the frustration. Harper held these people off from 2006 by saying wait until we have a majority. And lo, since 2011, the Conservatives have had a majority and they all want to know what he is waiting for now? It is actually lucky for him that not all of his party want the same thing. It just might take a smarter man that Stephen Harper to play off the different factions of his party against each other.

You would think that financial Conservatives would be the easiest to placate. That might not be the case. Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty promised that they are going to balance the books in Canada in time for the 2015 election. That might happen if they can figure out a way to delay the 2015 election until 2020. It is when you realize that these financial Conservatives are the ones who do the fundraising, that you realize that Harper hardly wants to annoy them.

But he is in far more trouble with the religious right. These people could care less about the budget but they are out to hang people and Harper has been sitting on them. Well that egg has hatched. He is in as much trouble with his caucus as he is with these crazies. They want to protect the rights of the unborn, take us back two centuries in women’s rights and bring back capital punishment. What is really frightening is that they are doing this in the name of the Lord and Stephen Harper best get out of the way.

One thing he cannot figure out is what to do with the party people who believed him when he said he would bring in democratic reform. His simple plan to make the Senate Conservative has blown up in his face and he has no excuses left. He can hardly stall more by telling people that the Supreme Court might give him an answer, maybe, sometime next year. To make any change in the Senate, he might have to make nice with Ontario and Quebec and that sure is likely to happen!

And on top of that some of his caucus are becoming tired of being treated like they came to Ottawa on the sole of some farmer’s boot. And fat chance for more than a few of the back-bench drones in the cabinet sweepstakes that are supposed to happen this summer. What is the point of changing deck chairs on a sinking ship?

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Does that mean he “Coyned” it?

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

It was National Post political columnist Andrew Coyne who used the term. He wrote that “Toryism, in its current incarnation, resembles less an ideology than a pathology.”

If too many Conservatives look up those big words, Postmedia Publisher Paul Godfrey will be getting demands to fire Coyne. Obviously this guy is smarter than he let’s on. We have noted various times that news reader Peter Mansbridge brings out the best in Coyne when he appears on the CBC 10pm newscast. It is just as an apologist for the Conservative Party of Canada, that you figure he is intellectually dishonest. This latest statement is redemption.

But if he puts down people who use the political labels of ‘left’ and ‘right,’ by suggesting they are quarantining themselves. He is wrong. This writer is proud to declaim his left-wing beliefs and usually finds that people who ridicule the labels are extremists of the right wing.

According to his biography in Wikipedia, Coyne and this writer agree on only one thing: we both believe in a strong federal government. Like most London School of Economics graduates, Coyne wants more market based economic solutions but does not seem to know how that is done. He rattles sabres in support of the War on Terror without seeming to know much about the enemy. And in promoting proportional representation for the Canadian parliament, Coyne should be careful what he wishes for. He can bend his loyal knee to the Brit royals if he wishes but it just shows how some people need an occasional reality check.

Yet, Coyne knows that the current conservatism in Canada, as practiced by Stephen Harper and his friends, is more of a disease than a philosophy. That seems to be fair comment. He also stipulates that none of the other parties are disease free. That also seems fair.

But there are writers who are trying to do something about it. Sure, writing a blog is a long way from having much influence on world affairs but we bloggers are often read by people who agree with us. We have the e-mails to prove it. As much as there are Liberals who do not like this blog for knowing too much about the Liberal party, they are stupid to think that the party could not be better.

It is too bad that Andrew Coyne has laboured for Péladeau’s Sun Media and now works for Godfrey’s Postmedia. Both media chains are dishonest with their readers. They have a strong editorial bias that corrupts both news and editorial. Keep writing honest stuff like this recent article Coyne and you might get a better offer from the Globe and Mail.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Harper’s homeboy, Hudak.

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Ontario television viewers saw a new attack advertisement the other day. It looked like another attack advertisement by the Conservatives. And it was. It was just not by the federal Conservatives but by our Conservative Lights in Ontario. Even so, why does it not work the same?

The Ontario Conservatives must have been so impressed with the federal Conservative attack ads that they had the same people do one for provincial politics. The problem is that it is not very creative. All it does is remind viewers that the Ontario Liberals cancelled a couple of gas-fuelled power plants and did not really know how much it cost. The ad forgets to mention that the Conservatives were also supporting the local NIMBY’s who were opposed to the plants. Attack ads are so much easier for people with convenient memories.

However Federal Leader Stephen Harper cannot help Provincial Leader Tiny Tim Hudak. The Ontario Conservative Leader has to help himself. When you look like a loser, act like a loser, voters start to think that maybe you are a loser. And that is Timmy’s problem. He has never seriously looked at how a successful politician handles himself.

Mind you, with a mentor such as former premier Michael Harris setting the bar for him, Tiny Tim was in trouble before he started.

Hudak has been hoping that the voters are so tired of the Liberals that they will elect him. That kind of thinking could elect the Ontario New Democrats under Andrea Horwath.

When you think about it, Hudak has a couple attributes in common with Harper. They both took economics in college. Neither has ever done any work related to economics. And they both have all the charm, personality and warmth of ice sculptures.

There are two facts that are keeping the Liberals in power in Ontario and neither have anything to do with Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne. The first of these facts is NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. If that lady had one gram of leadership in her, she would never have supported the Wynne government’s budget. She had a duty to give this province the election it needs to clear the air.

And the other fact keeping Kathleen Wynne in power is the inadequacy of the leadership of the provincial Conservatives. If the Tories intend to keep Timmy around for another election, they might as well get it over with.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Some summer talking points for Justin.

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

There was a wonderful picture of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and resigning MP Bob Rae as they walk down a corridor in the Centre Block of Parliament the other day. The picture was of the two men from the rear. You did not need the caption to tell you who they are. They had their arm around each other as comrades. The picture said far more than a thousand words. Bob is headed for his next career. Justin is headed for the summer barbeque circuit with the Liberal Party. He has a tough schedule to keep.

But you cannot go out on that summer barbeque circuit with just platitudes. The Liberals that Justin will be talking to across Canada want meaty stuff. Justin is the party leader now. He has to get his party motivated, organized, determined and focussed. Anyone foolish enough to believe the positive polls today for the Liberals is kidding themselves. We have, at the most, two years to get decent candidates, captivating programs and motivated workers. Justin’s job is to tell people to get to work or get out of the way.

The Liberal Party has three opponents in the coming election. The most serious opponent is inertia and the Liberal Party has got lots of that. It’s time to get off your asses, folks. And then we have Tommy Mulcair and his New Democrats. They think they are the alternative to the Conservatives and we have to dissuade voters from deluding themselves on that issue. The third opponent is Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. They have all the money they need and it has already been proved that they are fully prepared to lie, cheat and steal the votes needed to stay in power.

And, on top of that, we have millions of turned off voters whom we have to motivate and deliver to the polling places come election day. That requires new ideas, new energy, new workers and new funding.

One of the issues that Justin will have to get off the fence on is Alberta’s bitumen. This is the centre piece of Prime Minister Harper’s economic policy and it is going to blow up this summer. The National Energy Board is holding hearings in Calgary in August about running bitumen to the east coast. The focus will be on Enbridge’s old crude oil pipeline (Line 9) that runs right through the City of Toronto. Enbridge wants to run hot bitumen slurry through that pipe at high pressure. This is a disaster on its way to happen.

While politicians think it is safe to kiss babies, the royal baby due this summer is going to focus attention on doing something about the entire question of English royalty in addition to the lingering bad smell from the Senate. That opens up the Canadian Constitution and Justin desperately needs the right talking points. He can hardly hedge on the issue and expect to attract younger voters.

There will be much more on this over the summer.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Babel Backward has an editor?

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

It came as a surprise when reading all the self-congratulatory stories in the Babel Backward (our name for the Toronto Star’s local grocery-flyer wrap, Barrie Advance). We found out that the credit for exposing the Prime Minister’s Office to the ridicule it deserved is being claimed by the publication’s editor in chief. This is the first time we discovered that it had anyone to edit anything. Earlier this week we were considering sending the publication a strong letter-to-the-editor about the quality of its editing, or lack of it.

It was regarding a business story headlined “Cogeco up and running in Barrie.” Can you imagine a story that literally says: “the Cogeco Data Services centre measures 60,000 feet…” Wow, that is more than 18,000 metres! Is it up or sideways? Just think of the difference an editor could make by adding one word. It would have been much clearer if the reader saw that it was 60,000 square feet. What would have made even more sense was to tell the reader that it is about the area of a medium-sized supermarket or of a football field..

But that is just a minor quibble in the story. There are another five egregious writing errors in only 31 centimetres of copy. Cogeco Data Services and its public relations firm must be wondering who invited that reporter. There is absolutely no excuse for writing about something you do not understand. A good writer is not just a word smith but a good researcher. If you do not know, you ask.

To include that the building meets the LEED Gold standard without explaining LEED, is insulting to your readers. LEED, by the way, is an environmental standard that includes such things as efficient use of exterior light and low volume flush toilets. It is a standard promoted by the United States Green Building Council.

And there is a quote from Cogeco Data Services’ president that says “The facility, by the time it’s filled in five years, will be over $85 million.” Is that aggregate cost, annual revenues, or some measure of value? Surely the president said something more?

But that is not as bad as making Babel’s mayor sound like he had trouble graduating from Grade 8. With a masters degree from the London School of Economics, the mayor is hardly about to say: “This data centre will make us more competitive because it will allow you (sic) to offer companies state-of-the-art technology that isn’t available anywhere.”  We have no idea just what is meant by that statement.

But we Babelites do appreciate the grocery flyers that come with the publication.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

A thoughtful farewell to Bob Rae.

Friday, June 21st, 2013

This is not a form of eulogy. We will probably have Bob Rae to kick around for some time to come. He was never our favourite Premier of Ontario. He and his provincial treasurer were suckered by that so-and-so Tom d’Aquino from the Business Council and Bob’s administration went down and out the door because of it. Here we had the first socialist premier and he put the screws to the unions.

Bob left Ontario with ‘Rae Days’ and a sour taste for the New Democrats that maybe the party did not deserve. Mind you trying to work with his cabinet and some of their staff people was an exercise in dealing with incompetence and nastiness that was never warranted. They did not seem to know how to be civil or businesslike.

When Bob went out in the wilderness and came back as a Liberal, some of us were less than impressed. He was never a very good socialist and there was never any proof that he knew how to be a Liberal. When he ran for the leadership of the party, it confused the party as well as the electorate. If he had won, it might have been the death knell for the Liberal Party.

And now that the negatives are covered, we can mention the good stuff:

Bob turned out to be the best interim leader the Liberal Party had ever experienced. He pulled those prima donnas in the Liberal caucus together and did a better job than the Official Opposition. He had the Liberal MPs fighting well above their weight class. He actually showed that he knew how to lead. And he led by example. Nobody could have worked harder. Whether he could have carried that effort through an election campaign is something that we can only speculate on.

And he is still a first class stump speaker. He might have picked up some annoying mannerisms in his public speaking but they were nothing that could not be fixed if someone took time to work with him on them. He is insightful, organized and you certainly get your money’s worth when you come to hear him speak on just about any subject.

And, what surprises many people, Bob Rae is a darn nice guy. He is personable, friendly, concerned and exceedingly polite. We could all learn from him.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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