Archive for June, 2013

Playtime at the PMO.

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Who is running things in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)? They are acting like out-of-control children and they need an adult hand on the helm. The communications people are not only acting juvenile, careless and gullible but they do not appear to know very much about the news media.

Would you believe anyone with a gram of sense who would send an unsolicited e-mail to a reporter and say the attached material is not for attribution? There is a very simple rule that you learn very early in the communications business: There is no such thing as off the record. Sure, you can give a reporter a tip on a story. It happens all the time. You just have to be prepared for it to come back to you. The reporter owes you nothing.

If you missed the story about the PMO’s latest gaff, most political columnists are having a field day with it. The media person in the PMO sent a reporter at the local free-distribution grocery flyer wrap in Barrie a story about Justin Trudeau being paid to speak at a function at Barrie’s Georgian College. The event lost money.  They did not think to mention that Trudeau was not yet a member of parliament at the time. It was a scurrilous attack that they were trying to use to besmirch an opponent.

In this case, the PMO communications person was probably advised to send the story to this particular reporter by the Conservative MP for Barrie. Just because the reporter appears to fawn over the MP is meaningless. There are so few politicians to write about in this town, her job requires her to fawn over almost anyone political. She would know as well as others that the MP makes no intellectual, nor any other contribution, in Ottawa and she has to take what she can get. In this case she was given the front page to ridicule the PMO and the communications person involved.

The PMO did better with the grocery-wrap’s competition in Barrie. The story in the Barrie Examiner—owned by right-wing Sun Media—made it sound like it was all in a days work to attack an opponent for a perfectly legal charge for speaking.

We expect that Justin Trudeau joined the speakers’ bureau because it was a way to control the many requests from groups that wanted to use his name as a draw. If the event loses money, you might check on how good a job the organizers did in promoting it.

When Justin came to Barrie a few years ago for a Liberal Party fund raiser, there was no charge but we only had two weeks notice to put the event together. We made a nice profit for the party coffers in Barrie and everyone enjoyed the event, thank you.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

But how was Harper’s golf score?

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Hopefully, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had a better golf score than German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It really does not make sense for the world leaders to meet at a golf course in Northern Ireland and not play a round. Surely they all know that all work and no play makes Johnny dull.

Not that it started well. Can you imagine Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper trying to tweak the tail of the Russian Bear? Vladimir Putin of Russia is not a guy to trifle with. His various opponents in Russia will all tell you (from Siberia) that he does not mess around. Mind you, Putin probably realizes that Harper is working on his 2015 re-election campaign and he understands the silly posturing. You have to admit that it is ridiculous for Harper to beat his breast and demand Putin stop supporting the regime in Syria. What is Harper going to do about it?

What people might not understand about these G8 meetings is that the 33 page Memo of Understanding released at the end of the meeting had been written by the diplomats long before the actual meeting took place. The meeting of the leaders is mainly ceremonial. It seals the deal—such as it is.

You have to assume that President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron would be the best golfers. They would also have the savvy to know that the best place for a real conversation would be in a random sand trap on the tenth fairway. Here they are surrounded by razor wire, Scotland Yard and the British Army and there is no privacy even in the washrooms.

Judging by the obligatory group photograph from the event, it must be the gloomiest, ugliest golf course in Northern Ireland. Originally everyone was saying this meeting was in Dublin but with the Brits as host, that would hardly be appropriate. And there was no way the Brits would spend any money gussying-up Belfast for the event. After seeing the bollix that Harper made of things at the Toronto G20, a barricaded golf course made perfectly good sense.

You knew it was an informal meeting of the world leaders because all the men had taken off their ties. The fact that no fashion expert seems to have explained office casual to Germany’s Angela Merkel did tend to spoil the group picture.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Tim Hudak is not always wrong.

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

Just because you wish someone was not there does not make him go away. It is almost as though Kathleen Wynne and her Ontario Liberals do not know what to do about Opposition Leader Tiny Tim Hudak. It is not that Timmy is an in-your-face type of guy. He is more like a yapping dog outside your window when you are trying to take a nap. He is more of an annoyance.

But Wynne and her friends need to pay some attention to him. First of all, just because he thinks an idea’s time has come does not necessarily mean that it is a bad idea. He probably got the idea about selling the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) from a good Liberal. For example, this liberal thinks the time is well past due to turn around the entire stupid way we sell alcohol in this province. It is not only narrow-minded, archaic, inefficient and a bad use of political effort but it shows the political inertia of our province. Timmy is absolutely correct when he says we could make more money from a liberalized and privatized approach.

All that Premier Wynne and Finance Minister Sousa are proving is that they do not understand the modern world. This is not the 1920s in Ontario when you had to please the Orange Lodge and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. If they do not get in touch with the realities of the 21st Century, they are going to be gone and forgotten whenever we get this province to the polls.

Are these people so busy obeying the dictates of NDP Leader Andrea Horwath that they cannot give a nod to poor little Timmy? If the NDP in Ontario ever realize the harm that Horwath is doing to them, they will be waving red flags, occupying Queen’s Park and having a Socialist Spring in Ontario. Forgiving the waste of hundreds of millions on cancelled gas-powered electrical plants for a maybe reduction in car insurance rates is the saddest tale in Ontario in many years.

Neither Wynne nor Sousa seem to have a clue what Timmy is going on about. All he is saying is that convenient, neighbourhood access to alcoholic beverages means more revenue for the government. You do not have to be an economist to understand that. People would buy smaller packages if they were convenient. Smaller packages offer more tax percentage than larger packages, more people are employed, less binge drinking, easier policing and less medical concerns with alcohol.

In this argument, Timmy is on the side of the angels.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Look good and lie a lot: Tory Action Plan.

Monday, June 17th, 2013

It is good to hear that some think tanks are taking a hard look at the Conservative government’s Economic Action Plan. They act surprised. What seems to puzzle the academics is that the Conservatives are spending more taxpayers’ money on the advertising than they are on the programs. Those of us who took the trouble to assess the budget when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered it in the spring had already figured it out. If it smelled like it, looked like it, it probably was bullshit.

The first thing that gave it away was the stipulation that the proposed corner-stone Canada Job Grant Program was only applicable in provinces that did not have its own program in place. We knew immediately that this stipulation would eliminate Ontario and Quebec and probably Manitoba and New Brunswick. At the same time, we were sure it could be implemented in Prince Edward Island. Like many federal programs, it would most likely cost more to administer there than the dollars delivered to the applicants.

The Caledon Institute senior researcher who co-authored the recent report said it simply when he is quoted as saying, “There is little evidence to suggest that the Canada Job Grant would help train workers to fill positions where there are actual job shortages.” The report is particularly concerned that the new program ignores all the progress previously made in federal-provincial co-operation in this field.

The federal government’s unilateral action actually takes back the $300 million per year contribution to the provinces and territories for their job training programs. They will be taking back more than they will be spending.

But the entire plan looks good in the print and television advertising program. This is where the real loonies are being spent. Look at all those smiling young people in the ads who are being trained for better jobs. You do know they are actors do you not? Even your local Conservative MPs are in on the plan with their heavy advertising of the federal economic action plan. And what really galls is that they are spending our money.

Our favourite part of the television ads is the ocean going oil tanker on a pristine sea—carrying bitumen from Alberta to some third world country that does not care how much it pollutes in converting it to synthetic oil. With this as our economic action plan, our country is in one hell of a lot of trouble!

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Wow, so you want to vote for Chow.

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

MP Olivia Chow’s campaign for the Toronto mayoralty might be peaking too soon. Any political apparatchik can tell you that the time for a campaign to peak is when people are heading for the polls—not more than a year ahead. The municipal election rules say nobody can campaign for election to city council before registering as a candidate. And you cannot register until January, 2014. These rules do not seem to apply to the Toronto news media.

The Toronto Star editors think the newspaper has already elected Olivia Chow to replace Rob Ford as Toronto mayor. Luckily, Toronto citizens will still get their say in this matter. They can do much better than Olivia Chow. She would be likely to get a nice sympathy vote as the widow of Jack Layton but that can never replace leadership or a realistic program. Anyone who has followed Olivia’s less than sterling political career would wonder why she would run for anything.

Before you point to the meaningless polls that show she would be preferred over Mayor Ford, surely you realize that your cat would get more votes than Ford at this point in his career. Rob Ford is at a low point at this time. Whether he will still be suffused in claims and counter claims at this time next year, only the Toronto Star can hope.

The trap of opinion polls is that the people conducting them have a special problem getting the opinions of younger voters. Those that are reported tend to be given more weight than their actual voting intentions. What this means to the politico is that unless you have a well funded, well managed social media and activity plan to enthral and motivate younger voters, you can forget them.

And in Toronto, you have to take into account the basic communities that make up a city of more than two million. Olivia Chow would get a fairly strong vote in the downtown areas where the New Democrats hold sway but she would hardly do as well in the suburbs where Conservative and Liberal voters hold the cards. There is also something of a pendulum effect in Toronto voting and next year is the left of centre turn but just not as far left as Olivia.

It seems obvious that we have no idea who will be the best bet to beat Rob Ford next year. Maybe the man will have an epiphany and will recant his former ways—lose weight and turn left. Maybe Ford will hire Hazel McCallion from Mississauga as his campaign manager. She has forgotten more about politics than Rob’s brother Doug knows.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Understanding the language of bitumen.

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Luckily for Canadian communications people, English is a living language. It is in a state of constant change and usage and there is no tribunal ready to refuse this use or that use of words or forbid the encroachment of another language. There is no authority for English as there is with Canada’s other official language. It is this wonderful flexibility of English that enables copy writers, script writers, pamphleteers, publicists, authors and others to change perceptions of products, processes, politicians and propositions by subtle changes in words. It also leaves Canadian translators struggling with word concepts to meet the demands of l’Office québécois de la langue française. As is often noted, one person’s opportunity is another person’s problem.

This is why what was previously known as Athabasca tar sands is now Alberta oil sands. This change serves multiple masters. Few people know precisely where the Athabasca area of Canada is located but Alberta as a political entity is well understood. Clarifying ownership is the obvious objective.

The change of ‘tar’ to ‘oil’ serves multiple conceptual needs. While surface tar sand deposits are a world-wide geological phenomenon, the Athabasca area appears to have the mother lode. While the tar extracted from the tar sands in North America is not by any stretch oil, neither is it tar. It is bitumen, one of the oldest construction materials known in the world. Bitumen can be heated and distilled for pitch and used for waterproofing. It can be used instead of mortar to lay bricks. It can be mixed with sand and gravel for asphalt. Asphalt is an excellent road-building material. Bitumen can also be put through a highly polluting refining process to make synthetic oil.

Calling tar sands from the Athabasca area ‘heavy oil’ is also something of a stretch. For Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline across British Columbia, the plan is to twin the pipeline with a smaller diameter pipeline that can be used to bring light crude from tankers in Kitimat, B.C., mix this crude with tar sands bitumen and ship the resulting slurry back to Kitimat in a heated, higher pressure and larger diameter pipe.

In the Line 9 proposal in Ontario, the plan is to mix in polymers in Alberta, heat the line at frequent intervals and increase the pressure to push the slurry eastward.

In all of the material about the eastern pipelines, the emphasis is that there are refineries at the seaport terminus of the pipeline. The assumption that many people make from this is that these refineries will welcome the bitumen product to refine. They will not. Most of these refineries would need extensive modifications to handle bitumen. And they would rather not do that.

North American refineries would prefer that bitumen be processed somewhere else where the amount of pollution it causes will not be considered as serious a problem.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Getting the goat of Thomas Mulcair.

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair is hardly the first egotistical politician to be challenged by the RCM Police on his way to Canada’s Parliament. Many Ottawa natives just assume that duty on the Hill is used as a form of punishment by higher ups in the national police force. While the Speaker’s security people look after the inside of the Parliament buildings, the Mounted Police are delegated to look after the grass and Centennial Flame. And, two weeks after graduating from RCMP training school in Regina, these newly minted officers take their work seriously.

Many years ago, a Member of Parliament from Toronto asked us for a ride from the Ottawa airport to his office on Parliament Hill. It seems he was late for a meeting and knew that we would have a rental car waiting. We were quickly out of the airport and heading down the Airport Expressway.

When we got to the Hill, he asked to be dropped at the Centre Block. We turned in at the West Block to go around the internal driveway to the Centre Block. It was while driving past the West Block that we were flagged down by a RCMP Constable. Rolling down the driver’s window, we offered the constable a pleasant ‘good morning.” He politely asked where we thought we were going.

This did not suit the MP in the front passenger seat. He screamed impatiently, “Do you know who I am? The young constable obviously did not but he did a snappy salute with his right hand while surreptitiously indicating to get moving with his left hand. The incident was not overly memorable except for the deafness in our right ear for the rest of the day.

In the more recent problems of Thomas Mulcair, it seems that little has changed on Parliament Hill. Obviously, the RCMP personnel are taking their responsibility for the Parliament grounds more seriously. This might not be just because somebody trampled on the tulips.

But why is the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition driving his own automobile to work? Are those union bosses who run the New Democrats too cheap to get him a chauffeur? That is a disgrace.

Mind you, Tommy needs to be a little more patient with overly officious minions. He needs to remember that they might vote NDP.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Toronto council debases Canadian citizenship.

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The City of Toronto took a long step backward yesterday. City Council wants to give recent immigrants the right to vote in municipal elections before becoming Canadian citizens. This is typical of the wrong-headed decisions of this leaderless and wayward council. They are not only encouraging corruption of the voting process but they are saying that Canadian citizenship is not important.

And to make matters worse, supporters of expanding the vote in this manner are saying that you are a bigot and hate newcomers if you disagree. People should be careful of the labels they apply to others. Anyone who has worked in elections across Toronto over the years can give you chapter and verse on the problems of immigrant block voting. This can be a very emotional issue. Inexperienced municipal politicians are foolish to think they can control ethnic blocks.

Through the 1980s in Toronto, the concerted efforts to form and use ethnic voting blocks was the disgrace of all political parties. And at the time there was little effort made to ensure these blocks of voters all had their citizenship. They were never asked to prove it. It was even better if most of the block did not speak either of our official languages.

It started with the courting of ethnic community leaders. These people were flattered and brought their groups with them to support local candidates. The only problem was that they often saw little return for their efforts once the politician was in office. These groups saw how they were being used and soon their own leaders started running for office. Their slogan was “Now it’s our turn.” The dominant ethnic groups soon had their own people in municipal, provincial and federal office. They were not all good at it.

It was so bad at the federal and provincial levels, the parties searched for some means to control the situation. Their solution was to take control of candidate selection away from the party riding associations. It worked. They effectively put a stop to the huge sign-ups of ethnic block voters. It was no longer worth the effort. They also destroyed the backbone of party politics in Canada. The parties were now run by the party leader. The parties have created the imperial prime minister. The party leader is Big Brother!

Rebuilding the political parties has started but it is a long and painful process.  Rebuilding on the municipal level will have to happen after we have fixed the problems first at the federal level and then at the provincial level. We will get around to our municipalities sometime. Not soon.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

The Passion of Jason Kenney.

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

If Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney is getting all he has wished for, why does he not look happy these days? Is it possible that he has been in his present position with the Conservative government too long? Is he wearied of the tasks Mr. Harper has set him? There is also the possibility that he is hurt by the growing criticism of how he is doing that job. He knows that it is time for a change. The problem is that the change he wants is Stephen Harper’s job.

Other than the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in no rush to step aside, many agree that Kenney could be a leading contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Kenney is just worried that there will be scorched earth when he gets there. It is not all smooth sailing on the good ship Harper.

Jason Kenney is a contender because he is the darling of the religious right of the Conservative Party. This is despite his only post-secondary education being at a Jesuit College in San Francisco where he was noted for organizing against female students who wanted the right to birth control information. He has also never held a job other than in politics or with right-wing pressure groups. He was first elected as a Reform candidate and then United Alliance, before the Alliance united with the Conservatives. He is not noted for his balanced view of issues.

This has been a constant aggravation for many Canadians as he has besmirched Canada’s reputation around the world for fairness and understanding. He insults the immigrants he does encourage to come to Canada but then brings in temporary workers to do the jobs that should be taken up by new immigrants. There are astute observers of the Kenney portfolios that say he has made a mess of all three because of his prejudices.

His campaign use of ethnic groups is almost a farce as he lines up backdrops of visible minorities behind Harper and other party luminaries. A speech by Kenney seems to be a long list of catch-words that work on prejudices that he might want to exploit.

The major concern with Kenney is whether he could tone down his religious bias enough that someone like Defence Minister Peter MacKay could work with him. Stephen Harper would obviously prefer to eventually turn over his job to some one who is an economic conservative such as him. No Conservative minister stands out.

Even the other half of the Baird-Kenney Bobbsey Twins duo, Foreign Minister John Baird, would be a more popular choice with the economic Conservatives. He probably does not have the same passion for the job as Jason Kenney.

Of course, Kenney has to hope that Harper will pull his government out of its current tailspin and restore the marketability of the Conservative brand.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Political bicycle riding in Toronto.

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Growing up in Toronto during World War II, we explored our world on a bicycle. Sure, mother used to take us kids on tram rides to the end of the streetcar lines but she was a war worker with only Sunday’s free. The rest of the time, we used our hand-me-down bikes to explore. And it is that experience that leaves us laughing at the bicycle enthusiasts on Toronto City Council.

It also brings back memories of a City Controller years ago who was an early promoter of bike lanes. He told us proudly that he had ridden a bicycle to work at city hall that day. Knowing he lived in Deer Park, we asked how he was going to get home. He explained that his chauffeur would put the bike in the trunk of his limo. After all, it was all down hill to city hall but getting home on the bike would have been hard slugging.

City councillors have to face the fact that Toronto is not a bicycle-friendly city. For at least the four extreme winter months each year, you hang up your bike—unless you are dirt poor or have a death wish. When the road conditions are such that you cannot steer the bike and automobiles cannot stop, what are you doing on a bicycle?

You might as well include rainy days in that. When it is raining so hard that drivers cannot see ahead and parked drivers cannot see behind before opening their car door, there is not much hope for the person on the bike.

But the real challenge to cyclists is the topography of the city. Yes, it is fairly level riding east and west of downtown where most of the left-wing councillors live. The right-wing councillors in areas from North Rosedale up to Hogg’s Hollow might go along with having bike lanes but they are hardly going to be using them. And if you live in the suburbs, bicycles are for kids to ride within their neighbourhoods. (If the kid takes it to the mall, it is guaranteed to be stolen.)

The last street anywhere in the city that should have bike lanes is Jarvis Street. It is a downgrade all the way from Bloor Street to the lake. It is a wonderful ride south and is a tough pedal on the return.

It has often occurred to us that municipal politicians should first pass some sort of course on understanding their city. They would probably say that such a course would be discriminatory and they would prefer to remain ignorant.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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