Archive for June, 2013

And, lo, an MP falls in Ottawa.

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Just last week, this commentator asked: if an MP fell in Ottawa, would anyone care? Days later MP Brent Rathgeber from Alberta fell from the Conservative caucus. And, yes, people cared. The news media gave the event a two-thumbs up.

Rathgeber left because he was piqued. He was right in the groove with what we were talking about. He is a guy who finally stood up on his hind legs and said, “I’m not going to put up with this crap any longer.”

This is one mad Member of Parliament. He is tired of being a patsy. He is fed up with trying to do something in Parliament and being treated like a puppy that has peed on the carpet. He is tired of young kids in the Minister’s offices telling him what to do. He is not only older than most of them but he has more life experience and he is the elected MP—not them.

But what do the other drones think of all this? These are the Conservative backbenchers who would not have a clue on how to propose a bill such as Rathgeber did. He proposed a bill asking for access to information regarding government employees earning more then $144,000 per year. Someone rewrote the bill to make the level above $444,000 per year. That effectively gutted his bill.

The drones are conflicted about this. Their concern is that one of their number has done something that they do not understand. He is doing their tadpole squiggly swim in the wrong direction. He has challenged management. He has asked for more. He has made himself a pariah. He has chosen to go to Coventry where they cannot speak to him.

Most of the drones enjoy the attention that they get from the minions in the Ministers offices. They are made to feel important. They get to ask their favourite Minister soft-ball questions in the House of Commons. They get to ask gratuitous questions in committees. They are lionized by the second tier lobbyists who have nothing better to do than to make sure that MPs are on side for their various initiatives. They love going home to give out medals or plaques for being over 100 years old. They enjoy feeling important. They know that MP Brent Rathgeber is not going to feel quite as important from now on.

There might be a few of the older Conservative backbenchers who will quietly—certainly not openly—sympathize with Brent. They know that unless they hoe the line, there will be no win for them in the next election or an appropriate appointment to some federal board before that election. You should not expect a sudden rush of Conservative MPs to join Rathbeger in Coventry.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Alberta bitumen seeks the sea.

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

What do bitumen and lemmings have in common? They both seek the sea. And you would think that when God put all those tar sands in land-locked Alberta, maybe He was trying to tell us something. And why is Alberta Premier Alison Redford running around North America seeking routes to pipe bitumen to the sea?

Despite the efforts of the public relations people from Enbridge and others, bitumen is not ‘heavy oil.’ Not that there is anything wrong with bitumen. It is considered to be the oldest engineering material known to mankind. The Mesopotamians when building what became known as the Tower of Babel used bitumen instead of mortar because of its easy availability in the Middle East. The ancients also used bitumen to waterproof the wooden hulls of their galleys. Today we still use it to build roads.

The fact that Alberta has so much bitumen in the Athabasca tar sands appears to be the reason for the Alberta Premier’s sales efforts. What she fails to promote is the conversion of the bitumen from the tar sands into synthetic oil before it is shipped out of Alberta. If this was done in Alberta, the entire province would be knee deep in a form of slag known as bitumen coke. Even worse, Canadians in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Northern Ontario would be up in arms about the destruction of their farms and forests from the black rain of carbon fallout.

The eagerness of Albertans to get that stuff out of their province is quite commendable. Their only concern is that others should not suffer because of their desire for lower taxes. This is why they want the pipelines to take their bitumen to sea ports and let other countries worry about the black rain. There are now six different pipeline routes in various stages of proposals or planning.

The west coast is closest and Northern Gateway by Enbridge is an obvious loser as it proposes to head straight for Kitimat, B.C. Expect much more effort to be spent on completing the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver.

President Obama still has to decide the fate of TransCanada’s Keystone XL line south to the Texas Gulf ports but there is a back-up route for Enbridge to take up some of the slack on that route to the sea.

Ontario has gotten into the act with the pipelines seeking the Eastern Seaboard. Enbridge’s Line 9 was built more than 20 years ago to take crude oil from Eastern ports to Ontario refineries. By reversing it, heating the bitumen slurry and increasing the pressure, they hope to send bitumen to Portland, Maine and Saint John, New Brunswick. Waiting behind this scheme is a TransCanada gas pipeline to Montreal that TransCanada is considering using for bitumen slurry.

Lemmings are little furry rat-like animals that tend to over-produce and have to control their population excesses by heading for the sea and self-destruction. Bitumen is an asphalt like substance that has some use but, until the world is actually desperate for oil, it should be of academic interest only.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

The Hair and hairdresser are flying in style.

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

It makes the heart sing for this former airman. The retro red, white and blue paint job of the old Royal Canadian Air Force has really gussied up the Hair’s Airbus A310. They have even numbered it as Harper’s personal Air Force O-One? That is what it is.

And it is far more impressive than that awful battleship grey that it used to be. You always wondered if we could get lucky and have some uninformed fighter pilot from some misbegotten nation shoot it down just for practice. The color always made us wonder what country Harper wanted to go to war with this time. Flying around in a military aircraft was always a bad strategy for Canadian Prime Ministers.

Harper, the Hair and the hairdresser are doing Europe next week. They are going to end up in Ireland for a meeting with the G-8 countries. Harper will be hoping that all the other leaders (except Obama—who has a gorgeously painted Boeing 747 for his personal use) are still at the airport when he lands so that they can see how important he is.

First, Harper is going to London where he will bend his knee to the Queen and assure her of his fealty. He will then get to address the Mother of all Parliaments at Westminster. What he will say there is probably just as irrelevant as his answers to opposition queries back home in Ottawa.

But you can be sure that the Hair will be perfect. There is a Tower of London nearby for the hairdresser who does the Hair less than perfect.

From London, Harper will carry on to Paris for a bit of shopping. He has no real excuse for the Paris visit but he always like to get well acclimatized on these trips before getting down to business. The only reason for the trip is the G-8 meeting in Dublin at the end of the week. If the Irish spend as much money on Dublin as Treasury Board president Tony Clement spent on Huntsville for the Canadian G-8 meeting a few years back, Dublin should look phenomenal!

(Addendum: Or is the meeting in Belfast? The Brits would never waste a shilling gussying up that town.)

But this meeting might be the start of the fall from grace of Canada’s Stephen Harper. It has now become clear to many G-8 members that Harper’s so-called economic expertise is a lot of hot air. As an exporter of oil, they realize that he is exporting pollution in the guise of bitumen and no responsible nation wants it. Like many Canadians, they hope they will not have to put up with his Hair and his pomposity much longer.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Conrad Black is not feeling the love.

Friday, June 7th, 2013

According to Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star, Lord Crossthepond calls people such as us “the haters.” And yet 500 people came out to hear Black speak last week according to Bob’s report. While there was some thinly veiled innuendo about his ‘troubles,’ they came mainly to hear about his latest book. It is a book on American history that Lord Connie wrote while in an American prison. As you can imagine, that can draw some interest—probably akin to the interest people used to have in public floggings.

Mind you, a public flogging of someone who has so outrageously reviled our country as has Lord Connie would need a much larger venue. This guy not only, more or less, told us to take our citizenship and shove it but he continues to wear his Order of Canada pin when most Canadians want to tear it from him. Lord Connie does not seem to appreciate how polite Canadians can be and he needs to tone down his rhetoric about us.

Hepburn put a lot of ink into the Toronto Star story telling us how the media are fawning over Black. This is no surprise when you realize how much ink and video tape was used to welcome Karla Homolka back when she got out of prison. Hell, she did not even want the attention. Lord Connie seems to revel in it.

Would we really care if Black was less pompous? This guy seems to think he has more entitlement than Senator Mike Duffy. At least Duffy is doing something useful for Canadians: he is making Prime Minister Stephen Harper look like an idiot for appointing him to the Senate. He has already destroyed the credibility of the Prime Minister’s Office in his accepting an illegal $90,000 present from Harper’s chief of staff.

Somebody should take the trouble to find out when Conrad Black’s temporary visa expires. We could send him home to England. People are more tolerant of pomposity there. He might enjoy the chicken feed that his speaking engagements earn him while he is here, but this is a guy who sees himself as a big-time wheeler-dealer. His books might meet with some scholarly approval but they will soon be remaindered in bins for people who like the look of them on their bookshelves—and will never read them. He needs bigger fish to fry and he is not going to get them while entrapped in his Canadian halfway house. The only good thing if Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives him his citizenship back will be then Canadians would want to lynch them both.

Lord Connie’s only hope is to quietly blend into his Bridle Path community in Toronto and stay out of trouble. He has to become the common man—if there have ever been any in that community.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

No C.R.A.P. please Justin.

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

There was a really nice shot in the paper today of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the lawn outside of Canada’s parliament building. He was doing some sort of a yoga pose. He looked a little silly doing the pose in a suit and tie in between two ladies in appropriate yoga attire. The thing is, when you are not getting much media ink, you take what you can get.

What worries us is that in this dry spell is that Justin might fall back on Consolidated Reports on Approved Policies (C.R.A.P.). When he first announced his candidacy for the Liberal Party leadership, Justin’s office issued some policy C.R.A.P. on his behalf and it landed like the pre-digested manure that it was. He soon realized that this was not going to take wing and he tried to avoid policy discussions for the rest of the campaign. It did not seem to influence his final vote.

But you will notice please that contender Joyce Murray M.P. received a vote well above her weight class because of her use of policy discussion in her campaign. Joyce showed that she was a thinker. She was not often right in her thinking or even liberal but you had to give her marks for the effort. She earned our respect.

Now Justin is faced with a conundrum. He has to encourage the party to think policy. The party needs the discussion. At the same time, Justin has to make sure that the party officials are not trying to channel that policy down the same old C.R.A.P. routes that got the party the low number of seats in the last federal election. The party desperately needs an open and free-wheeling policy meeting. It needs a lot of young people there who are not as constipated as their elders in the party.

We need people discussing the idea of recognizing dental care as part of national health concerns. It needs to be recognized that the federal government has more leverage than the individual provinces in terms of prescription drug needs of Canadians. And if anyone wants to get rid of the silly Senate, then they are going to have to address other needs for constitutional reform. And that means we can dispense with the Crown in a modern Canada. All we have to do is shake off all the old C.R.A.P.

This is not just thinking outside the box, Justin. It is being free to discuss these issues. The Liberal Party has some pretty good thinkers. They need to be encouraged. They need the arguments that will ensue. Their thinking will be better for it.

Justin, there is absolutely no reason for you to be saddled with the same old C.R.A.P. You are the new broom—in the Liberal Party—in Parliament—and in the leadership of our country. You have to lead, not follow.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

First hurdle: the National Energy Board.

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

So you want to fight against bitumen slurry being piped through Toronto on its way to shipping points at Saint John, New Brunswick and Portland, Maine? Your first problem is that you have to make your pitch through the Calgary-based National Energy Board (NEB). And Prime Minister Harper has directed that the NEB speed up the process. They are doing that by controlling who the people are who are getting involved and the constraints on them.

Your next stumbling block in this process is coming to grips with the language Enbridge uses to describe the application. Enbridge does not refer to bitumen. The company wordsmiths talk of ‘heavy oil.’ The pipeline was approved over 20 years ago as an east-west route for crude oil to Sarnia and other refineries in Ontario. What Enbridge wants to use it for now is for bitumen mixed with polymers to create a mixture that can flow through a pipeline if heated and pushed at higher pressure.

Line Number 9 was designed two decades ago for crude oil at two-thirds the volume and under lower pressure and lower temperature. While the Enbridge engineers can assure us that the line can sustain this new usage, they are incapable of telling us for how long. Breaks in Line 9 in Toronto are going to be a fact of life. There are too many external factors impacting the life cycle of the line in an urban environment. The vibrations and pressures of vehicle traffic on major arteries, the laying of new utilities, constant construction, the concentration of subway and rail lines and other urban considerations have never been a major concern in the laying of pipelines.

To approve this application is not just foolhardy, it is a guarantee of a disaster that will destroy Enbridge. The very thought of bitumen slurry moving slowly down from Finch Station to York Mills Station on the Yonge Street subway line is a spill that nobody has seen before and can never be allowed to happen.

Even watercourses such as the West Don River, which the line intersects, are a direct route to fouling Toronto Harbour, the Toronto Islands and even jeopardizing Toronto’s Deep Lake Cooling System. And Toronto’s ancient storm sewers, that are not always separate from sanitary sewers, are the worst route for a slurry that could clog the system for years to come.

In case, we forgot to mention it, this commentator has already been approved by the NEB to comment on the Enbridge application. When we find out what that means, we will let you know.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

If an MP falls in Ottawa?

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Would anyone care? There were better times on Parliament Hill when being a Member of Parliament stood for something. They were times when being an elected Member or an appointed Senator was a source of pride. It was honourable. It was devoting oneself to a higher level of service to Canadians. You could stand proud at those times as you rolled out the rhetoric for those decisions of importance to your constituents. You stood to your name in the roll call of voting for a better tomorrow. And then came Steve Harper to the Hill and it has been headed downhill ever since.

And no one cares about to-day’s nobody Conservative MP. They are not elected to serve their constituents but to serve the needs of an imperial Prime Minister. These MPs are lackeys, bought and paid for with the quasi-legal funding schemes of a rapacious Conservative machine. They are elected under the clouds of nefarious actions that besmirch the honour of all concerned.

And then there are Senators. They are also parliamentarians. Sure, they are the bagmen, the party apparatchiks, the former MPs that the Prime Minister’s Office deems worthy. It is under Steve Harper that the wholesale dissemination of Senate seats to the hangers-on and party sycophants has destroyed the veneer of usefulness that the Senate previously tried so hard to maintain. Harper stepped beyond the bounds of knowledgeable party people and brought in people with their own sense of entitlement and their own egos. He promised to reform the Senate. Instead, he destroyed it.

This is not to suggest that others were blameless. The Liberals on Parliament Hill were so busy during the Chrétien era with the infighting between the loyalists and the Martin rebels that the party lost interest and wandered. When the rebellion was over, there was nothing left to support a weak Martin regime. The sponsorship scandal in Quebec even revolted Quebeckers.

What this has left Canadians with is a disinterested electorate, a dysfunctional parliament and a growing disgust around the world at Canada’s disintegration. Canadians can do much better.

The one glimmer of hope is that there is an opposition in Ottawa. And it is not just the news media. While there is not a great strength behind him, Thomas Mulcair is starting to rag the Prime Minister on his parliamentary excesses. Eventually Mulcair is going to capture more of Harper’s attention and tie-up some of his efforts.

That leaves Justin Trudeau at liberty to do the job he has to do across Canada. He has to pull together a renewed Liberal Party. He has to give it the infusion of youth it needs. And the defeat of Harper in 2015 will become more than just a possibility. That is the only hope for a restoration of parliament.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Sousa: Jim Flaherty is your friend.

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Ontario Treasurer Charles Sousa needs to think outside the box. He needs to be developing creative ideas to fund transit in the Toronto area and he needs to realize that Federal Treasurer Jim Flaherty is his friend. Flaherty is saving Charles from making a really stupid mistake.

Flaherty has said, in very clear language, that there is no way another one per cent on the Harmonized Sales Tax can be used to fund Toronto’s transit needs. And Sousa is hardly going to win any awards anywhere for arguing the case.

Sousa should be looking at the Metrolinx problem. While it is awkward to fire them, there is no question that the Metrolinx people have overstayed their usefulness. They need to be honoured in front of family and friends and sent packing. They were bereft of ideas and helpful suggestions. Their support of a higher HST to pay for transit needs in the GTA was never going to fly.

And the Metrolinx people and Sousa did not need to have Jim Flaherty point it out to them. The HST is a regressive tax that annoys everybody. It picks no favourites but it does impose less on the rich. The basic problem is that it does not reflect the infrastructure needs of the community where it is collected.

The greatest concern for community infrastructure is among business. Business pays a high price for gridlock. It needs to get its employees to work and home again. It needs to make and receive deliveries. Doing business in a large community can be very beneficial. It also needs to be more efficient.

What also reflects the infrastructure needs of the community are costs related to property. These include land transfer taxes, development fees, municipal taxes and transportation fees. Just because Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did not understand land transfer taxes, does not mean the province has to follow his lead.

Until the last election in Toronto, there was an unholy alliance between the East and West Toronto lefties and the smug rich of Rosedale and Lawrence Park. They worked together to keep down and screw those poor people who have to live in the suburbs. It is why there has been no action on the growing gridlock on Toronto’s roads. Rob Ford’s election was the first sign that maybe the deadlock in Toronto could be broken.

If the province is going to step into this mess, it has to be prepared for a tough fight. There has to be clearly earmarked funding for transit and an audit trail that shows the funds are being used for the purpose. Anything less will just continue to fuel the outrage over the hours spent trying to get to and from another ill-paying job.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

An insight into how news media incite.

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

More than a few years ago, in the early days of coming to an understanding of the news media, there was a chance encounter downstairs from the office. It was a full team of cameraman, sound guy and reporter from the CBC. While the crew was setting up for man-on-the-street interviews, the reporter explained his assignment. We wished him luck on getting anything and headed back to the office.

But he did get an interview that was aired on the six o’clock news. The interview was with the slow, friendly guy who made deliveries for the restaurant downstairs. He was the perfect interview subject; he was always smiling and he could repeat back to you verbatim anything you said to him. The reporter was interviewing this chap, who would be unable to understand a tax bill, on a proposed change in land taxes. Surprisingly, the guy’s attitude on the subject seemed to directly reflect the reporter’s.

What caused this reminiscing was the airing late Saturday on Global Television news of a mob at Toronto city hall. It seems these stalwart citizens were demanding the resignation of Mayor Rob Ford. Under the gaze of the television cameras, these people were quite vociferous in their condemnation of their mayor. It was not made clear if they had tar and feathers at the ready or a sturdy rope.

The Global reporter did note that there had been promises of 4000 demonstrators and only a small percentage of this number actually took part in the demonstration. This was disappointing. In today’s era of social media, there could have been a flash mob there of over 10,000. All it takes is a little organizational ability. The resourceful media made up for the numbers by shooting tighter shots and cutting in shots of some Rob Ford supporters defending their guy.

Luckily, this was a Saturday and Rob Ford was nowhere near his office. Any confrontation between the man and his detractors could have become something beyond control of the news media people who thought this was such great television.

And if anyone thinks the media people who promoted this should be charged with attempting incite to riot, this observer would very much like to be on the jury. It might be the first jury to recommend capital punishment in a long time.

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

In search of redemption.

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

It seems the main subjects for political analysis today are people in search of redemption. And it is not the target of the attention as much as the people who voted for them. In Toronto, in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park, it is the voters who search for redemption.

In Toronto, we have the ongoing daily trials and tribulations of the Ford boys. Can there be redemption for the Toronto voters who chose Mayor Rob Ford? The man is a caricature of his voters. He promised them he would end the gravy train but that train had left the station. The virulent news media versus Ford saga is a sad and savage example of bear baiting from the Middle Ages. The attack hounds of the media should remember that it failed as a popular entertainment back then because it killed more dogs than bears.

But it is not the news media that will determine the fate of Ford. It will be the voters of Toronto. Given a clear choice, an uncluttered list of candidates, the voters will opt for peace at city hall. What the media has to understand is that the amorphous Ford Nation’s loyalties are fleeting.

And then there is Senator Mike Duffy. The only voter that Mike Duffy has ever had is Prime Minister Stephen Harper. There is no redemption for Harper or his Senate or his government. For Harper brought it all on himself. He is an autocrat, not a democrat.

Senator Duffy’s problem is his own sense of entitlement. And it was the Prime Minister who encouraged that entitlement. Duffy looked at Stephen Harper’s imperial role as Prime Minister with his personal A310 Airbus, his staff hairdresser and his disdain for parliament and figured that he did not need the hairdresser. He just felt entitled to everything else.

At Queen’s Park, Kathleen Wynne is enjoying the role of Premier. It is her voters across Ontario who seek redemption. They want their opinion on who will be premier to be recorded. Wynne has no mandate to rule the province. After more than 100 days of shoring up the dikes, she can either trust the voters or she can enjoy some final days in the role of Premier.

At all three levels of government, the need is for redemption. The one major concern is the lowering levels of voter turnout, the lack of confidence in the process, the blatant dishonesty of some of the participants and the laxness of the news media. Nobody seems to want to take responsibility. Is there redemption for any of us?

-30-

Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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