Archive for July, 2013

Long to reign over us?

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

You have to admit, there is always that stoic admiration for the old Queen. Nobody wants to say anything nasty about her. And then there are those God-awful hats. You would swear the old dear brings along a porta-potty in them so she never gets caught short.

But there is no excuse for Stephen Harper to use her the way he does. Hiding behind her skirts is really quite tacky. Why he is trying to distract his voters by recreating the Royal this and the Royal that and the Brit pips instead of the Canadian Maple Leaf on army officers is beyond belief? The silly monarchists were going to vote for their Steve anyway. The opposition had already conceded those votes. They hardly matter.

The true test of those royalists left in Canada will be when Elizabeth II goes to her reward—though she did all right on earth while she was here. And it is not even Charlie and his big ears as King that will stick in people’s craw. It will be his Consort Camilla that will turn many wishy-washy monarchists into republicans.

And skipping over Charlie to his son Billy is not a legal option. As you might have noticed the Royals of England are a long-lived bunch and they tend to stick around.

Figure at least a 20-year reign for Charlie and the Canadians will be more than ready to break the ties to dear old England. By then the blush will be off Kate Middleton and if Billy has kept her happy, their ascendancy to the throne will be a so-so deal. Livening up that event will be the great challenge for the Brit tourism people.

You have to admit, the Brits have made an industry out of the royals and the current royal birthing is going to give tourism, baby clothes and souvenir plates a hell of a boost. Canada does not even get the maple syrup concession!

So, what is Mr. Harper’s game? He spends our money changing names on regiments, the navy and air force. He has even put pictures of the Queen along side his in all our embassies. Where is the pay-off?

If anything, he has figured out that it is one of Justin Trudeau’s weak points. Justin is not a big fan of the royals. He figures that as a Quebecker, he just does not run in that crowd.

But Justin has to come up with a Liberal strategy to do something about the Senate. The conundrum there is that Quebec considers the Senate to be a safeguard for Quebec’s position in Confederation. Justin will screw that up at his peril. If Harper can keep Mulcair’s hapless New Democrats in the majority in Quebec, Trudeau cannot overcome the Conservatives in the rest of Canada. It is a workable strategy for Harper.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Heaven knows: the NEB doesn’t.

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

When a friend called from Calgary earlier this year to tell us she had been evacuated from her beautiful home on the Bow River, she complained about the water covering her front lawn. Torontonians could understand how she felt when they saw the Don River cover the southern reaches of the Don Valley Parkway when Toronto suffered heavy rains more recently. And this is only a small taste of the potential problems in Toronto if the National Energy Board (NEB) approves the reversal of Enbridge Pipeline 9B to carry bitumen slurry east through Toronto. What we must never see is the extent of destruction of Toronto’s urban environment that can be caused by a bitumen slurry spill from an old oil pipeline through the city.

Any major spill of Enbridge Pipeline 9B between Willowdale Avenue (east of Yonge Street) east to Victoria Park Avenue in Toronto, for example, will find its way to the Don River. Fouling the storm sewers in the area will be the least of the problems as the Don River will carry the slurry quickly to Toronto’s Inner Harbour. Any large amount of rain at the time will accelerate the travel process. Remember slurry floats—until the hydrocarbons in the slurry evaporate and the bitumen sinks.

The first major trap for the slurry will be the hard right turn of the river at the Keating Channel. The channel introduces the river to the colder waters of Lake Ontario. This will accelerate the sinking of the bitumen and, given a large enough spill, block the Keating Channel. If this happens, the Don River will quickly flow over its banks and the roads on both sides of the river.

This is just one scenario of what can happen with running bitumen slurry through an urban centre. Enbridge has had two years to clean up the Kalamazoo tributaries in Michigan and the work continues. Toronto could hardly have a major artery such as the Don Valley Parkway out of use for a day.

The point is that an urban environment creates an urgency that we have never seen before in pipeline incidents. And what everybody knows is that there can be no promises. There can be no fast enough response. There can be no remorse. Heaven is not on the side of Enbridge. A spill simply cannot be allowed to happen.

The only way we can guarantee anything is to say: No.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Political donations do ads for Whigs.

Friday, July 19th, 2013

An e-mail came from the Ontario Liberal Party the other day. It was from Deb Matthews and Tim Murphy, campaign co-chairs for Wynne’s Whigs. This e-mail explained that since becoming Premier “Kathleen Wynne has worked hard to create jobs—jobs for youth just entering the workforce, career-building jobs for families trying to make ends meet, and job opportunities for those looking for new careers after the recession.”

The e-mail introduced a new advertisement that we were told we were privileged to be the first to see it. It was nice. A friendly, folksy Kathleen is shown with a mix of people in a variety of circumstances and her voice-over says that it is her job to create more jobs. Obviously these new jobs must be for Ontario voters. There are no specifics but there is a nice warm feeling and you have to admit that she is trying.

For some reason, the advertisement reminded us of the federal government’s ads for the economic action plan. The federal ads also give you a nice warm feeling but sometimes it is around the collar because it is federal taxpayers’ money paying for the federal ads. At least, Matthews and Murphy make it clear that this ad would be paid for by political donations. In fact, the e-mail said that our $10 or more donation would help keep this advertisement on the air.

But do we want to air this? Frankly, we would be more impressed with one or two concrete examples of how this government is creating better jobs for Ontario residents. After passing that do-nothing NDP budget recently, it is hard to believe anything new has happened in the Ontario job market—thanks to any government impetus. The federal government lies constantly about its supposed accomplishments, Are Wynne’s Whigs going the same route?

Premier Wynne told the media the other day that she is not all that confident of winning all five Ontario by-elections on August 1. She explained that the voters could decide to use the by-elections to remonstrate her government without defeating it. And what is the point of that?

If Wynne knew the by-elections were pointless, why did she call them? Why can we not have a general election in Ontario? We need one. Maybe in the heat of this summer, we should all get a little hot under the collar.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Has Enbridge every lied to you before?

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

There is no stopping the pipeline people from Enbridge. The Enbridge motto should be “What TransCanada can’t do, Enbridge can do!” With President Obama making the noises that he will kill the Keystone XL pipeline, Enbridge has made its end run to loop its existing pipelines back to connect its Alberta feed through Illinois back to the Texas Gulf oil ports. It is all in aid of getting bitumen to the sea.

This move has been obvious for a long time and Enbridge seems to have been hoping that making its move in the heat of the summer would go unnoticed by environmentalists and other alarmists. And there is no international portion to this application, keeping it out of reach of Obama and his environmentalist friends. This application is to run a pipeline from Flanagan, Illinois almost 1000 kilometres through mid-America to the existing pipeline terminal at Cushing, Oklahoma. From Cushing there is lots of capacity to pipe bitumen to the sea ports to ship to offshore buyers.

And Enbridge has asked for an expedited permit. These people waste little time. They hardly want people along the pipeline route hearing about the ongoing expenses along the Kalamazoo River in Michigan where 42 kilometres of the river and its tributaries have been polluted with bitumen. How many hundreds of millions more it will cost to complete the clean-up is anyone’s guess.

What is really frightening about this application is that the company has been doing splashy public relations presentations to people along the pipeline route. These presentations are long on hype and very limited on facts. An Associated Press report on one of these meetings quotes an Enbridge spokeswoman as saying that routine arial patrols along the 1000-kilometre route are backed by around-the-clock computer monitoring in Calgary. The fact that the Calgary office can shut down the pipeline does not mean it necessarily will shut it down.

In Michigan, it was not until the spill was confirmed on the ground that Calgary got around to shutting down the bitumen pipeline. In Mayflower, Arkansa streets and lawns were flooded with bitumen before the shut down of that spill from Exxon Mobil. The point is not that there can be a spill but when the spill will happen.

A recent study by the National Academy of Science in the United States says that there is no more likelihood of a spill of bitumen than of oil. The only problem is that when there is a spill of bitumen, there is a very different and very costly clean-up required.

Enbridge is a pipeline company. It will tell you of why its pipeline is strong and why its monitoring is thorough. What Enbridge cannot tell you is that there will never be a spill. When carrying bitumen slurry, you can expect a spill. And you had better watch for it!


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Which train goes to Scarborough?

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The subway versus Light Rail Transit (LRT) to the far reaches of Scarborough is an argument at Toronto City Hall with little common sense to it. What we are hearing is not a cogent conversation as to the pros and cons of one system over the other. One side of the issue seems to be reacting to the other side and neither is making sense or headway. And neither side is about to capitulate.

It will certainly not be Mayor Rob Ford who surrenders. You might not want to put high value on his arguments—or lack thereof. The problem he presents is that he seems to be seeing further into the future than the LRT proponents. He is arguing for capacity that will not be needed until years after he is gone. And there is no question but subways have the capacity that Toronto is going to need in the future,

But his plan is about 100 years too late. If Toronto’s planners of the 1920s had all had the verve and vision of those who knew to design the Prince Edward Viaduct ready for subway cars, Toronto would be the envy of the world today.

But the reality is that the Toronto of today is behind the curve. The city’s infrastructure is crumbling as time has passed it by. Costs keep skyrocketing as politicians dither.

You can blame some of this on the group of shallow and callow city politicians that make up the left wing of council.  This group is vitriolic in its attacks on anything proposed by what they consider the pompous right. They seem to want a pyrrhic victory over any progress for their city. They destroyed the opportunity for Woodbine to finally have a casino with their narrow minded cant. They dishonour the left who left them there.

But, despite their narrow-minded support, LRT is a solution for the long reaches of suburbia. The Eglinton Avenue mix of below and above ground LRT is an ideal solution to mid-range, long-run, frequent stop transit that would be prohibitively costly if configured as a subway.

Any city planner can tell these foolish politicians that there is no one ideal answer to meeting the needs for an accessible city. It is the mix of solutions that bring people together and send them home safely at night.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Trading staterooms on HMCS Harper.

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet shuffle is not just new lifeboat assignments. The changes on Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Harper are to decide who is to go first class on their voyage to defeat. And if you think there is anything significant about this new cabinet, even the Prime Minister would have to stretch the truth to tell you what.

Yes, there are more women, all twelve of them, in a cabinet with 27 men. Mind you, three are Ministers of State. These are sort of Ministers in training. They have learned to keep their mouths shut on the back benches and they can now bring that trait to cabinet.

The most trusted members of cabinet Flaherty, MacKay and Nicholson are still there. Jim Flaherty had to stay in Finance but Peter MacKay and Rob Nicholson switched jobs so that Prime Minister could point to it as a change. Maybe with the change to Justice, MacKay will stop using military equipment as his personal jitney service. Can you not just see Peter MacKay moping in his new office and saying: “There ain’t no justice!”

Of course, the Bobbsey Twins are still there. John Baird remains the faux Foreign Minister but Jason Kenney got a new title. The new job should leave Kenney more time to pursue the Prime Minister’s job. Kenney wants to be the first bachelor prime minister since Pierre Trudeau. Mind you, because he was not married, the Tories liked spreading rumours that Trudeau was gay—until he married Margaret Sinclair.

Harpers point-man on pipelines, Joe Oliver continues in Natural Resources. At 73, the Toronto MP is not what they mean when they say this cabinet is younger. The Prime Minister made the cabinet much younger just by getting rid of Vic Toews. Toews made the entire cabinet seem old.

A newcomer to cabinet is Chris Alexander, the former diplomat. Alexander shopped both the Liberals and the Conservatives before the last election. The Conservatives seem to have made the better offer. The Ajax-Pickering MP might make the Harper cabinet look better but he adds no depth.

But among their instructions from the Prime Minister’s Office to all new cabinet ministers is the admonition: No matter what you do, do not order orange juice if it costs $16 or more.

The final word on this cabinet is that the entire exercise is a waste of time. No key players are changed. It is nothing but cosmetics on the departed.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Mr. Harper bends a knee.

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Prime Minister Harper bent extra low in bowing to the Queen when last in London. He had good news for her. He was sure she would be pleased to know that he is going to switch Canada back to God Save the Queen as the country’s national anthem. This would go nicely with returning to the British Ensign as Canada’s flag.

“After all,” he explained to Cabinet, on his next visit to Ottawa, “we have had that red and white hanky flying over the Peace Tower long enough. As part of our making the ranks and designations of our armed services more British, they need to march under a proper flag.”

With the looming cabinet shuffle, no member of cabinet was eager to disagree with the Prime Minister. Those who knew they were out, had appointments to the bench and other benefits at risk and said nothing. And others know what an Anglophobe the Prime Minister is and know better than to object.

Only Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was secure enough to question why not give people a choice between singing God Save the Queen and O Canada. He explained, “They will probably choose God Save the Queen because the words are easier to remember. This way people will not complain that we are forcing the change.”

“No, Jim,” the Prime Minister answered. “It is like when you made the decision to get rid of the penny. People need to be told what to do.”

The Prime Minister also had a great idea to teach Canadians how to sing God Save the Queen. “Since the Economic Action Plan advertising does not seem to be working despite how many millions of taxpayer dollars we put into it, we will change the strategy. We will use all that money to play God Save the Queen every hour on every radio station in Canada. People will not only learn the words but they will learn the tune, It will be a win-win situation.”

….and then we woke up. It was just a nightmare! We hope.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Throw the engineer from the train.

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

With the blame game in high gear over the disaster at Lac-Mégantic, it seems everyone is sympathetic but the person to blame is the train engineer. The best way to explain this kind of blame is the inverted pyramid method. Everyone climbs into the wide open top of the inverted pyramid and points at the person below. The person at the bottom of this inverted pyramid must then be the one blamed.

First out of the gate was Transport Minister Denis Lebel who had his department send out a news release saying his department will investigate. Since nobody had done anything about the study done in 2011 that showed a serious lack of safety on Canada’s rail system, Gerard McDonald, the department’s assistant deputy minister for safety and security insisted that the department “does not hesitate to take steps to enforce (the) regulations.”

The only problem is that Transport Canada has no regulations that seem to apply to the Lac-Mégantic disaster. It seems that it is alright for a single trainman to shut down a train for the night before going off for some shut-eye. Transport Canada has no rule that says an unlocked train with 73 tanker cars of highly inflammable goods cannot be left running on a main line with nobody responsible. All these experts have jumped into the inverted pyramid and are pointing down.

We are given to understand that the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway asked Transport Canada a year ago to allow the railway to have only one operator on its trains. The brain trust at Transport Canada responded by saying there was no rule against one-person crews nor does it seem to have any problem with leaving an unattended train running on a main line. This seems to mean that Transport Canada is responsible for nothing.

The real genius in all of this must be MM&A Railway Chairman Edward Burkhardt.  In the classic style of the stuffed shirt company chairman of the 1930s, Burkhardt blamed the engineer. After all, here was the smoking gun: the one person who was responsible for everything that he did—even if he did it on the instructions of the company.

Like everyone else shedding crocodile tears over the dead and missing in Lac-Mégantic, Transport Canada, its Minister, the Railway, the oil industry are all eager to make sure that the engineer is severely punished for being at the bottom of the pyramid.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Our oaths and other oddities.

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

A news story the other day was about three potential Canadian citizens who could not understand why they should swear allegiance to the Queen. They want to become citizens but do not understand why a democratic country would even have royalty. They were appalled that Canada would continue such a silly custom into the 21st Century. They were also puzzled that people born here could be Canadian citizens and never need to pledge allegiance to royalty. Why then are we discriminating against our new citizens?

It does give you pause. Unless you join the military or take some office that requires an Oath of Allegiance, Canadians are quite at liberty to ignore the Queen and her heirs. In fact, most Canadians can go through a life-time without giving a damn. And they do.

What Canadians lack is an honest dialogue over who might replace the Queen as Canada’s head of state. Sure, there was a bit of an argument in parliament over Canada having its own flag but once the decision was made for the Maple Leaf Flag, Canadians got in line to support it. Sure there are some funny people who still like the old ensign but they have learned to stay quiet about it.

There was even less argument about making some minor changes to O Canada and making it our national anthem. You have to agree that by far the majority of Canadians prefer O Canada to God Save the Queen. In fact, today, God Save the Queen stirs little in Canadians other than impatience. And when Charlie takes over from his mommy, there will likely be outright booing of God Save the King!

Involving Canadians in a process of change to replace the monarchy will take time. It is hardly going to be a fast and easy process. The greatest danger is of provincial politicians using honest attempts at change as an opportunity for them to hold out on approvals for political advantage. The best way to overcome this is to go directly to the people with an elected constituent assembly and then a national referendum. This would override any provincial objections to the outcome.

And eventually we will have the kind of country we want that can leave the past behind us and take us into the future.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Harper heeds Harris heritage.

Friday, July 12th, 2013

The one problem we have to be realistic about is that ideologues are willing to kill people to support their political beliefs. The disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec is the latest case in point. When you gut a department’s budget, you can hardly be surprised when it can no longer do its job. When Transport Canada has to let railroads run hazardous materials with a single trainman through urban Canada, there is little excuse for people who believe companies can be self-regulating.

It is a legacy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper learned from former Ontario Premier Michael Harris. Sitting in a backyard overlooking beautiful Lake Couchiching, Ontario yesterday, the hostess opined that Michael Harris as Ontario’s Premier was not her cup of tea but he actually did a few things right. You had to agree with her but the caveat was that if he did the right thing he did it for the wrong reasons.

Yet one of Harris’ most serious failures was when seven people died from E. coli contacted through the Walkerton, Ontario water system. Harris’ savage spending cuts had left nobody competent minding the store.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected the claim that his government’s cutbacks in food inspection had led to the Listeriosis outbreak in August, 2008, the deaths involved were acknowledged by Maple Leaf Foods. The company would certainly have preferred that better third party inspection such as by the Canada Food Inspection Agency had kept it free of the problems.

But the Prime Minister could not deny that the lax attitudes towards food inspection caused the largest recall of meat in Canada’s history in 2012. XL Foods of Brooks, Alberta was ill prepared for what the company thought was an unlikely event. The vast plant had shipped 12,000 tonnes of product across Canada, into the United States and to other parts of the world before the thinly stretched number of food inspectors realized there was E. coli contamination.

Many of the ideological actions of the Conservative government currently in power have already to come back to haunt Canadians. The harm their attitudes are causing to foreign relations is reverberating in the United Nations. Their attitude towards birth control is harming relations in Africa and other third-world areas. Locating embassies in British facilities loses us stature. Our toadying to the Americans loses us friends. Canada is no longer the honest broker, the peace-keeper.

And there will be more of the sins of ideology uncovered when a more liberal government takes over after the 2015 general election.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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