Archive for October, 2013

Feeding the Energy Board PAP!

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

The Enbridge pipeline people have an unfortunate acronym for their public awareness program: PAP. The only problem is that pap is defined in our dictionary as the soft or semi-liquid food for infants or invalids. The word is further defined as undemanding reading matter.  And that has been what Enbridge has been feeding the National Energy Board and Canadian public in trying to get its pipeline changes approved.

The three board members at the hearings in Toronto this week showed remarkable stamina and determination to get through many hours of harassment, hustle and hype. Their minds must have been mush by the end of Friday’s more boisterous session. That was when the Board decided that there was no point to Enbridge continuing the charade on Saturday. By cancelling, the Saturday session and delaying Enbridge’s answer to some later date, they can go home.

Listening to Enbridge answering all the queries, complaints, fears and environmental concerns would not really produce anything new. Despite their condition, the board members hardly deserved more pap.

And what is the point if Enbridge just continues to muddy the water instead of dealing openly and honestly with public concerns?

One example is that if bitumen has the wrong connotation for what you want to send through the pipeline, you coin a word such as ‘dilbit.’ It certainly sounds friendlier and less threatening but if it is just a contraction for diluted bitumen. Why not call it what it really is?

Maybe the National Energy Board should ask the Quebec refineries if they want bitumen to refine, Enbridge keeps inferring that this is the case but no Quebec refineries are presently able to produce synthetic oil from bitumen. And with the horrendous pollution problems such refining entails, why would they want to? The truth is that the bitumen is to be piped on from Montreal to seaports at Saint John, New Brunswick and Portland, Maine where tankers can be loaded for foreign markets.

And, frankly, why should we care about Enbridge’s response times and ability to cut off the flow and to clean up spills. One pipeline rupture in an urban environment can be enough. It will be too late to say ‘sorry.’

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Hair and hairdresser having fun in Brussels.

Saturday, October 19th, 2013

With the Throne Speech a one-day wonder, the Hair had nothing left to do but head for Brussels. The home of the European Union, Brussels today is more than a Mecca for tourists. It is here that the Hair has signed a tentative European trade treaty.

Nobody seems to care that the poor hairdresser had little time to rinse out a few intimate things before being hustled back onto that damn Airbus A310. The Hair needed a different set of lackey’s for the European trip than last week’s jaunt to Indonesia but where the Hair goes, so must go the hairdresser.

Back in the lacklustre House of Commons, the leave-behind lackeys were doing their best to answer every question with a fulsome tribute to the Hair’s European Trade deal. The only problem was that there is a terrible backlog of questions about the Senate that nobody on the government benches wants to answer. It tends to be a bit disjointed.

On top of that there is a serious lack of information available about the European trade deal and there are a limited number of talking points available to the Tory lackeys. All we seem sure about is that the Europeans are going to get our bacon and we are going to get their cheese. It sounds like on both sides of the pond, we all get clogged arteries.

We will not have a definitive analysis of this trade deal until we see what happens to prices on our favourite French wines. Based on present day trade balances with the European Union, Canada needed to negotiate hard. We are currently spending far more in Europe than they with us and we could ill afford any further advantage to Europe just to close this deal.

And we should not forget we were negotiating with the same snotty people who criticize our killing of baby seals for pelts and income in Newfoundland and Labrador. Maybe we should tell the Europeans to stop mistreating geese just to enlarge their livers.

Even as the Hair announces his greatest deal ever out of this trip, it is going to be at least a couple years before all the European countries agree to the deal and we start to see any changes that such a deal could produce. What we have learned about free trade deals is that you can make them sound good but the proof is in how they work out for all parties.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario’s patchwork Premier at Play.

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Did you miss the announcement last week that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has solved the problem with Ontario’s harness racing industry? You can just see her coming out of her Queen’s Park office at the end of the day, dusting off her hands and saying: “another problem solved.”

The truth be told: the solution bombed. The announcement was another example of Ms. Wynne’s lack of political acumen. She is a babe in the woods. She not only has absolutely no political instincts but she listens to bad advice. It hardly needs Opposition Leader Timmy Hudak to tell us that the money for the harness racing people is too little, too late and mismanaged in the telling.

Politically the time to strike on the harness tracks issue was the same day as she fired Ontario Lottery and Gaming Chair Paul Godfrey. It had to be a one-two punch. It would have given her a reason for firing Godfrey without saying it. It would have prevented the resentment about the tracks being transferred to her and allowed to fester.

With her government already suffering from too many festering sores, Wynne is starting to lose the ability to act. Last week’s job statistics brought nothing from her office. What the statistics showed was that Ontario was not only behind the curve in job creation with the rest of the country but we are losing unemployed not to jobs but to giving up. Young people are out of options.

It is in reading those figures last week that you could see how the Harper government has skewed and screwed the economic balance of this country. The battered manufacturing sector of Ontario and Quebec has fallen behind the resource based Western economy.

The Ontario government’s job is to rebuild the economic base of this province. Wynne and friends obviously have no idea how to do this and the combined ignorance of the opposition parties makes the situation desperate. The voters are caught in the middle.

Ontario has to put its faith in the development of high technology industry such as we have based in Kanata, Toronto and Waterloo. We have to woo it, support it and keep it working for us. At the same time, we can hardly ignore the riches of this province in agriculture and mineral resources. These we must also continue to build on. Frankly, we could hardly find a better province. We just need better politicians.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

A government out of gas.

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Listening to the throne speech reading by the Governor General yesterday was a sad occasion. It reminds you of one of your youngsters who had so much relaxing to do over the summer that he never did get around to that one school assignment. The government prorogued Parliament for an extra month to write this?

It is a desperation document. It is platitudes piled high. You could only feel sorry for David Johnson for having to read all roughly 7000 words. It was overly long and tortuous, winding its way to nowhere. As happens when you are writing things at different times, the end result is no theme, no cohesion, no easy read. It is disjointed and poorly structured. No passing mark for it.

But that does not matter. The truth be understood that this is what this government might do if nothing more interesting comes along. These are suggestions, not promises.

Yup, they say they are going to do something about mobile roaming charges. If you were impressed that your cell phone worked a thousand kilometres from home, why were you not equally impressed with the roaming charges? And if you were dumb and continued using the cell phone, you deserved the consequences. Yet, here is the Governor General sitting there saying something like “My government is also going to help stupid people by lowering roaming charges.” How this will work, we have no idea.

Even more complex is the problem of pandering to consumers by arranging for you to pay just for the television channels you watch on cable or satellite. This has been under discussion with the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission for quite a few years. What nobody has solved yet are the pricing problems.

You will notice that none of these generous proposals are going to cost the government. Of course, the government wants to send people to jail forever, which can cost, but luckily, there are fewer criminals to send there.

And, despite the seriousness of the problem, do not hold your breath for the government to solve cyber bullying. If you can even define it clearly enough, how do you police it and bring it to court without threatening our freedoms? Sure, obvious cases have to be stopped but what about the more subtle ones?

If this was the retooling Mr. Harper thinks will spell a continued majority, he is whistling in the wind. He is a lame duck, limping towards the end of his career.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

A letter to our Member of Parliament.

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Dear Mr. Brown:

This is to thank you for sending us the Brown Report, Fall 2013. There is little question that it is from you—in four pages, your picture appears 16 times. It makes one wish that you were a little more photogenic.

What is of concern to us is that nowhere in this report is there mention of any previous or anticipated activities by you on our behalf in Ottawa. The report devotes the most attention to your various public relations activities in Barrie.

We should expect after being elected for a few years now, you would know that the job  of a Member of Parliament is mainly in Ottawa. You are provided with staff, a substantial salary and expenses to do a job for us in Parliament, on parliamentary committees and in addressing the needs and concerns of Canadians. And be assured that the salaries of you and your staff are far in excess of what the City of Barrie might need or want to spend on a fulltime support structure for local charities.

And speaking of your efforts on behalf of some of our local charities, frankly you are probably doing more harm than good. Your hockey night, for example, could be far better run and raise much more money if it was run by the hospital. By politicizing an event of this nature in a city that loves its hockey is hampering our citizens’ ability to really get behind the event and make it the success it could be.

It has been our experience, over many years of working with fund raising for health agencies in Canada and around the world, that nobody really respects the person who advertises their support. Commercial support for charity has become an accepted practice as it reflects the community spirit of the business but it cannot be allowed to become more important than the charity to the long term detriment of the charity.

It is also important when working with charities to be able to provide a very precise accounting for all monies received and dispersed. Establishing and maintaining standards of stewardship in fund raising assists the public in appreciating that their donations are used responsibly.

And, frankly sir, a review of your service as Member of Parliament is also needed.

Sincerely,

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

“The shape of things to come.”

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

One of the worst forecasts we ever saw was a Canadian-made, low budget science-fiction movie released in 1979. It was loosely based on H.G. Wells’ book by the same name. What was really wrong with it was that the 1936 version of the movie when the screen play was written by Wells and titled “Things to come” was really much better.

This must seem like a strange thing to go through your mind as you watch Industry Minister James Moore talking on Tom Clark’s West Block show on Global Television this Sunday. What knits everything together is that Moore was using his rapid CBC-trained speaking style telling us what Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to try to sell us in the Wednesday Throne Speech. Boy, speaking of science fiction!

Would you believe that Moore was trying to convince us that Harper was going to be the saviour of the consumer? He is going to save us from roaming charges on our cell phones. He is going to fix the problems of our having to buy television channels that we do not want. He is going to save consumers from the rapacious telecom giants.

Moore said that the Prime Minister is even going to force Air Canada to treat customers as something other than sheep. He is going to insist that airlines stop overbooking. And the best news of all was that all the costs were going to be borne by the industries involved—at least until they figure out how to recoup the costs.

What it sounds like, is that Mr. Harper is taking a page from the New Democrat’s play book to save us nickels and dimes. He is also getting aboard the Liberal Party’s voyage of discovery with the middle class. He is not about to let Justin Trudeau win all those middle class votes. Harper can be middle class too.

Mind you, Moore assures us that Harper will remain the astute manager of the Canadian economy that he always tells us he is. We will all be watching on Wednesday to hear exactly how he thinks Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is going to eliminate the deficit in time for a 2015 federal election. There are a lot of earlier promises from Harper that hinge on getting rid of that pesky deficit by that time. Maybe that will also be in the realm of science fiction.

But listening to the fast-talking Moore, you could easily understand why Harper sent him out with a message of hope for Canadians on the long weekend. There is nothing more appealing to news directors who are stuck working than someone taking a stick to their bosses who are enjoying their long weekend off.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Be it resolved to rebuild Canada.

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Thanksgiving Day in Canada is a good day to talk about our hopes for renewing our country. To this end, we are taking Justin Trudeau at his word that he wants the Liberal Party of Canada to develop the policies that Canadians want. We have therefore contributed a resolution to the Liberal Party policy development process that can hopefully repair and rebuilt the process and institutions governing this country.

The problem with this type of resolution is that there are far more barriers to addressing these questions than methods for implementing change. In a country that will soon be 150 years old, we are operating with political institutions where some of them are despised, some inoperable in a modern context and a few running out of control. And what concerns constitutional experts is that there are few checks and balances in our system of governance.

It is right and reasonable that these institutions and processes be reviewed. To do that, Canada needs to elect a constitutional assembly and give it time to consider the needs and wants of Canadians. An assembly of this sort needs the power to call expert witnesses and to properly examine needs and alternatives.

Under our present amending formula, the politicians from provinces and territories need to sit down with the federal government to review any proposed changes. And if the assembly has done its job properly, no proposals are going to be dismissed out of hand.

The final authority must be the people of Canada. If we have the ideas, the belief in our future, the determination for change, we will have change

The resolution is as follows:

“Resolution Title: The Rebuilding of Canada

“Whereas: Since Canada was established as a nation in 1867, it has existed with institutions and structures more suited to the 19th Century. It is now time before Canada reaches 150 years to rebuild, re-arrange and re-organize our nation to reflect the nation Canadians need and want in the 21st Century.

“And Whereas: Canadians are especially concerned about the growing loss of effectiveness of the Senate as a chamber of competent review and consideration, the lack of effective checks and balances on the power of the Prime Minister in appointments to the judiciary, boards, commissions, military and other government controlled agencies, and the responsibility of elected parliamentarians to meet and discuss the concerns and needs of their constituents in a timely, civilized and thorough manner.

“And Whereas: Canadians are questioning the use of another country’s head of state and need to review the need for a Canadian head of state—by election or other means.

“And Whereas: Canadians are searching for ways to overcome some of the weaknesses to our first-past-the-post electoral process and are seeking a more thorough review.

“Be it resolved that the Liberal Party of Canada: Will work toward the election of a constituent assembly of Canadians from every part of Canada to meet, call witnesses, study and advise the government of a plan for implementation of any proposed changes in Canada’s constitution.

“And be it further resolved that the Liberal Party of Canada: Will call for an open meeting of the Provinces and Territories to discuss and, if agreeable, approve the findings of the assembly.

“And be it further resolved that the Liberal Party of Canada: Will call for a national referendum to seek the approval of all Canadians to the proposals as approved by the Provinces and Territories.”

Babel-on-the-Bay will welcome comment, improvement and support from our Canadian readers on this resolution. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

A wonderful story about ‘Zoo poo.’

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Apropos a recent Babel-on-the-Bay story about our backward burghers of Babel who run our small city, there was a delightful story in the Toronto Star the other day about a different kind of poop. And if you think poop is poop, you have never wandered too far at the Toronto Zoo. It is all fecal matter but the animals at that great Zoo produce some 3000 tonnes of it per year. Now that might be small change to what the citizens of Babel can produce in a year but at least the Toronto Zoo knows what to do with poop when they have to shovel it anyway.

The story in the Star was about the new biogas plant the non-profit ZooShare Biogas Co-operative is building. The good news is that it is not costing the taxpayers a nickel. Smart Toronto Zoo members have already bought $755,000 in seven-per cent, seven-year bonds and the rest of the $2 million worth of bonds needed are going on sale to the general public. It is hoped the plant will be in operation by the end of 2014.

The point of this story is that the Zoo entrepreneurs know their chemistry. They know that poop by itself is not the answer. It is the same point that Babel-on-the-Bay tried to make with the burghers of Babel. The Zoo people have made a deal with a large grocery chain to take 15,000 tonnes of food waste off their hands each year. Combined with the animal poop, they have an effective biogas production that will provide revenues from electrical generation, hot water for heating, tipping fees from the grocery stores and the sale of high quality fertilizer. The Zoo is even going to get ten per cent of the revenues for supplying the land.

The difference when you use human poop is that we have these convenient sewage systems that direct the poop to just where it is needed without any shovelling. And, the point that Babel’s burghers cannot understand, you can add kitchen waste by the simple step of promoting garburators. People will be pleased to send you their kitchen waste without putting any strain on the delivery system. (It has been proved that garburators are only a problem in communities with combined storm and sanitary sewers.)

And even without garburators, why would we truck our green bin wastes more than 100 kilometres from town when the sewage works could better handle it. And why turn down an opportunity to increase your community’s ability to profit from increased production of heat and power and fertilizer?

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

Meet Premier Marois’ pet pitbull.

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

There is little that is complex about Pierre-Karl Péladeau. He is as basic as the daily content of Le Journal de Montréal. He is his father’s son. He preaches conservatism and separatism without qualms. He is Sun Media. He is the pitbull of Canadian news media. He is making the mistake that many in his position have made before him. He is exposing himself to the voter.

This generation of Péladeau is a throwback to the heyday of John Bassett. The difference was that John Bassett of the Sherbrooke Daily Record and Toronto Telegram, Argonauts and Maple Leafs and CTV was first and foremost a Canadian. And John knew how to be a gentleman—even if he rarely showed that side of himself.

But John Bassett learned the hard way that his ego could defeat him. Pierre-Karl Péladeau has yet to learn that lesson. John twice attempted to win a seat in Canada’s Parliament. He was defeated in Sherbrooke riding in Quebec in 1945 and in Toronto’s Spadina riding in 1962. His honours had to be handed to him when Conservative Prime Minister Mulroney made him head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee in 1989.

Conversely, Pierre-Karl is going to find that Quebec Premier Pauline Marois might not be the friend she is making out to be. She needs him on side and angry. Making the media baron chair of Hydro-Québec was not because he had any special skills to bring to that body. She wanted him to taste the power that the separatists can offer him if he joins their government. She is already inviting him to cabinet committee meetings so that he can get a sense of the power that is there.

Interestingly, Marois is involving Péladeau in a project that Premier Kathleen Wynne in Ontario would be very smart to emulate. It is the electrification of transport in the province. In Ontario, one of the major problems with the GO Trains is that they are all diesel. Diesel takes too long to come up to speed and it severely limits the stops and schedules of trains. Electrical GO trains could serve more stops and cut up to a third off commute times throughout the province. It makes good economic sense.

Marois has been criticized for having Péladeau attend these meeting of the cabinet committee. It is a criticism she is inclined to handle as long as it gets the mercurial Péladeau solidly on side for her party. He might even surprise us by getting elected.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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

What’s a billion Premier Wynne?

Friday, October 11th, 2013

No doubt Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne would very much like to close the books on the gas power plants in Mississauga and Oakville. It is just that there is a bad smell here that is something more than the rotten egg smell usually associated with domestic natural gas. And we hasten to add that we are not singling out her party for all the blame. We must never forget that Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath were both behind the drive to cancel those power plants. All three parties are to blame.

But, there is no escape clause in this fiasco, Ms. Wynne. Your party really screwed things up. It is now obvious, based on the auditor general’s report, that the real mess was in how you cancelled. Every single lawyer in the Liberal caucus, or at least the Cabinet, should be disbarred for not stopping the government of the day from cancelling the way they did. That was dereliction of responsibility to Ontario taxpayers.

We recognize that it might be somewhat difficult for the caucus to dip into personal savings to reimburse the taxpayers. Maybe former MPP Greg Sorbara might consider it small change but even he would have trouble coming up with a billion.

The basic question is what are you going to do about it? It is about time you stopped backfilling and repairing and became pro-active.

At best guess, you have until April to start looking like you know what you are doing. It also gives Andrea and Timmy time to think about how they might really serve Ontario voters. Your only advantage is that you are supposed to be a Liberal. Nobody can confirm that based on your performance as Premier to-date. You have done nothing, Liberal or otherwise.

Being Liberal is to be concerned about the freedom and opportunity of the individual in our society. There are too many people unemployed in Ontario. That means they are not being afforded equal opportunity. What you need to do is increase corporate taxes and then give business an incentive to hire. Companies that do not hire can pay for those that do. And, by the way, make sure the minimum wage is above the poverty line. It is not equal opportunity to pay people less than a living wage.

Being Liberal is leading. You have to show us you can lead. You have to stop listening to those reactionary advisors you have and stop playing at developing policies. Any policies that you do not feel in your gut are probably not worth the trouble. Start with what people need. They are the ones you have to bring on side.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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