Archive for October, 2013

Spying is all about business.

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

If the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) was supposed to be secret, they forgot to tell us. After more than 30 years of relaxed access to most aspects of government in Canada, the recent revelations about Canada’s spying are no surprise to this writer. As head of public affairs for a large computer company that did hundreds of millions of dollars of business with the government, the job was simple. You gain little by talking. If you want to learn, you listen.

Life in those years seemed to be an endless series of idle conversations. You could go to the old CSEC facility on Heron and pose an idea to some of the people there. It was their questions that told you what they were doing and where they were going. And watching the shift of Bell Northern Research to Nortel and listening to those conversations was fascinating. And it was international too: there was an intriguing chat with the CIA station chief in Quebec City and other chance meetings in Washington. And there are hundreds of international visitors; a casual chat with a vice-premier of China at a Royal Bank reception turned out to be a highly memorable event—and very good for business.

The point is business means access and access means business. Other writers seek fame and fortune writing about black ops and drug money but the reality is embassies and consulates are there around the world to further business interests. And so is CSEC.

CSEC had its roots in the England’s Bletchley Park and the Hydra radio centre on Lake Ontario in the early days of the Second World War. Bletchley’s deciphering algorithms became child’s play as more and more powerful computers came into use. And then the lead establishment was not in England but in Ottawa. The early interest was in transoceanic radio and cable traffic. There is far more business traffic of interest than drug deals. All the snoopers had to do was set the computers to listen for key words in a range of languages. When you ultimately let the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand in on what you are doing, you can stop worrying about listening to your own nationals. Someone else is doing it for you.

And if the Brazilian’s get angry at intrusive business espionage, so be it. You can always blame the Americans, if you need to.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his hair and his hairdresser are travelling the world, an uptight salesman for Canada. He is selling resources first and manufactured goods second. He is setting up opportunities. It looked at one point that he was too busy selling bad economics but thankfully the G8 leaders have learned to ignore him on that subject. His best sales tool is having CSEC help him. Just think what he could do if he was a more likeable salesman—or cared about us.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Harper is dumb on diplomacy.

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Here he has his own Airbus A310, his own hairdresser, a plane full of lackeys to do his bidding and Prime Minister Stephen Harper still gives the back of his hand to simple diplomacy. This guy manages to look stiff and stunned in a Balinese shirt and surrounded by beautiful Balinese women. He is certainly not doing Canada’s world-wide reputation the least bit of good.

And now he wants to piss off his best friend Queen Elizabeth II. Can you imagine? Here Prime Minister Harper cosies up to the royals for years and now he is needlessly throwing crap at their favourite photo-op: the Commonwealth. He thinks he is going to have some kind of influence on Sri Lanka’s leaders by boycotting a Commonwealth meeting there next month.

Maybe Harper figures he does not need to be there because Prince Charles is standing in for his mother. He figures nobody will criticize him for ignoring Charles.

But this is not diplomacy. This is childish. Stephen Harper and his hairdresser will stay home for a change. Nobody is going to disagree that the long-ago Commonwealth solidarity behind England has become something of a joke. It is just that any and all forums for nations to talk can be of value. It is good for trade. It is good for democracy. And it is good for furthering human rights. You only insult a country when you want to go to war with it.

Neither Stephen Harper nor his foolish Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird appear to have a clue about what is involved in diplomacy. They are so busy destroying Canada’s reputation around the world that it will take many years for the country to recover its former prestige and respect.

It is as though John Baird is taking diplomacy lessons from New York City taxi drivers. The last time he was at the United Nations. Baird was reported to have made singularly undiplomatic remarks to the Maldives foreign minister about the current elections in that country. That is really brave of Baird to insult a small island nation in the Indian Ocean.

And how would Baird like it if the foreign minister for the Maldives asked him if the courts in Canada are going to hang Mr. Harper’s former parliamentary assistant MP Dean Del Mastro for election fraud? Even John Baird would know that whether Mr. Del Mastro is hung or not should only be a matter of interest to his close friends.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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NDP’s Mulcair is looking for love.

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Federal New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair has taken a shine to tar sands economics. He has joined with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives who seem titillated with the sexual suggestiveness of having big pipelines lacing our country. Tommy thinks that there is a compromise if we just refine all this potential oil in Canada. As the old song goes; Tommy is looking for love in all the wrong places.

Meanwhile MP Peter Julian, the New Democrat’s energy critic has been busy learning all about renewable energy in Denmark. He was also looking in the wrong places. He would have learned more about the reality of renewable energy if he had done his fact finding here in Ontario.

But Tommy has directed his energy critic to come up with a policy for the party that will include refining tar sands bitumen in Canada without increasing pollution. And if you thought Hercules of mythology had it tough in the Augean Stables with what was an impossible task, Julian is in far more deep do-do than that.

What he will find if he checks it out is that the pollution starts with the extraction of the bitumen from the tar sands. The tar sands companies use hot water to literally wash the sand out of the bitumen. Along with the sand, the water becomes a soup of obnoxious chemicals and it is destroying the fragile environment of the Athabasca.

No matter where you refine it, processing bitumen to synthetic oil leaves a huge residue of carbon. What carbon you do not pump into our atmosphere creates endless piles of a carbon slag that can be burned but sends out more pollution into the air we breathe.

And then, when we use the refined gasoline and other fuels, the pollution cycle continues. At a time when we are becoming far more conscious of the destruction of our environment, the demand for these highly polluting fuels continues to grow.

What Peter Julian is going to have to report back to his Leader Thomas Mulcair is that there is no technological solution today that provides a pollution free use of Alberta’s tar sands. The Harper Conservatives gave it their best shot by trying to ship it to countries that do not care about pollution. Too bad, Tommy, Canada cares.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Wynne and her woeful wannabes.

Monday, October 7th, 2013

It is a waste of time to worry about public opinion polls months before an election. Watching Premier Kathleen Wynne working her political wiles last week also seemed like a waste of time. It was her reaction to an opposition question about a $1.89 cup of tea that worries us. It was a bad answer. It was bad politics. And she was inadvertently asking for more stupid questions just like it.

Any smart political person would know how to redirect the question. She needed to tell the questioner about the importance of the Pan Am Games that are coming to Toronto in 2015. Why the hell should the Premier of Ontario need to deal with such minutiae if the people looking after the games are doing their job?

Part of the problem was the guy Wynne appointed to handle the Pan Am Games in cabinet was pathetic when he tried to answer the question in committee, prior to the Premier trying to answer it in the House. He actually gave the right answer but that was not why the Conservative MPP asked him. Instead of giving a political answer and holding the floor for a while, Sport Minister Michael Chan answered in about seven or eight words. He might as well have been speaking a foreign language. Is this a politician?

There are just too many disappointments in the Liberal Cabinet. Here we had high hopes for Health Minister Deb Matthews. She keeps getting up in the House with whiny blame-game answers to basic questions. Here is a competent person who just cannot seem to be able to get ahead of the political game. It is as if she thinks she is running some billion dollar corporation and she cannot understand these people asking her simple questions. She needs a course in Politics 101.

And then there is Finance Minister Charles Sousa. We had high expectations of him. We thought he would be far better than Dwight Duncan, that wonder kid from Windsor. We honestly thought that Charles was better tuned to the political realities of the job. His first budget did not even please the New Democrats who wrote it. He might as well have stayed home in Mississauga. He is in the fast lane to the political dump.

Is it any wonder that the polls show that the public would prefer New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath as Premier? Most agree that she seems like a very nice person. They just do not know where Horwath and her party want to go. This explains why more Ontario voters would probably vote Liberal, but just not enough to give the Liberals a majority.

The polls are also quite conclusive that the only Ontario voters who like Conservative Leader Timmy Hudak are hard core Conservatives. You have no doubt heard of people who would vote for their party even if it was led by a big yellow dog. Next time you see Timmy, toss him a dog biscuit!


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Energy East ads for nought?

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

This takes some analysis. TransCanada Pipelines is delaying the application for its Energy East Pipeline until next year. This is a major delay for the company. Even if TransCanada does nothing pro-active on the file for the year, it means costs are accumulating. And we are talking many millions.

The plan is for TransCanada to get National Energy Board permission to convert its major west to east natural gas pipeline to run bitumen slurry and to extend the line 1400 kilometres to Quebec City and then south to Saint John, New Brunswick. With a major terminal to be built at Saint John, the line is to bring 1.1 million barrels a day of bitumen slurry to the terminal to be put on tankers for world customers.

Consumers have suffered through the incessant television advertising and the full-page newspaper propaganda of TransCanada’s NewThink that tells us bitumen is good for you. Mind you, they think we are stupid so they call it heavy crude oil. They infer that it is good for the environment and will create thousands of jobs and neither statement could further from the truth. TransCanada has been spending millions of dollars to get you to love Big Brother Bitumen.

But what has happened? What is causing this delay, this change of heart? Are they so confident of U.S. President Barack Obama’s approval of TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline through the American Midwest? Is TransCanada a one-trick pony and now has no need for this Energy East fiasco?

Or is it that they think the Enbridge proposal to reverse Line 9B through southern Ontario has the fix in with the National Energy Board? Betcha the entire board knows it is going to get fired if it does not approve that one. The Harper Conservatives greased that slide more than a year ago when it stopped Canadians from appearing willy-nilly in front of the board members and embarrassing them with the truth. Just wait for the hearings in Toronto soon. That event is going to be a zoo. They will probably not even let this writer in the door. Oh well, it used to be a democratic country!

Maybe TransCanada thinks that Premier Christy Clark in British Columbia can be persuaded to approve both the Enbridge Northern Gateway and the new Kinder Morgan pipelines to the Pacific coast to handle the Chinese markets.

The tar sands exploiters are so desperate that there is even serious talk now of sending rail tanker cars to Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson’s Bay. At least in the summers, bitumen can be shipped from there to world markets. It is just that the citizens of Churchill are in shock. It is too soon after the Lac-Mégantic disaster.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Soul searching for solace.

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

For the first time in over a year, Babel-on-the-Bay skipped posting for one day last week. Readership plummeted. There was a technical problem. It was solved with the purchase of a new monitor. It seems those things die after eight or nine years. A computer nerd was also enticed (with money) to come and clean up the computer. It needed a grease job. This did not mean we had nothing to do but it did cause some introspection. We thought some more about what the hell we are doing here.

This blog has become a demanding hobby. It is still fun. It is only a personal penchant for good spelling, grammar and clarity that we spend the time we do. There are also some wonderful readers who delight in pointing out any errors.

But one reader got to your writer last week: “Why are you so angry?” she wanted to know. That was serious. Here we are having fun and we are told that we are coming across as angry. She is also getting bored with bitumen. She likes it when we are funny.

If you felt as lonely as we have felt in discussing bitumen, you would understand. Only in the past week have the mainstream media in Eastern Canada started to realize the dangers of having bitumen slurry piped through eastern cities on its way to seaports. The Toronto Star had its first alarmist headline just the other day. Previously it had restricted the coverage on the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9B to puff pieces in the business section.

It is nice to know that others are as appalled as you at the prospect of a disaster in Toronto’s Yonge Street Subway or to our fresh drinking water. We sent our concerns to the National Energy Board in Calgary in August but we have no Google Analytics on that posting to tell us if anyone is reading it.  You have to realize that there are hundreds of millions of dollars (and the resources of the federal government) behind the push to get that Alberta bitumen to seaports and one lousy little blog is not much of a finger in that dike.

Mind you, we are very pleased with our readership for Babel-on-the-Bay. Out of hundreds of millions of blogs on the world-wide web, only a very few are knowledgeable, readable, erudite or worthy of a few minutes of your time. We are honoured you chose to visit us. Thank you.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Harrying the Hair on his holiday.

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Is this fair? Here is the Hair having a relaxed prorogation vacation and he is being harried by his supposedly tame news media. Damn it all, you give the television network owners everything they ask for and they still do not control those pesky news people who work for them. And to make matters worse, the pit bulls you hire as communications directors keep embarrassing you by not managing the news the way you tell them.

But what can the Hair expect? Nobody can match the Hair at managing the media. He is the confident Mr. Cool. After all, does he look like a marijuana user? With his up-tight suits and his perfect tie and never a hair on his head out of place, the Hair is the perfect Prime Minister. If things do not start running properly around him, the Hair is going to rethink his offer to be Prime Minister for Life.

And where the hell did that cameraman from his favourite CTV News get off? Here the Hair was busy impressing some business people in New York and this damn cameraman asks him a question about the legal troubles of his friend and former parliamentary secretary, Dean Del Mastro. “Off with his head!”

And the Hair is hardly finished with his former friends from CTV. After all, they still owe him for superannuating to the Senate their super stars Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin. How was the Hair to know that super stars at CTV seemed to be allowed unlimited expense accounts? When you come from one venue of privilege, you simply carry on in the new venue of privilege.

Not being from the lofty heights of talent such as Duffy or Wallin, the cameraman was just trying to do his job. He even checked with his boss in Toronto to see if he should ask the question about Del Mastro. He got the ‘go’ and the next thing he heard was from the new pit bull communications director in the Prime Minister’s Office that he was off the Hair’s plane for the trip to Kuala Lumpur. Boy that took some fixing. The Hair relented. The Hair’s A310 VIP flight with the Hair, hairdresser, communications director and CTV cameraman and sundry other lackeys left Thursday and if the cameraman and communications director behave as the Hair wants, they will not be left in Malaysia.

But that leaves the Hair with his on-going problem with communications directors. They seem to have a great deal of trouble running the news media the way the Hair wants. The problem is that a communication director has a responsibility to keep the boss from looking like a raving dictator. That means that sometimes there is the need for you to tell the politician that this is the way it works. It means doing your job.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Gun lobby takes aim at Baird.

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Do you remember the old children’s song If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise? If you are expecting a teddy bear’s picnic, you will be wrong. Today, you are more liable to be shot. We live in a country where the government thinks any idiot should be allowed to have a gun. And a lot of those idiots go out in the woods and pretend they are sports shooters.

The Conservative government has made both our woods and our streets less safe by listening to organizations such as Canada’s National Firearms Association and the Canadian Shooting Sports Association. These organizations were so emboldened by the government ending the long gun registry for them that they are now lobbying Foreign Minister John Baird not to sign the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. It is an insult to all Canadians to besmirch our country’s reputation by not signing it.

When you realize that the United States of America and another 90 countries have already signed the treaty, you really wonder what this government is thinking.

But Foreign Minister Baird says that the Treaty reminds him of the long gun registry. That must be at the suggestion of the pro-gun lobbyist organizations in Canada who do not want us to sign the treaty. On further examination, you find that the gun enthusiasts are concerned that the treaty might impact the costs of guns for Canadians. Since the treaty has to do with weapons of war, that seems to be a bit of a stretch.

The good news is that this country cannot seem to sustain a domestic arms industry. We should be pleased at that but the lobbyists do not want anything to slow down getting their guns across borders.

What is even more confusing about this is we could not find where the American lobby group, the National Rifle Association complained about the United States signing the arms treaty.

And if Foreign Minister Baird caves in to these Canadian gun nuts, you can expect a lot more loosening of gun laws in Canada. They will be particularly eager to open up all avenues to carrying your handy little concealed weapon by people eager to impress their friends and neighbours. And do not be surprised as the United Nations treaty takes effect and lower cost assault rifles become more readily available to the avid gun collector. They will be very pleased at the new lower prices for AK-47s.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Energy East: the unrelenting sales pitch.

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Are you as weary as everyone else with the heavy-handed TransCanada Pipelines television commercials? All the company wants to do is convert its main gas pipeline to a heated, high pressure line for bitumen slurry and extend it across Canada to Saint John, New Brunswick. And if you think the television commercials are expensive, you should attend one of the dog and pony sales pitches the company is doing for the locals along the pipeline route. What matters a few millions when potential profits are in the billions?

But the rub is that you would have some sympathy for their objectives if they were just honest with Canadians about what they are really doing. While it is true that pipelines have a better safety record than rail transport on a per barrel shipped basis, pipeline spills can be even more catastrophic. Sensors can tell the pipeline company that they are spilling into the environment, but it depends on where the leak is and how fast they can get people to it that determines the extent of the problems.

They will tell you that oil sands crude is no more corrosive than regular crude oil. They have very artfully changed the subject. They are right: bitumen from the Alberta tar sands refined into synthetic crude oil is no more corrosive than normal crude oil. Tar sands bitumen mixed with polymers to create a slurry for shipment by pipeline is still much more viscous material and it has to be heated and pushed under considerable additional pressure to move it through a pipeline. The ability to completely remove corrosive and wearing materials from the bitumen remains of concern.

They also say that cleaning up oil sands synthetic crude poses the same challenges as any crude. The difference with bitumen slurry is that in a waterway, the polymers carrying the bitumen float and carry the spill with the current—until enough of the polymer has evaporated to let the bitumen sink. That is why more than 40 kilometres of the Kalamazoo River and tributaries in Michigan are still not cleansed of bitumen after three years of effort after a pipeline spill.

And if you think this entire bitumen exercise is to make sure you get gas for your family car, they have really got you conned. Whether any or all of these new pipelines makes it to Kitimat, Vancouver, the Texas Gulf ports, Saint John, Quebec City or Portland, Maine, the objective is to ship it offshore to countries that do not care about pollution. Caring Canadian refineries do not want to convert to handling bitumen because they do not want the pollution problems.

It is amazing to observe—as something of a footnote—that they are building a new refinery in Alberta so that the province can have its own super-polluting solution as to what to do with bitumen.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Explaining Canadian liberalism

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

It is the risk of appearing academic or pedantic (book-smart) that usually precludes any discussion of what liberalism is all about. It reminds us of an old friend—a law professor who was an authority on torts law—who wanted to entitle his most recent work: Fuck Torts. He thought it might gain more attention for the otherwise dull subject. We sympathized with him but advised against it. We thought he needed to be more positive. And we need to take our own advice about liberalism.

But the concern is that liberalism is falling into disrepute these days. The major problem is people who call themselves Liberal who might be anything but liberal. One problem if you go to any so-called Liberal website today is that you will find no information there that tells you what being a Liberal means. Sending $10 to a political party does not make you a liberal.

For some time, Babel-on-the-Bay has been dismissing the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party as an unreformed bunch of Whigs. These people seem to think they have inherited the mantle of the Family Compact that ran Ontario in the early 1800s. They have not changed much. Whigs faded out in the early 1900s after the heyday of the party under David Lloyd George in Great Britain. The successors in that country were supposed to be the Liberal Party.

One of the major problems today in defining Canadian liberalism is the Internet. It is no help. The bulk of information on the World-Wide Web is obviously not Canadian and this country has developed its own version of what is sometimes called modern, new or social liberalism. What too many of the right-wing Canadian Liberals of today forget is the Canadian Liberal Party had its roots in the  reform movement of Toronto in the mid-nineteenth century. Those reformers were supported by the Clear Grit farmers of southwest Ontario and they built a country.

Along with the radical Parti Rouge of Quebec, the reformers from Upper and Lower Canada joined with like-minded citizens who became part of this new country. They supported leaders such as Laurier, Mackenzie King, Pearson and Trudeau. Liberals led this country for most of its first 140 years. Their leadership gave Canada strength, prestige, unity, pride and a deep understanding of human rights. And they gradually defined our Canadian liberalism.

The basic tenet of to-day’s new liberalism is the individual right to freedom, health care, education, shelter and sustenance and self realization (to reach for our potential) in an egalitarian society. It is not a society that expects you to climb over others to reach your objectives but a society that cares and expects you to help others along the way. It is a socially conscious society. And there is much more to be done to become the better Canada, the society this promises.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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