Archive for December, 2013

Kiss-off for Kitimat.

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Surprise, surprise: The jewel of Canada’s beautiful Pacific Coast is now to be a commercial port for supertankers carrying tar sands bitumen to the Orient. Did you think the exercise would end otherwise? When the Conservative government makes a mockery of democracy, ignores our environment, chooses the panel and reserves all decisions to itself, did you think there were options? This decision was made two years ago.

And it is still an ugly decision. It is to spend more than $5 billion to build a dual pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. The smaller diameter pipe is to pump light crude oil up, over the Rockies to Bruderheim where the light crude will be mixed with tar sands bitumen, heated and pumped under high pressure back to Kitimat. In Kitimat, the tar sands slurry will be pumped into tankers and sent on its way to Asia.

“But,” they hasten to tell you, there are conditions. Yes there are. There are many conditions. And all of these conditions will be approved by the government—whose Ministers are dancing in the hallways of Parliament as another leap into tar sands wealth is completed. And it will be the National Energy Board—with headquarters in Calgary—that will decide if the conditions are met. And, oh yes, the Energy Board will decide just how much effort each condition will require.

The news media are cheerfully pointing out that one of the options remaining to Canadians is civil disobedience. They fail to note that one of the conveniences in pipeline laying is that people who throw themselves in front of the trenching machines can be conveniently left in the bottom of the trench and forgotten. And if you wondered why the cost conscious government has not cut the numbers of our men and women in uniform, just try civil disobedience and you will realize that the brutality of the Toronto G20 police action was just a civilian exercise.

And we can hardly count on the greed of British Columbia to help. The B.C. Premier has made it very clear that B.C. can be bought. We all know that all she is doing is haggling over her price.

What is of much greater concern are the stands of federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair. These leaders and their teams will have to be creative and strategic to keep the final decision from being made before the 2015 federal election. That is the only real chance for this pipeline atrocity to be vanquished.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Why would Wynne want by-elections?

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Obviously Premier Kathleen Wynne was not listening to the results of the last provincial by-elections in Ontario. She wants to stick her neck in a noose in two more. The lady is not a fast learner. The five by-elections in the summer left the Liberals behind and demonstrated the frustration the public feels with the three major Ontario parties. Wynne hardly needs further attrition in her caucus.

It is important to understand that the provincial government does not have to call the first of the two by-elections until March. Why call the by-elections and then have a general election within the following two months. There is no sense to that. The Liberals can hardly afford to suffer the ignominy of being blocked out in the by-elections just before a general election.

As things stand at Queen’s Park, Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s spring budget is not going to win any prizes with the New Democrats. And the Conservatives have already told everyone that they would not approve the budget even if it was written by the late right-wing economist Milton Friedman.

As things stand, the Horwath-Hudak relay team are taking us into an election in 2014 come hell or high water. They cannot allow Wynne’s Liberals any more time to get entrenched or to gain approval of the voters. You will be able to tell how successful Sousa’s budget might be by the speed with which the two opposition parties damn it.

It was interesting watching an Ontario Legislature session wrap up last weekend on Global Television with Horwath and Hudak. The interviewer was obviously favouring the Conservative’s Tim Hudak and even prompted him by asking for some personal news. The information that Timmy and his wife are expecting another child in the New Year was the only bright note in the entire interview.

Conversely, Andrea Horwath for the New Democrats had her hair done and was sporting a very professional make-up job. The lady looked very good. It was also obvious that she was getting some speaking advice. She was speaking in a less pushed manner and was making her case more carefully.

What was particularly impressive was that at one point, she smiled. It was probably the first time that many Ontario voters had seen her smile. It was electric. If she just smiles like that through the election campaign, she will make Wynne look like the Wicked Witch of the West.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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This must be why Harper holds on.

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

There have been conflicting opinions about whether Stephen Harper is going to stay on as prime minister to fight another election. In some cases, his expected departure might just be wishful thinking. While there is well reasoned logic as to why he might step aside at this juncture, the truth is that it is his potential replacements that would give him pause.

Leadership characteristics do not seem to be prominent in the current Conservative gene pool. Canadians should hardly forget that Stephen Harper took over from Stockwell Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance. And it was Peter MacKay who allowed the Conservative Party to be absorbed into the Reform/Alliance. The party of Sir John A. Macdonald has gone downhill badly over the past 140 years.

But that is what you get from centrally run political parties. The rigid control that Harper has wielded over the Conservative Party since 2003 has produced a government caucus of drones and sycophants. No Conservative is allowed to challenge the leader. No Member of Parliament elected or appointed as a Senator is allowed to think in or outside the box. It leaves a very poor choice of successors to ‘The Boss.’

Take B.C.-native, Industry Minister James Moore, for example. While he might have a following in the party, it is his lack of judgement that does him in. Sure, he apologized profusely for his ill-considered remark but it was only when his recorded statement threatened to go viral. Obviously someone who knew voters told him that you cannot say “Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.”

That is pure James Moore. The truth is that is how he thinks. You can hear that cant wherever Conservatives gather. Even if he does not like school breakfast programs for needy children, they are a reality in a country where the government puts tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of the needs of children.

And then there are the Bobbsey Twins: Most often mentioned as possible successors to Stephen Harper, Foreign Minister John Baird and Immigration Minister Jason Kenny set their own unique standard for Conservatism. Canada’s international relations have never been worse and the only place where it is easy to get a job in Canada is in Minister Kenney’s Calgary electoral district.

We are never sure which of the Bobbsey Twins is Freddie and which is Flossie but we do know that Mr. Kenny is no favourite of Finance Minister Flaherty. Mr. Kenney was saying something derogatory about Toronto’s mayor recently and Mr. Flaherty used quite unparliamentary language to tell him to shut up.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Jim Flaherty: one sick leprechaun.

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The federal Finance Minister was spreading nothing more than germs at the Meech Lake meeting yesterday. He was probably high on amphetamines, his nasal passages completely blocked and one step away from falling down, only wishing he was dead. He probably should not have been there. It was not a medical emergency but he was not there with his provincial counterparts spreading joy.

Looking like a bloated leprechaun, Jim Flaherty gave the provincial finance ministers nothing more than his cold. It was a rude way to say Merry Christmas. They came to discuss the need for improvements in the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the conversation would have gone better without Flaherty.

But any provincial minister at the event knew before it got dubiously underway, that it was going to go nowhere. They were talking to a federal government that has made it very clear that they are not their brother’s keeper, they are certainly not there to look after the indolent, the unparsimonious, or feed their hungry children. With his wheezing, straining voice, Jim Flaherty complained that there was no consensus in the conference room with him and his fellow finance ministers. He said it was really all their fault and a waste of time.

And that produced the only good thing about the meeting. Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa finally did what we have been asking him to do since he was anointed to the finance ministry by Premier Kathleen Wynne. He got up on his hind legs and blew back. He did not say that Flaherty was full of crap but that was the gist of it. He even said that Ontario would go ahead and fix the problem in that province with or without the federal government participation.

All of that is about as likely as three moons in the sky next month but it sure sounded good to this weary Liberal. Poor Sousa would have to fight his way through a lot of deadbeats in cabinet before winning a clear promise of a decent supplement to the CPP. There are just too many unreformed Whigs in the Ontario Cabinet for that kind of hit on the provincial spending.

Why did Charles Sousa’s actions remind us of a story of an old buzzard who threw open a window Christmas morning and got a passing kid to go and get a goose for the Cratchit’s? That was just a story.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Rosie DiManno, the quintessential blogger.

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Having never been a fan of Rosie DiManno, this is by way of apology. She deserves a further read. This is because of today’s epic by Rosie that so scathingly cuts Lord Cross-the-pond—Conrad Black into little pieces. And in typical DiManno fashion, it involves hundreds of more words than needed to do the job.

If there is a quibble with Rosie as a writer, it is verbosity. In the age of the 140-character Twitter, Rosie wants to be paid by the word. How many times have you set aside a Rosie DiManno column to read later when you have time—and never read it?

This woman writes paragraphs that are longer than most blogs. And yet she still seems to think of herself as a blogger. She is caught up with the blogger’s failure—the extensive use of the word “I.” Is this allowed in her contract or is it just another failure of the Toronto Star editors?

But the point is that this page two column by Rosie is that it is an excellent hatchet job. How many people do you get to write about where you can casually refer to them as a convicted felon without fear of reprisal? And her comments on Barbara Amiel are priceless. Let us hope that the two ladies do not meet at any holiday parties. Mind you, as Amiel might sniffingly note: the two travel in quite different circles. Oh, how quickly Amiel has forgotten her days in newsrooms!

While DiManno seems to be grudgingly admiring of Amiel’s writing prowess, she uses it to put down the lady’s husband. This is probably just one more unnecessary hit on the guy. When you calculate the likely audience of a Conrad Black interview show on the particular channel, you wonder how silly it is for all the other media to comment on the show. The news media must have been 95 per cent of the audience.

And who needs to still be writing about Mayor Rob Ford? Like Lake Ontario fish, Mayor Ford has been out in the open air for too long. He is old news. He only belongs on the history channel.

You would think that Conrad Black would know a thing or two about newspapers. DiManno makes much of his arguments with the Toronto Star over the rather poor interviewing techniques he demonstrated. Black is not a professional interviewer. So what?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Making it one simple idea.

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

An election campaign usually comes down to be one basic proposition. If the perception of this proposition is not obvious, the news media will often pick something. What most political observers agree on about this is that while the political parties would like to choose this one thing, they rarely do.

It is reasonable at this juncture that the Conservatives want to fight the next election on the proposition that the Harper Tories are the best managers of our economy. The New Democrats want to be the alternative to the Tories because they want to get rid of the Senate. And that leaves the Liberals a broad range of targets. The danger for the Liberals will be that they might go after a broad range of targets and fail to reduce them to the one simple idea.

The absolutely worst proposition for the Liberals is the legalizing of marijuana. This would cloud the issues of the election and turn the Liberal campaign into a farce. At the same time, the Liberals have to stay away from any grouping of issues that can be costed. There is no way the party can appear more stringent than the Tories, nor does it want to provide any fixed figures on which their opponents can attack them.

One of the more interesting possible propositions is the concept of a national guaranteed annual income. This is an idea that’s time has come. This would involve the consolidation of a broad range of federal and provincial programs and take a long time to properly implement but would not really cost more than all of today’s expenditures that are badly mismanaged. The savings are in all the jurisdictions and provincial ministries, federal departments and bureaucracies that can be reduced and consolidated into a more humane, streamlined system.

The system can be as simple as a reverse income tax. If an individual is not earning as much as the poverty baseline, they apply to the guaranteed annual income agency for payments that will take the individual up to the baseline. Pass the baseline in income and the income tax system will be taking some cash back. It really can be that simple.

But the Conservatives among us will be horrified. Why they seem to think that a person should have to freeze or starve to death is never very clear. As Charles Dickens’ Mr. Scrooge asked, “Are there no work houses?”


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Business as corporate citizens.

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Do you know why Heinz closed its Leamington plant? Or why Kellogg closed its London, Ontario plant? The plants were old. They had been there for a long time. We are just not privy to the decision making process of a board of directors in another country. Why should they care about Canadian jobs? And, for that matter, why should a Canadian board of directors care about Canadian jobs? Where is the profit in that?

What we have in this country, under a Conservative government, is a right-wing business ethos that says profit is more important than people. Companies are encouraged to move jobs like chess pieces to lowest cost locations. It is an attitude that says unions are gougers and nobody should protect employees from exploitation. It is an attitude that says if Canadians will not do the dirty jobs, we will bring in foreign workers who will. And they can use foreign workers to drive down Canadian wages.

This is the same government that appears to be allowing oil companies to collude on retail gas prices. It is the same government that is restraining environmentalists from addressing concerns about tar sands, pipelines, railroads, and anything producing high carbon emissions. It is a government that seems to be funded by business, run on behalf of business, and sees itself as the devoted supporter of business. It is so devoted that it eliminates food inspectors, railway restrictions, environmental protection, informative statistics or anything else that might get in the way of their friends in business.

And how do you expect business to respond to all this selfless love from the Tories? Are they then going to say “Our employees are a valuable asset and we want to show our appreciation”? Instead, they give fat bonuses to the executives and keep them happy. Foreign-owned companies appreciate the low taxes and continue to sell their products in Canada while moving production to Mexico.

It used to be that it did not matter whether a company was owned in Canada or elsewhere. What really mattered was whether the company acted as a good citizen in the Canadian community. The company recognized the contribution it was making to Canada’s economy and considered that as important as any savings to be made in lower cost manufacturing areas. These were companies that recognized their role in creating an economically strong country.

But what do these companies do when the government discourages good citizenship?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Making a sham of fair elections.

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

The third party advertising in Ontario has already gone too far. Now the Conservatives are proving it is a sham. And it is hardly to their credit. A new group, calling itself “Working Canadians” has emerged to counter the so called “Working Families.” Neither group is particularly subtle in letting people know where they stand.

In 2011, Working Families ran scathing television advertising in opposition to the provincial Conservatives. Its ads ridiculed Conservative Leader Tim Hudak—which is hardly a difficult task. What was wrong was that the ads should have said: ‘On behalf of the Ontario Liberal Party.’ It would have been stating the obvious but it would also have meant that the McGuinty Liberals would have been responsible for the expense.

Now we are to see and hear advertising for the Conservatives for which they do not claim responsibility. The new Working Canadians group is being fronted by Catherine Swift chair of the right-wing Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Swift says the only organization behind this new group is the somewhat secretive Merit Canada that lobbies against unions in the construction industry.

Of course, Ms. Swift insists that the new Working Canadians is non-partisan. Her concern in all of this is that she believes paying for public servants such as teachers, nurses and police officers is the reason for what she calls a “structural deficit” in Ontario. She fails to say what the alternative to paying these civil servants might be.

It is reported that she is concerned about Ontario going bankrupt in the same way as Greece or Detroit. Despite her post-graduate degree in economics from an Ontario university, Ms. Swift failed to explain why Ontario might need to declare bankruptcy. It seems that Ms. Swift is of the opinion that “the average taxpayer does not have a clue about this.”

Nobody seems to be surprised that the Ontario Conservatives intend to make right-to-work legislation a mainstay of their next Ontario election campaign. They are already warming up by calling Ontario Public Sector union heads “union elites.” Ontario Conservative politicians might not be aware that a basic tenet of unionism is that everyone is equal. There are not supposed to be any union elites.

But while it makes the upcoming election more interesting, something really has to be done about third party advertising. It should be illegal as it interferes with the proper conduct of the election, allows people to hide behind false fronts and attempts to convince people of information that might also be false.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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The squeeze on the political middle.

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

If the Liberal Party of Canada thinks it is going to please the middle class with its policy plans, it is deluded. The party cannot even define middle class. The Liberals who gather in Montreal for the party’s biennial convention and policy fest on February 20, 2014 have a single objective: to win the country in 2015.

But with all their middle of the road platitudes, how do you distinguish the Liberals from their opponents? For example: Harper and his Conservatives will promise tax breaks. Do you really think Trudeau and the Liberals will counter these tax breaks with promises of higher taxes? Hardly. The Tories will try to show how middle class tax breaks can be.

And do you think Thomas Mulcair and the New Democrats are going to let Justin Trudeau’s Liberals steal all their votes by telling the traditional NDP voters that they are really middle class? Not a chance. Mulcair wants his share of that political middle and he will spend the election showing Canadians how middle class he can be.

And before some sociologist jumps up and starts explaining the various quartiles of the Canadian population, remember that being middle class is a state of mind. While we are very much a middle class country, we are a classless society. The people who sweep our street (mechanized today) are not lower class. They can make more than $30 per hour, with good benefits, because of their unions. A bright young person with a post-graduate degree can be working in retail for $10 per hour and no benefits. By living with the parents, life is good.

As much as real estate people like to sell homes in millionaires’ enclaves, these peoples roots can be the same as the rest of us. Paying someone else to mow your lawn and clean your swimming pool does not make you better than those you pay. And remember that Lord Cross-the-pond—Conrad Black—is not a Canadian citizen and cannot vote.

At their policy meeting, the Liberals will consider a mish-mash of policy alternatives ranging from the far right of the political spectrum to the left. Whether they will dig into the seminal issues of concern to Canadians is a good question. Take a key environmental issue: the exploitation of the tar sands in Alberta, for example. All three of the major parties are on side in this. Can any party deny Alberta spewing its tonnes of carbon into the environment for the pure objective of profit? Dare we say ‘No’?

Will we return the long-gun registry? Will we save Employment Insurance? Will we try to ditch the Senate? Could we dump the crown at the same time? Will we buy the F-35? Do we really want to legalize pot? There are so many weighty questions. Will the media report them all? Will the voters respond?


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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Time for the Tory backbench rebellion.

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

It is the last chance for the drones of parliament. They can either rebel now or fade away with their ill-fated Conservative Party of Canada. Those who have done nothing before or during the time of a majority have a last chance to stand on their hind legs and speak for their constituency. They hardly have long odds on returning.

You heard about Michael Chong in Ontario trying to reform parliament by proposing rules, most of which Members of Parliament are already able to do without his bill. It does not seem all that innocent to be challenging the right of the party leader to select candidates for the party. That is a direct challenge to Stephen Harper.

We are also starting to hear more from the religious right. Reform and Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott is proposing parliament get into questions about abortion. Judging by his religious background, he is probably just playing to the folks back home in Saskatchewan. He has already announced that he is not running in the next federal election. We suspect he is preaching for a calling.

He thinks he is getting around Prime Minister Harper’s avowal to not discuss abortion by creating a couple parliamentary bible classes to discuss the needs of the unborn. While there is no doubt that Mr. Harper would prefer to send Mr. Vellacot to Coventry, he has probably never talked to him anyway.

There is also likely to be some ideologue in that caucus of eunuchs who wants to bring back capital punishment. Will that motion try to get around the Prime Minister on the issue by getting parliament to discuss more humane ways of killing people? You would think the gun nuts would want to stand up for shooting people. If they can reach a decision on that, will the PM then let them discuss whether executions should be public or private affairs?

As it is, they have already sentenced one segment of Canadian society. The Conservatives have reduced the once socially stabilizing Employment Insurance system to a sad joke. Nobody trusts it or should. In their efforts to be sure that nobody gets anything that they might not deserve, the Conservatives prefer to have people starve to death.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty intends to wave his banner announcing his budget is deficit free before the 2015 election. It will demonstrate more than anything else, the cruel, unfeeling, unkind, destructive nature of the Conservative Party. They will not be missed in our Parliament.


Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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