Archive for January, 2014

Don’t send a cop to do a politician’s job.

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Julian Fantino is in trouble again. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is so bereft of talent in his Conservative Party ranks in Ottawa that he felt he had to give former Toronto and Ontario top cop Fantino the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio. That choice could haunt Harper long after he is thrown out of office by an angry electorate.

The Conservative Leader thought it might be a safe place to warehouse the retired ex-cop. He had no idea of the trouble that would cause. There is nothing compatible between a cop and the military. They are oil and water. And Fantino might be one of the oiliest.

Fantino is a wanna-be who started as a mall security guy and spent a police career in controversy. Judges seem to have had some stern words with him over the years for his forgetfulness over conditions for wiretapping. He is no stranger to lawsuits. He seems to often take refuge in the stance of a bully. And the gay community is not the only segment of society who might be leery of him.

One of the first things you learn if you ever work with cabinet ministers is that nobody really expects the minister to be expert in the work of their department or ministry. The role of the minister is political. This is the person who has to make nice. And who, in their right mind, would ever expect Julian Fantino to make nice as a politician.

When he ran in that by-election for Vaughan, some of us knew it was trouble right off the bat. We expected Fantino to not just kiss babies but to frisk them for weapons at the same time. We laughingly suggested that when he goes to knock on doors, he would take a SWAT team with him to make sure the homeowners would open the door.

And, to our horror, with his name recognition, he won. Harper gave him a series of low-level jobs. He was only in each of them briefly. Expecting Fantino to be sympathetic with fellow seniors was the saddest role. His nemesis was trying to explain the F-35 fighter aircraft costs. Peter Mackay had already bombed in that job and Fantino looked even more ridiculous.

Veterans’ Affairs is just the latest in the long series of Julian Fantino mishaps. He is a cop for goodness sake. What sympathy or understanding could he bring to any meetings with veterans? Sure, he apologized for that meeting the other day. Maybe those particular vets ambushed him. He walked into it.

But what if he ever has to meet with any vets in the future? Do our vets deserve that?


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Harper has his hair, Trudeau has balls.

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Canadians now know the definitive difference between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. And it is not just that Trudeau takes action and Harper takes your money. Harper only talks about Senate reform; Trudeau does something about Senate reform. He has kicked the Liberal Senators out of the Liberal Caucus. He did not need the provinces to agree to that. It was not a constitutional reform. It just made sense.

After all, what good are they doing as Liberals? It is not as though the Liberal label was doing them or the Liberal Party any good. They are a motley collection of retired bagmen, former Members of Parliament and party apparatchiks. They can do just as good a job of criticizing Conservative government legislation as independent Senators as they can as Liberals.

Stephen Harper has the questionable record in preaching Senate reform and then for appointing the most senators ever sent to the Senate during one session of Parliament. Nobody else ever wanted that record. Former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was so sickened of the hypocrisy of government appointments that he asked incoming Prime Minister John Turner to make some of his appointments for him. (Which Turner did—landing him in the soup when Brian Mulroney attacked him for it in the Leader’s debate during the subsequent election.)

As much as this Senate action will give a boost to Justin Trudeau’s rating with voters, it is no solution to the basic questions about the Senate of Canada. Even if Senate appointments were taken away from the government of the day, there is just no place for an unelected Senate in Canada in the 21st Century.

An elected Senate would require a constitutional reform and that appears to be something that Justin Trudeau fears. He was old enough in the 1980s to see how his father was being pilloried for pushing Quebec away in repatriating the constitution. He sees it as a question that he best avoid at this time. As much as he might agree with the need for such reform, he wants to put it off.

There have been more than a few policy proposals on constitutional reform that are supposed to be in the works for the upcoming policy conference and it will be interesting to see if any of them see the light of day. These things seem to have a way of getting lost.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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In Ontario, if it is worth doing, do half.

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government have a unique approach to solving Ontario problems. If and when enough of the right people have told them that something needs to be fixed, they form a committee of the right sort of people to study the situation and await the committee’s recommendations.

This method of running Ontario was developed by Premier Dalton McGuinty. He had come into power when Ontario voters could no longer stomach the Mike Harris Conservative government. Dull Dalton reasoned that Ontario had not been satisfied with Liberal David Peterson as he did not really know what he was doing. They were equally dissatisfied with the Bob Rae New Democrats who did not know what they were doing, Then Ontario suffered Mike Harris and his Conservative ideologues who did know what they were doing and the voters came to dislike that intensely.

That left Dull Dalton a fairly free hand to do nothing as long as he looked like he knew what he was doing. It worked. During the Dalton years in Ontario, we saw renewable energy in Ontario turned into what can only be described as a Ponzi scheme. His one big accomplishment was full day kindergarten. The only problem was that as the memories of those bad years with Bob Rae and Mike Harris started to fade, voters became restive and started paying attention to the opposition parties. Mind you when you do pay attention to people such as Tim Hudak, you wonder if this kid flunked nap time when he was in kindergarten.

But the voters were restless. Ontario has been losing manufacturing and processing jobs on a serious scale since the 2008 economic crunch. Dalton seemed to be getting on the wrong page with the voters. The voters did not quite dump him in 2011 but they did not give him a majority. Seeing his opportunity, he bailed.

Enter Kathleen Wynne. Here was a person who had no experience running anything. She tried to surround herself with her competitors for the job of premier. They were no help at all. She therefore followed poor departed Dalton’s lead of doing nothing until you had to. It took her a full year to create more commissions and committees than Ontario had ever seen before. And that nice lady who tries to run the Ontario New Democrats kept her in power because they have a mutual distrust of elections.

But the problem with her committees is that when they report their findings, she is still at a loss. What to do? Her solution to date is to listen to the report and then find a half-way response to it.

Take the minimum wage situation: Wynne’s solution appears to be to move Ontario’s minimum wage to $11.00 per hour. It is a compromise that pleases nobody. It does nobody any good. Even if you tie it to inflation, you leave people teetering on the edge of poverty. What she does not understand is that no matter what she raises it to, she will piss off the business exploiters. Why not make some people who need the money happy?


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Welcome back, Mr. Harper and the Sweathogs.

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

In the late 1970s American TV sitcom, Welcome back, Kotter, the character played by comedian Gabe Kaplan returned to his old high school to teach a remedial class of misfits. Somehow, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Senate misfits seem to be replaying the series. They are not only almost as funny but the various players in the current show are probably hoping that they can go on to greater roles like the kid who played sweathog Vinnie Barbarino, John Travolta.

Consider Nigel Wright. Is this a bit player? The R.C.M. Police have already made it clear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff broke the law when he gave Senator Mike Duffy a cheque for $90,000. It is hard to suggest many other people in politics who could casually write a cheque of that amount, because his boss, the Prime Minister, told him to solve the problem. Many people think that Nigel Wright should go to jail for that slipup. They are also probably hoping his boss shares his cell.

The one character in the series that never got any respect was the character of the vice-principal and later principal of the school: Mr. Woodman. New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair is perfect for this role. While he makes life difficult for Mr. Harper and his Senate sweathogs, this is a man with greater ambitions. He has used everything short of tears to get Mr. Harper to confess to his failings.

If they remade the popular sitcom today, the writers would be forced to include a stronger presence for a female in the role of a sweathog. Can you think of a better role for Senator Pamela Wallin? The feisty Conservative Senator can hold her own in that gentlemen’s club of retired political bagmen and she does not like being told of what they think she is entitled. Mr. Harper picked her and the Senate got stuck with her and we will be hearing more from her before too long.

And then there has to be a role for Senator Patrick Brazeau. The pugilistic Senator reminds us of the conflicted Juan Epstein character in the TV series who traveled between cultures and seemed to be a loser in all of them. Many think Senator Brazeau fell out of favour with Stephen Harper when he let Justin Trudeau beat the snot out of him in a charity boxing match.

While we can wax nostalgic over the old TV series, the sweathogs of the Canadian Senate are far from finished. We can expect reruns for the next two years at least.

It is like the last few bars of the series theme song: Welcome back, welcome back.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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The might, the right and the fight.

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Back in the 1800s when Oliver Mowat was Premier of Ontario, he had his best fights not with his provincial opponents but with the federal government. His skill as a politician and his knowledge of how to pick his fights kept him in the premier’s office for 24 years. It is fascinating today to watch Premier Kathleen Wynne attempt to follow his example. Her only mistake to-date was to bring in former Prime Minister Paul Martin as her advisor on the Canada Pension Plan squabble.

The first question is just what expertise does Martin bring to the table? As a former federal finance minister, he might be able to help read Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for her but he is no expert on the Canada Pension Plan. And he is the last person from whom she should get advice about Stephen Harper.

And if you are going to set up Stephen Harper as the bogeyman in this exercise, you would hardly want to cloud the issue with former federal politicians. When Oliver Mowat took on his old law partner Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, it was mano a mano. They competed as equals. The lesser players have to be brushed aside.

One problem in this might be that Kathleen Wynne does not have any of the credentials of an Oliver Mowat. Mowat was a Reformer. He worked with George Brown and was a founder of the Ontario Liberal Party. While some Liberals today consider him myopic in his fighting for provincial rights, it was the right approach for the times. While conversely Sir John A. Macdonald had a vision for Canada, Oliver Mowat’s concern was Ontario. Both did their respective job.

But what is Wynne doing? It is unclear to voters just what she is proposing to do about pensions. We all know the Canada Pension Plan is inadequate. Unless she is proposing something flexible that can be easily adjusted or automatically responsive to needs, we are just building another problem for the future. That will take imaginative, creative thinking. It will also take a clear understanding of the economic impacts of reforming the system. And despite all Wynne’s bluster, Ontario has a responsibility to share its program with the rest of Canada. We hardly need another of our provincial governments going off on its own toot.

The problem with this provincial-federal dialogue is that the Wynne government is almost as right wing as the federal government. And she is also right about the Canada Pension Plan but the federals have the might—it is theirs to deal with. If you had a choice though, would you want to gain attention by fighting with the feds or fighting with nonentities such as her Conservative or New Democrat opponents?


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Measuring the generation factor.

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Pollsters must pull their hair about it. They cannot get reliable readings on the under 30s. They are not sure they understand the mindset. These young people are not easy to survey. The pollsters know that this age group will be a major factor in the next federal election but they remain amorphous.

Politicos agree that this will be the generation that can seal the win for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in the coming federal election but much can happen over the next 20 months. Nothing is static in politics. And we are talking about a large group of Canadians who have no reason to trust any of the current crop of politicians.

We should not forget that these Canadians were among the hardest hit by the economic problems of the past five years. For many of them, the information was strained through their parent’s understanding of the why but they also saw the problems from the vantage point of young people trying to find meaningful work even with the supposedly right education and degrees.

And we should bear in mind this was the generational group that brought down Jean Charest’s provincial government in Quebec when he tried to curtail what they saw as their entitlement in education. They did not directly support Pauline Marois’ péquistes even if she did beat pots for them when marching against the increased tuitions. The advice from Quebec is that the young people are more concerned about their economic future than with separatism for Quebec. They see separatism as something that old people argue about.

The good news for the federal Liberal Party is that Justin Trudeau connects well with this generation. The Liberal Party better be very careful not to turn off this support with the policies they propose at their upcoming Montreal policy conference. These young people care about the environment and they are not going to support any tar sands exploitation in Alberta if there is no environmental protection. They want more federal support for the sciences and education in general.

The really good news is that this is a remarkably interesting generation. When you get them to put down their communications devices for a few minutes you find they are able to carry on quite intelligent conversations. They have inquisitive minds and they are knowledgeable. Do not sell them short.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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By-elections that matter to the news media.

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

It is all part of the game with the news media. It is their opportunity to interfere in events. When it comes to reporting on politics, the news media and their pals, the pollsters, are combatants, not spectators. And they relish the role. Consider their positions in the current provincial by-elections.

There is much pontificating to be done and polls to be run between now and by-election day, February 13. The media might even get around to doing shallow profiles on the various parties’ candidates but it is the photo opportunities with the leaders, they will report more thoroughly. And Premier Kathleen Wynne will definitely be there if the younger, more attractive federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau will be there for the shot.

The problem for the news media is that they know, as well as anyone else politically knowledgeable, that these by-elections are a waste of time and money. They are nothing more than a stalling tactic. Without a provincial election, Premier Kathleen Wynne has no credibility. There will be nothing she can do in the few months until the opposition combines to defeat her government.

Oh sure, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa can get smart and bring in a budget that makes sense. It could even be a budget that appeals to Ontario voters. There could also be three moons in the sky to accompany that unusual event. The Toronto Star will sagely give approval to his budget while Sun Media and Post Media will damn it and the broadcast media will announce unrelated snippets. And not enough people will read the Globe and Mail to find out what the budget really means.

But it hardly matters. No Liberal budget is likely to receive any approval from Ontario’s opposition parties. They smell blood and they want an election. It is do or die time for both the Conservative and New Democrat leaders. To make matters worse, they will believe the pollsters. Andrea Horwath will be the most convoluted in her decision. She does not seem to enjoy the election trail and she knows that without a major breakthrough this time, her days are numbered as leader. It will be the news media calling for her scalp.

But Conservative Tim Hudak and Liberal Kathleen Wynne are in even worse positions. Tim would have to come in with a majority to save his scalp. And where can Wynne grow under present circumstance? She will have no choice but to resign.

And what are the penalties for the news media and their pollsters? They will just say, “We told you so!”


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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It is all in the flag you carry.

Friday, January 24th, 2014

It was wonderful to hear that Hayley Wickenheiser will be carrying the Canadian flag at the Sochi Winter Games. The four-time medal winner in women’s hockey will be tall and proud with the pride of carrying our flag.

But there seems to be a flag missing in the planning for Sochi that needs to make its presence felt. What would be more perfect than having Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird following Ms. Wickenheiser with a similar sized gay pride flag? Would that not be a statement that needs to be made?

Mr. Baird should understand that not all pontificating on world affairs need be done in the comfort and luxury of places such as Montreux, Switzerland. He is in that safe haven this week telling the Syrians the way to peace. If you think of all the places in the world conducive to peace and tranquility, it is sure tough to beat Montreux.

It is just that sometimes you have to get to the belly of the beast. President for Life Vladimir Putin of Russia needs to understand that his oppressive treatment of gays in his country is not socially acceptable. It is also quite déclassé to declare a moratorium on gays in Sochi to mollify the Olympics visitors. Good ole Vlad needs to mend his ways.

What better way for Canada to stand up for the oppressed than to put it to Putin when he is basking in the glory of the opening of his personal Olympic Games? While Vlad could quickly remove any other person from the order of march for the athletes, John Baird has diplomatic immunity and Vlad is not about to declare him persona non grata.

Nor would Vlad try to toss all the Canadians out of the Winter Games. Too many of those games are part of Canada’s heritage. It would be a false victory for a team such as the Russian men’s hockey team if they won gold at Sochi because Canada was not there.

So that is the proposition John Baird. You can carry the gay pride flag with pride. Many better men than you have stood up proudly for human rights. It might seem somewhat less than diplomatic to do it but since when have you ever worried about diplomacy?

Canada is waiting for your finest hour.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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The hollow triumph of Jean Chrétien.

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

They lionized former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien the other evening. Many Conservatives were there to honour him. Not all liberals attended. Some could not afford the $400 per plate tab. Some even disagreed with him being a great prime minister. It did not always seem that he was doing the best he could.

There was an animosity with him that started with his support for the Charlottetown Accord. It was hardly the end of life on this planet as we knew it when Canadians rejected that terrible contravention of all things Canadian. It was only after he was elected with a majority government and dumped his promises from the Aylmer Conference that we sensed his disrespect for Canadians in general and liberals in particular.

The unkindest act was his giving the finance portfolio to Paul Martin Junior. (Paul was not there the other night: no surprise.) It was Jean’s finest Pontius Pilate performance when Paul set out to fix Canada’s budget. He could wring his hands for the all little guys of Shawinigan and across Canada while Paul gave them a really good screwing.

As much as we hate what Stephen Harper is doing to Ottawa, it was Paul Martin who destroyed Unemployment Insurance. He almost ruined Medicare by tightening the screws on the provinces. Paul put deficit cutting ahead of the needs of Canadians. And he turned his back on his old friends who tried to argue some reason with him.

It was Paul Martin with his pseudo-Conservatism that enabled Stephen Harper to get Canadians to vote for a real Conservative. Paul was the doormat welcoming Harper’s Conservatives to power.

It was not until their fight became too public that people realized Jean and Paul were not the best of friends. Jean just did not understand what Paul was doing.

Jean’s major problem was his key advisor was on Paul’s side. Neither in life nor after Mitch died did Jean understand the basic conservatism of his friend Mitchell Sharp. While Jean’s instincts might be liberal, Mitch Sharp had little trouble talking him over to the dark side. Jean was surrounded and controlled by the Liberal right.

Practically from his first day in Ottawa until he left, Jean Chrétien was never his own man. He was 80 years old on his birthday. Maybe we just celebrate that?


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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What does the Hair know about anti-Semitism?

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was born too late. There was little left of the anti-Semitism of the 1930’s and 40s in Toronto when he was born in 1959. He lacked the opportunity to learn first hand what it means. He had no understanding of the images he was using when his talk to the Knesset turned to what he called the new anti-Semitism.

There are few Torontonians left who would be able to recount what happened at that fateful baseball game in Christie Pits in August 1933. It was wrapped in the arguments over Hitler’s successes in Germany at the time and the emergence of some foolish Swastika clubs in Toronto’s Beach area. The event at Christie Pits was not the finest hour for the city but afterwards few of the bully-boys were foolish enough to take on the city’s Jewish youth.

The signs warning off Jewish patronage disappeared by the early 1940s but it was Toronto’s heroes in the Jewish community that really turned the tide. People such as politician David Croll with his famous “I would rather walk with the workers than ride with General Motors” and the many war heroes who put an end to overt anti-Semitism.

Toronto has become one of the more cosmopolitan cities of the world since that time. It is home now to peoples from all countries, religions, ethnic origins and colors and shades of colors. It is too bad that Stephen Harper left this mix for the more Americanized Calgary. Living in Toronto might have given him a much broader understanding of the world and its peoples.

His unfettered loyalty to Israel and his zeal for Zionism are friendly and nice but it is not Canadian. Canada is not part of the Middle East. We are a long way from the reality that Israel has to live with every day. It is obvious that there will be no lasting peace for that part of the world until everyone comes to the table to make it happen. Canada cannot be a surrogate. Nor can we be a barrier to peace. We can only be a supplicant—and a neutral arbitrator and resource.

For Harper to label those who want to question his position and that of the Israelis as anti-Semitism is to build walls to dialogue.

We Canadians know that walls do not work. The wall did not work in Berlin. The wall will not work on the American-Mexican border. Only the foolish build walls; the wise build bridges.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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