Archive for February, 2014

First: Think like liberals.

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

It should be the first order of business at the Liberal Party Convention February 20 to 23. How else can we be having a policy convention if we do not know what it really means to be a liberal? We need to define who we are and where we want to go.

It is hardly enough to damn the Conservatives for their ideology bound direction. At least they know where they are going. Too many Liberal Party members think they can support a vaguely right-wing party that has something of a social conscience. Hell, Paul Martin Junior proved that the Liberal Party he tried to lead had no conscience. Maybe liberalism is not a rigid ideology but it has to have an ongoing dialogue to be meaningful.

Pierre Trudeau said that “Canada must be a just society” and the job to make that happen starts on Parliament Hill. Our Members of Parliament have to work to build this country. They have to be Members who represent all Canadians of their electoral district. They work for them. They are there in parliament to put responsibility ahead of ideology. They are there to challenge the status quo not to be the status quo.

If there is one person in their riding who needs a job, the MP needs to ensure they have an opportunity for one before going to bed that night. If one person is hungry, the MP has to ask herself or himself what has s/he done to help? If a person is waiting for proper health care, what has the MP done to correct the problem? Which of our present MPs can we point to and say “These MPs are doing their job”?

And what are we as members of this party contributing? We call ourselves liberal. Do we really understand what that means? Are we engaged now in finding the best possible representative for our party in our riding next year? Are we helping create the policies that will engage Canadians? Are we building our party and paying what we can to support it? And are we speaking out for real liberalism in our riding?

Thankfully the Liberal Party of Canada has a young, strong and exciting leader. As leader, he has a responsibility to lead the party where it wants to go. We have to help him. We have to help Justin Trudeau define what liberalism means today and where it wants to lead Canada.

At the biennial conference, we must stress captivating solutions for our economy. We have to demonstrate a strong environmental concern. We have to be pro-active in binding our country in a stronger union. We have to ensure our country’s world-wide reputation is restored. We must offer all Canadians a better future.

To do it all, we will have to think as liberals.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

There is a fourth option for Premier Wynne.

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Yesterday, we discussed the branding problems of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. In the discussion, the fourth option for her was deliberately left off the table. The fourth option, under current political conditions in Ontario, requires its own discussion.

The premier is fully capable of ignoring those who are telling her what to do. As desperate as she is for a political solution she seems to have few trusted politically-savvy people to whom she will listen. The problem then starts with the first option.

Frankly, it is the best option. It involves Kathleen Wynne’s resignation. The non-political person has a hard time getting their mind around this. They see the danger for the Liberal Party as being forced into an election campaign while without a leader. Think about it for a while though and think also of an open and honest leadership race. It certainly could not be like that phony and corrupted event at the old Maple Leaf Gardens a year ago.

An open race during a general election means that you have over 100 potential leaders running as Liberals across Ontario. All candidates will have to be chosen by their local riding associations. They will be free to espouse liberal principles as they see them. All politics in that campaign will definitely be local. The party hierarchy will be able to pull the campaign components together but they will not have much discipline. It would be that time when all good people will come to the aid of their party. It will drive the news media to the wall.

The advantage would go to the potential candidates for leader as they waged their own campaigns and launched themselves into the provincial scene. Their success in even getting province-wide attention will tell us much about them. In the cauldron of an election campaign, true leadership can shine.

But that is the first option, not the fourth. The fourth option is for Kathleen Wynne to go through the machinations of supposedly governing. She would allow Charles Sousa to prepare another callow, uninspired, do-nothing budget. The New Democrats can then self-righteously vote against the budget and the Lieutenant Governor would call an election. And we can easily guess the outcome of that scenario.

Ontario would have that nice chubby Andrea Horwath as Premier of a minority government, shorn up by a rump of Liberal Party MPPs. It would be a do-nothing government. It would continue to fight against modern distribution of alcoholic beverages. It would wonder what to do about the Ring of Fire. It might raise the minimum wage a bit. It might lower auto insurance premiums. Other than that it would dither until the few Liberal MPPs can no longer support it. And then you get Timmy Hudak. Which is why the fourth option is frightening.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

The branding of Premier Wynne: Loser.

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has a problem with Ontario voters. They have taken her measure. She has been found wanting. It is not her politics. It is not her demeanour. It is not her sexual orientation. She simply fails to lead.

And she has put the voters in a hell of a mess. They have no reason to vote for her. And they have no strong wish to vote for either of the other party leaders. When you add all the pluses and minuses facing voters, an election could leave Ontario with Premier Andrea Horwath and a minority New Democrat government. Just think of that problem!

A year ago, Kathleen Wynne could have called an election and won. At that time, she could have offered hope and renewal. She could have looked like a leader. A year later, all she can say is that she stayed in office because of New Democrat support.

And you would think that a budget approved by New Democrats would have more goodies in it than what Finance Minister Charles Sousa produced. Charles does not seem to listen either. And he thought he had the stuff for leadership! If you do not know what leadership is buster, you do not get to play with the big kids!

So, here are the choices folks: First choice is that Kathleen Wynne resign; Second is that Kathleen Wynne discovers leadership, rebrands herself and does something; And third that Kathleen Wynne call a provincial election instead of waiting for Andrea Horwath to pull the plug. When you are on life-support is no time to be dithering.

Sure the first choice means that the opposition at Queen’s Park could pull the plug on the Liberals while they are leaderless but if they were in the middle of an open and honest leadership race, the possibilities could engage the voters. And we have to face the facts: none of the three present leaders is a much better choice than any of the present leaders.

Of course, the second choice is the most expensive. Rebranding any product is expensive. Any experienced marketing person can tell you that. It is a possibility but it would take some very hard-nosed political thinking to come up with the new branding. Bear in mind, the job is done with a rifle, not a shotgun. And there are no mulligans (do-overs) in this political game.

The third choice is the highest risk. To call an immediate election would take guts. And it would take an all-out attack on both Hudak and Horwath. There can be no quarter given. And Wynne could not expect any quarter either.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Quebec Premier Marois bobbles bigotry.

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

Quebec Premier Pauline Marois appears to want to have a provincial election based on the bigotry of her charter of values. She sees it as creating conditions for separatism from the rest of Canada. That is an illusion. There might be as many as three or four strategies that could give her a stronger mandate to govern—but emphasizing bigotry does not appear to be one of them. It is not a path down which Quebec voters want to go.

What Marois is trying to build on is tribalism. She sees Quebec tribalism as rooted in the high degree of language and cultural control that the Quebec government has gained. What she wants to add is mind control and that is beyond her capabilities. There are no bindings strong enough, moats wide enough, walls high enough to maintain the degree of language and cultural purity that her pur laine péquistes seem to seek. There will always be outside influences.

And it is the influences from outside Quebec that make Marois grind her teeth. Her problem is that there is a wonderful world to explore beyond Quebec. Quebec cannot keep its people on an isolated island in an English-speaking North America.

Marois and her separatists have never been honest with Quebecers about the real costs of separatism and the dangers of trying to divide our country. Being Canadian is a benefit beyond value.

And supporting tribalism with racial tensions is not only disreputable but something borrowed from a painful past. History shows us that bigotry often destroys the perpetrators of hatred along with their targets. The tête carrée (square head) slur never worried too many of Quebec’s English speakers. It took the demands of the language police to drive out many of the English-speaking small business people and rigid rules in education to discourage those who wanted to keep their English-speaking roots.

But Marois’ separatists now want to use racial hatreds to further their political goals. For a government to claim they are furthering secular objectives by heightening racial tensions is not only shameful but reminds some people of Germany in the 1930s. While the courts are unlikely to ever allow Quebec to mistreat minorities with the ill-named Charter of Values, Marois wants to add that threat to her arguments for sovereignty.

“We must be separate,” she seems to claim, “So we can discriminate.” What logic is that?

It shows the desperation that we face from those still trying divide instead of build. When Pierre Trudeau said “Canada must be a just society,” he was speaking of a Canada without barriers to race, religion, language, opportunity and freedom. It is the small-minded and self-important who do not understand the importance of that to all Canadians.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Tory immigration minister threatens Canadians.

Saturday, February 15th, 2014

If Conservative Immigration Minister Chris Alexander does not like this blog, why does he not say so? Here we always thought it was just fair political comment. Given time though, Alexander hopes he can strip people such as the writer of their Canadian citizenship. Despite being born here, sworn allegiance to the Queen of Canada, served in the Canadian forces and lived here all our life, Alexander and the Tories want to pass a law that could take our Canadian citizenship from us.

It is unbelievable! The Conservative government wants to pass a new citizenship act that can take Canadian citizenship away from native-born Canadians. The fact that one of your parents was still a foreign national when you were born here often allows you dual citizenship. Whether you opt to move to that other country should be your choice, not the option of the Canadian government.

(The option of citizenship is interesting. Being one of six children of an American mother and a Canadian father, two brothers chose to be American citizens. They have made substantial contributions to that country in computer science and academia. Another brother was actually living in the Los Angeles area when he died suddenly and his Oscar—for technical contributions—had to be awarded posthumously. He was a proud Canadian.)

What annoys us about Chris Alexander is that we knew a good deal about him before he became a Conservative Member of Parliament and a junior Minister. When he came back from his posting in Afghanistan for the United Nations, he shopped both the Conservative and Liberal parties to see what they would offer him. The top brass of the Liberal Party thought he might be a good fit for the riding here in Babel as his mother had retired in the area and Babel had yet to hold a nomination meeting.

But Alexander never did talk to the Babel riding people. We did our due diligence in checking him out as best we could but he was not eager to meet. It became obvious that he was getting a better offer. The better offer was from the Conservatives.

Having vetted and encouraged many potential candidates over the years, you really have little time for candidates with no political principles or scruples. If we had talked to Alexander, our conversation would have included some political philosophy. We would have made sure that he had liberal instincts. Obviously he does not.

Knowing the feelings of many voters in Ajax-Pickering, just outside Toronto, we can forecast that Chris Alexander will not be in politics for the long haul.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

A tale of the Hair and the hog.

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The Hair and hairdresser are heading for Mexico next. It will be a meeting of the three heads of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Prime Minister Stephen Harper will hardly feel the love that he did in Israel. President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico has every reason to be angry with Harper. And American President Obama also has good reason to be leery of him. There are no more three amigos at this meeting.

Someone was explaining yesterday the idiom that “Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered.” It simply means that it is okay to be a little bit greedy but if you go too far there are consequences. The Hair is going to get some of his consequences.

Mexican politicians and diplomats are particularly displeased with Canada demanding a visa requirement on their citizens visiting Canada. If you want to slap down a country, visas are one of the measures you can use. You hardly want to impose visa restrictions on a major trading partner. And to make matters worse, Canada put the restriction on the Czech Republic at the same time. Canada later lifted the restriction from the Czech Republic but not Mexico.

President Obama has his own beefs with Canada and not the least among them is the steady yapping about the Keystone XL pipeline. Harper has as much as said, he will out wait Obama’s term of office and then get Keystone approved. Somebody has probably mentioned to Obama that Canada gets to vote on Harper and his Conservatives in 2015 and Obama is safe until his replacement is chosen in 2016. If Obama had a vote in the Canadian election, it would sure not be for Stephen!

The Hair’s major problem in Mexico—other than the picture with the obligatory sombrero—is that he will get no quarter from the other two participants. The Americans and the Mexicans are going to be all buddy-buddy and leave Canada out in the cold. That can have an effect of billions in trade between the three countries. Even in just the auto sector, there is more than $3 billion in investment from two companies that can end up in Mexico with American support.

And that is our cautionary tale about the Hair and the hog. Harper’s foreign relations are erratic and unorganized because it has more to do with votes at home than Canada’s traditional honest broker and peacekeeper approach. The Hair needs to pay closer attention to what happens to the hog.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

And the best of luck in Thornhill.

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Today, February 13 is hard lesson day for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Despite the reasonably good turnout at advance polls, there is no rationale for neophyte Premier Wynne to anticipate anything good from her ill-timed, ill-considered by-elections.

She can probably write off the previously Liberal electoral district of Niagara Falls. Former MPP Kim Craitor is too much of a Liberal and a gentleman to comment on his decision to retire. Yet his timing speaks volumes. There are only two votes the new Liberal candidate can count on in Niagara Falls. They are hers and the last Liberal act from Craitor. What the Liberal candidate might have going for her is that Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak lives in the riding and to know him is not exactly a reason to vote for him or his candidate. We would not be surprised to see a very strong showing from the New Democrat in this riding.

But we are hardly going to sit here in Babel and pretend to know the mood of the voters down on the Niagara Peninsula. It is much easier to read the voter mood in a general election. In a by-election too many local issues come into play and that can override good political instincts. That means we place no bets on the outcome in Niagara Falls.

But Thornhill is a different matter. Before moving to Babel almost ten years ago, we lived in Thornhill. It is a very attractive part of the Greater Toronto Area and a fine place to live. The area is a long way from a childhood in downtown Toronto. It has a mix of relatively well off and industrious people from many backgrounds.

The higher than average Jewish vote in Thornhill (largest in Canada) has been pandered to by both Conservatives and Liberals. It will be very interesting to see how the Prime Minister’s recent trip to Israel plays in a provincial by-election. There is no question that Mr. Harper’s trip had absolutely no diplomatic context and he took a full Airbus of MPs, rabbis and others to impress Jewish voters. And why Thornhill Provincial Conservative candidate Gila Martow would have that nice big picture of herself, Prime Minister Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on her web site, we have no idea.

The New Democrats are not a factor in Thornhill. The contest is between Tim Hudak’s Conservative candidate and Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal candidate. And that is why we wrote originally that calling this by-election instead of a general election was one of the dumbest ideas that we have seen yet from Premier (briefly) Wynne.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

A mean and meaningless federal budget.

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

The arrogance of the Harper Conservatives knows no bounds. Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered a budget with such a thin veneer of civility yesterday that he could do nothing more afterwards but say wait until next year. This 2014 budget was cynical, shallow, untruthful and an insult to the Canadian people.

If you want whistles, bells and hope with your budget, you have to wait until the budget running up to the election next year. And what was really disgusting was that Flaherty did not bother to sugar-coat the lies.

It was obvious to anyone who can add two plus two successfully that there is no deficit in current government accounts. Flaherty admitted that but said the claim of a surplus will be more substantial just before the election. There are too many promises connected to that surplus to waste them a full year before the election.

But the tissue of lies of the current budget says much about the lack of morals of Stephen Harper and his ideologues.

A $2 billion allocation for aboriginal schooling would sound good if it was not being held back for two years and then to be paid out over the following three years. Remember, this is the government that killed the $5 billion Kelowna Accord that would have been a substantial boost for aboriginals.

It is both fascinating and frightening to see how this government has managed to transfer government debt. The figures are available for all to see. As the government lowers its debt in recent years, the amount of personal debt owed by Canadians is growing. It means that people are going deeper in debt because of higher unemployment and job-seekers who have given up.

In 2015 Canadians will have to have a national awards program for cynicism. Who will be Cynic of the Year? Stephen Harper won that award in the 2008 election as the world’s economy was crashing. He refused to admit it and enough Canadians kept him in office for another try in 2011.

Flaherty’s budget had no answers for our high jobless rate, for our country’s economic doldrums, for the imbalance of investment in tar sands that most civilized countries do not want and the lack of investment in jobs for other provinces.

With Harper, it is all about getting elected. Give him four more years in office and he will change Canada forever. And you will not like the country he wants to create.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Who does Canada Revenue Agency work for?

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

It is law that you cannot be a registered charity and indulge in strictly political activities. Back when that law was passed by a Liberal government, it was met with laughter in some quarters and the charities just carried on as before. With most health charities, it was easy to show that the political activities undertaken were part of your patient services and health research objectives. It comes as a shock today to hear that the Canada Revenue Agency is auditing environmental charities that are fighting tar sands pollution.

And what is even more shocking is that a non-profit organization called Ethical Oil is lodging the complaints about environmental organizations. We will wait for an audit before making any accusations but we can only assume that this organization is heavily funded by tar sands exploitation companies.

But the frightening news is that the Conservative government gave Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) $8 million last year to go after charities engaged in excessive political activities. (And bear in mind that they only investigate when somebody makes a complaint.) This money was buried in one of those omnibus budget bills and is putting the impartiality of the CRA in a bad light. There is a chicken and egg problem here. Did the government provide the funds first or did the Ethical Oil Organization make the complaints first. Since the actions are on top of each other, the conclusion is obvious.

At a time when every other aspect of CRA’s work for Canadians was being short changed, the government gave the agency these investigative funds. You hardly need to be suspicious to connect the dots in this situation.

Many of the major environmental agencies have been concerned about the exploitation of Canada’s Athabasca tar sands region. People are absolutely dumfounded by the range of pollutants, gasses and heavy metals washed out of tar sands bitumen. These are left in huge open tailings ponds in the tar sands area to gradually evaporate and pollute the air and soil. Bitumen itself is a soup of chemicals bound in a viscous tar. To move it requires dilution with a polymer or light oil. That enables it to be poured into a rail car or fed through a pipeline. When it is refined to create synthetic oil, it sends tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere as well as leaving tonnes of bitumen coke to be burned or buried.

The charities being investigated have been drawing attention to this pollution.

Charitable organizations work on trust. When you are being audited, donations tend to wane. A lot of charges are being made against them and if you tie up the resources of the charity while they fight these allegations, you have effectively put them out of business.

Now, who would want to do that?

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

John Tory, ready to rumble in Toronto.

Monday, February 10th, 2014

It is now obvious that broadcaster John Tory is going to jump into the Toronto mayoralty. He gave up the news on Global Television’s Focus Ontario over the weekend. And he had no need to answer host Alan Carter’s snide introduction as “Soon to announce for the Toronto mayoralty, John Tory.” In fact, one of the benefits of running for mayor will be an excuse for Tory to stay off that show with its amateur and biased host.

And he might as well run for the mayor’s job. Someone has to do the healing after the Rob Ford years and John is ideally suited to that role. He is even forgiven for being a Conservative. He is just not as obnoxious and narrow-minded as his replacement in the provincial wing of that party.

He can also do the job without putting out a purported biography. He hardly needs sugar coating to his privileged upbringing. What he can uniquely offer is leadership. It is something we know he has and has demonstrated. In a city with complex problems and extremes of opinions, he is the one person with a chance to pull it together. He can save the city from itself. He can be the mayor we want to respect.

That is something that no other candidate can offer. And that includes Jack Layton’s widow. The New Democrats are going to need her vote in Ottawa anyway. She would be a continuing disaster in the mayor’s chair as she gradually alienates every councillor from the suburbs. She has no understanding or skill at leadership and the fractious downtown caucus will never do for her what they did for David Miller.

Tory might have no natural empathy for that group of downtown misfits but they will at least respect him enough to listen. They will also respect his knowledge and experience in working with Toronto’s transit and infrastructure funding problems. He is a thinker and not a grandstander. He is the opposite of a Rob Ford.

And he has just been marking time as a broadcaster. That experience puts him head and shoulders ahead of any other mayoralty candidate. In fact, he might be the first mayor in many years who really knows how to handle the media and is relaxed in the process.

There is still the question of how we knew that he is running. Why else would he be sporting a new toupée? It is a considerable improvement over the old one. It is not as though he can afford a full-time hairdresser as does Prime Minister Harper but the quality of the rug makes a heck of a difference.

-30-

Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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