Archive for February, 2014

Let the games begin. Please.

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

What do ballet, the opening ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Games and Russian winters have in common? They are too long, too dreary and too boring. You almost expected to see a camera shot of President for Life Putin fast asleep. And the silliest expectation was the Russians giving the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge a script to explain what was going on in the centre ring of the arena. Not only was his timing off but his reading would have been more appropriate for a funeral.

And who says the Olympics are not political? They have been politicized since Athens first challenged Sparta. How soon we forget the games in Berlin of 1936! Every country tries to make a political statement. Only the Brits would host an Olympics with the only apparent objective of boosting tourism. And they made fun of themselves without hurting others. President for Life Putin would never understand that.

But what is with all of this silly emphasis on medals? Whatever happened to sportsmanship? If some other country gets one more medal than Canada, good on them. We come to honour the athletes not their countries. All this crap about “owning the podium” is unsporting, callow and a disgrace to the games. Putting such undue extremes of pressure on our athletes is unhealthy and unwarranted. And we should put a stop to this jingoism of raising the country flag and playing the national anthems of the athletes just because Julian beat Harry by two-tenths of a second.

The athletes who really do not need to remind anyone where they are from are the Americans. Those costumes they wore in the opening were hilarious. They not only lost the fashion race but they gave the world a good laugh—which is always welcome.

The fashion police probably gave the gold medal in costuming to the understated French. Try as we can though, there is no way to admit that khaki and grey are compatible. At least our Canadians looked like dismounted Mounties in toques. They had fun.

When Catherine the Great decided that Russia would expand its domain to the Black Sea, it was assumed that she just wanted a dacha there to get away from Moscow winters. It is an unusual place for Olympic Winter Games. Mind you at $50 billion for almost getting things ready, President for Life Putin has sure beaten Catherine’s bills.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

These shoes aren’t made for budgets.

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty bought new shoes the other day. It is part of the traditional run-up to delivering a federal budget. Somehow, he found one of the last companies in Canada still making shoes. He bought an inexpensive pair of steel-capped safety shoes. He is going to need them for the kind of budget he is about to deliver. It is expected to be a budget that does nobody any good.

This says a lot about the arrogance of Jim Flaherty. It also says a great deal about the “screw you” attitude of the Conservative government. Flaherty has made it very clear that he is going to tighten the strictures on Canadians for another year so that he can be the good guy just before next year’s election. It is a cynical attitude and demonstrates the level of hypocrisy we have sunk to in this country.

It shows you what it costs Canadians to vote for an ideology based political party. We all used to like Conservatives more when they understood that they were elected to serve the needs of the voters, not themselves. Even the most die-hard Conservatives among us are reaching the stage where they are fed up with the government working to its political agenda instead of looking after the store.

Flaherty and his friends have done nothing to stop the loss of jobs to low-wage countries as they try to drive down the expectations of Canadians. The lasts that used to be used to make Canadian shoes are long gone. Did you see the other day where we do not have enough rail cars to ship our bumper grain crop from last year? These are not the concerns of Conservatives.

Flaherty will crow about the number of jobs we gained last month but are they just retail? Are they full time? Are they minimum wage? The truth is that we need to create three to four times that many jobs every month to get the Canadian economy back to where we need it to be.

Jim Flaherty is a fool. He always reminds you of a bloated frog sitting on a lily pad croaking defiantly to the night sky. He does not care about Canadians. He puts some magical point of a balanced budget ahead of our concerns. He denigrates civil servants while denying them the tools to do their jobs. He has Parliament approve their spending and then denies them access to the funds.

Flaherty, in his safety shoes, will call on business to trickle down some wealth to Canadians. We have been trickled on enough, thank you.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario’s Beer Store fights back.

Friday, February 7th, 2014

There was a robocall from The Beer Store the other day. The cheap bastards would not spend a nickel to call in person. They sent a recording to do a man’s job. (That is not sexist, it was a man’s voice.) They want to talk with Ontario beer drinkers and gin bottle returners about the ruction concerning their beer distribution and retailing monopoly. They are going to hold one of those telephonic “virtual town halls.” That is a town hall where they pick the comments they want heard and you are expected to listen to propaganda.

Thanks but no thanks. It is bad enough when you have to hold your nose to dump your recycle and buy a two-four. You should hardly have to listen to the bad smell as well.

It is getting so bad at “The Worst Beer Store in Ontario” that we really must relay a recent event: It happened when waiting patiently in line with a week’s meagre collection of wine and beer bottles. The delay was caused by two scruffy gentlemen who had obviously spent the morning beating the garbage trucks to the recycling boxes. Their bonanza of bottles and crushed cans in three shopping buggies took time to sort. People coming in behind us were nonplused by the delay and became impatient. In their rush to get about their business, they offered their empties to this writer. That extra $13.65 was enough for us to get a premium beer instead of the usual economy brand that day.

But we hardly expect that to become a regular supplement to our pension.

It is obvious from that robocall that The Beer Store is concerned. Maybe we are finally getting through to those do-nothing nobodies at Queen’s Park. And if the foreign owners of the Beer Store are worried, that might be half the battle.

It appears they are going to build a campaign based on slandering convenience stores because they might sell beer and wine to minors. Knowing how successful Ontario has been at keeping those stores from selling cigarettes to minors, that is a scurrilous approach.

It is our politicians who have to grow up and smell the roses. It would be a bloody shame to let Timmy Hudak and his Conservative Neanderthals win an election by offering to modernize beer and liquor sales in this province.

Kathleen Wynne is quickly reaching the point of no return and unless she gets her act together and pays some attention, she is going to be toast. She has to face the fact that the votes in Ontario come from ordinary people across the province and not just from large law firms in downtown Toronto.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

No support here for Royal Victoria Hospital.

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

They must be Babel’s most successful thieves. They are the parking meters and parking lot gate machines at our local hospital. The amount hospital visitors have to pay to park is disgusting. It is nothing more than a tax on our health and love and caring. It is bad medicine. And something needs to be done about it.

And not just in Babel but across Ontario. This observation was stimulated by an excellent column last week in the Toronto Star by veteran reporter/commentator Carol Goar. Carol believes that citizens need to be relieved of high hospital parking fees and we could not agree more.

Carol started by commenting on Finance Minister Jim Flaherty removing the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) on hospital parking. She neglects to note that there will be more than a few moons in the sky when any Ontario hospital gives that part of parking fees back to visitors. Flaherty simply increased the amount they are ripping off.

And you can forget Health Minister Deb Matthews stepping in. She turns a blind-eye to the whole business and says she is not involved. If she is not, just who the hell do our hospitals look to for some guidance in their ignorance?

When a Human Rights case was entered against our local Royal Victoria Hospital several years ago because of the discriminatory practices of new doctors in the community, the adjudicator listened only to the hospital’s lawyer. It was this high priced lawyer’s argument that hospitals had no control over the doctors who practiced there. The Ontario Medical Association claimed that it had already told doctors not to discriminate and therefore they did not take any responsibility. And suing individual doctors would have been counterproductive.

Locally it is like that useless Member of Parliament for Babel who has his staff run a charity event every year where the hospital is supposed to get the proceeds. We have yet to see an audit report on those events that would give us an indication if they are worthwhile or not. We know the MP loves them as they get him a lot of free publicity and he gets to play shinny with some former NHL players. Our guess is that these events are so over-politicized that they harm the hospital’s more legitimate fund raising activities. There are probably too many Conservatives on the hospital board to raise any alarms about it.

But frankly, Royal Victoria Hospital is probably just as bad as other hospitals throughout Ontario. They all have a hell of a lot to learn about community relations. It hurts patients when you deny them the visitors and the encouragement to get well that they need. The hospitals are making it outrageously expensive for out-patients and it is the medical staff that gets to deal with the outrage. Maybe the boards will find these hospitals easier to run if nobody wants to go there.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Tories seek to subvert Elections Canada.

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Having crossed swords with Elections Canada in the past, it is easy to understand the Conservative disdain for the bureaucrats of Elections Canada. What we should question is the desire of the Harper government to add another layer of bureaucracy to what is already glacier-like policing of elections. Instead of taking four to six years to clean up political corruption, we can now take twice as long.

But before you buy into the Conservatives claiming this proposed elections act to be an improvement that they label as “Fair Elections,” you should ask: Fair for whom?

Taken in context with previous actions of this government, this elections act is just one more step in subverting Elections Canada to a lap dog for an Imperial Prime Minister’s Office. They have to let the little beast yap, but now it will be to no avail. The Tories hope to defang and emasculate Elections Canada by turning policing of elections over to people with little or no understanding of political processes in this country.

A fair and open committee discussion of this act could not only improve the act but save the Conservatives from the obvious accusations of conniving to change elections in their favour. Politicians have to deal with these issues in an atmosphere of collegiality and equality. The number of Members from the Tory caucus should not be the determining factor.

And the only way to deal with robocalls is to ban them. All of them! The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission should put a stop to any and all recorded telephone calls to subscriber telephones. We pay for those telephones, not those who want to sell us something. The calls are not only intrusive, rude, annoying, demeaning, destructive and cheap but they are often misleading and serve as cover for those who would exploit recipients. They are grossly inaccurate for polls unless dealing in vast numbers. And they are often unanswered by those who can afford call display. The simple answer is that if the call is not worth the time of a human caller, we do not want the call.

The Conservatives are going to spend a great deal of effort trying to cloak this new act in respectability but the facts might differ. Only an equal input from each of the political parties and hearings with their various apparatchiks will give us an insight into vital changes needed in the Election Act.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Saving the NDP—and the Senate?

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

It took some digesting. Long-time New Democrat Robin Sears tried his hand in the Toronto Star the other day at damning Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau while hoping to rescue NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. As a long-time Liberal Party apparatchik, we can only admire Sears’ pluck in taking on the task. And as a fellow public relations practitioner, we can only hope he was paid more for the task than the Toronto Star’s usually miserly pittance for such gratuitous op-eds.

What Sears attempted in his opinion piece was to claim that Justin Trudeau should have used party manipulation and process to sell the dumping of the Liberal Senators. He suggests that Justin Trudeau did the act as a stunt. He rudely accuses Trudeau of stuntsmanship on a level with Ted Cruz and Rob Ford.

While it is easy to visualize someone such as Sears’ former leader Ed Broadbent using party manipulation to achieve change, he might not be aware we have moved into a new century. Trudeau was up front and honest with everyone concerned.

Trudeau asked the Senators from the Liberal Caucus for a meeting. He went to that meeting and told the Senators what he intended to do. Did they react in outrage? Did they complain loudly and vociferously? Even after some sober second thought, most of the Liberal Senators accepted the action as reasonable. As many of them point out, this was the original intent of the Senate. Trudeau simply asked them to do their job.

Sears suggests that Justin Trudeau just looks like a student politician desperately trying to ape the adults. He seems to believe that Trudeau is attempting to sidestep any controversy should any Liberal Senator be caught by the Auditor General diddling his or her expense account. Sears can be reassured that the Conservatives, especially Mr. Harper’s more recent appointees, are far more likely to be caught up in any expanded scandal. They seem to have a much larger sense of entitlement.

While Justin Trudeau is reluctant to open the constitutional question at this time, he does acknowledge that Canadians need Senate reform. Sears seems to act like Trudeau is the leader of the opposition. He should worry more about his own leader Tommy Mulcair.

It was very generous of Sears to suggest that the Senate chamber could make an excellent wedding banquet hall. He should realize that there have been far too many bodies buried under that red carpet over the years to ensure wedded bliss.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Are we just self-appointed hall monitors?

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

It takes years of writing a blog to realize what you are really doing. You do not want to be a nag, but you are. You are not just a writer desperate for an editor—but oh how you need one! You sat down at the computer this morning with the concept of being a hall monitor running through your mind.

Hall monitors are an American phenomenon. As a youngster in high school, we Canadian kids were still Brit enough to recognize the need for self discipline. The only supervision needed when attending high school was provided by teachers on their way to their own washroom breaks.

The only problem with being a blogger in this age is that most should not be. It gives the entire body of work a bad name. It takes years to build a solid audience and here you are, trying to present cogent arguments, in a world of 140-character twitters. That is not fair.

What does it profit us to have to reduce our 1000-plus word discussions down to 400-word comments? And yet we find that we have increased our readership three-fold. We live in a world of simpler words, shorter sentences and two or three sentence paragraphs but we still complain about the emoticons used in our teenagers’ texts.

But do we really have anything to say? Most bloggers appear to think the world is interested in them and every other sentence seems to start with “I.” Boring! Diaries are okay but if you think you are Samuel Pepes, Anne Frank or Boswell’s Dr. Johnson, you might have further to go than you realize.

You can probably deduce that this writer is opposed to destroying our environment with bitumen, has little use for conservative ideologues, royalty and eating parsnip. It comes with being honest about being a liberal. And when Liberal parties wander from liberal principles and think they are some entitled ruling class, they are going to hear differently from this writer.

And ‘no,’ we are not perfect. The other day we used a plural verb with a singular noun and we expected to hear about it. It was deliberate and nobody noticed. We are chagrined.

We do our best to develop dialogue. We really do appreciate hearing from readers. We know you are out there. Google Analytics tells us about our readers. We know where you are from, whether you are new or returning and what you are reading. No personal information is involved. We are strong believers in personal privacy.

Maybe tomorrow, we will get back to the bloody bitumen. This was cathartic.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Revving up the Keystone pipeline controversy.

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

It is called doublespeak. Bureaucrats use it to leave themselves open to whatever their political bosses prefer to do. They have not said yes and they have not said no. The American State Department issued its Final Environmental Impact Statement on the last day of January and leaves everyone in the same state as they were before it was issued. All the State Department functionaries did was get it out and get it done with as far as they were concerned. Like the Oracle at Delphi though you will learn that their findings are whatever you want them to be.

And in the classic stance of combatants, both sides of the argument about the controversial pipeline claimed victory. All that really happened was that others now get to have their say and, ultimately, President Barack Obama will make up his own mind whenever he gets around to it. His is the only opinion that seems to matter.

But how Mr. Obama is going to sift through all the half-truths, weasel words, obfuscation and out-right lies is the wonder. It is not that he is unused to that type of argument. His gut instinct on some of the concerns might be all that he needs. He has already made it very clear that he is concerned about the environmental impact. And the State Department telling him that something, even as big as the Keystone XL, is not going to drastically affect the pace of Canada’s Athabasca “oil” sands development, does not give him the out you might suppose.

The fact that the writers use the term ‘oil sands’ instead of the term ‘tar sands’ is a half-truth on which the tar sands exploiters are getting a pass. Read the State Department claim again that “no single project—not even TransCanada’s Keystone XL—will drastically affect the pace of Canada’s oilsands development.”  Now tell us exactly what it means. The statement is gratuitous—it means nothing, to Americans.

What is important is the process continues. The President has no need to make a decision yet but there will be further pressures later in the year. Frankly, he will probably be too busy until the off-year elections in November as he does not want to face opposition control of both the House and the Senate for the last two years of his term of office. He has more important work to do and why set himself up for trouble with a decision that he does not have to rush?

The big lie is that the bitumen to be shipped on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline links to the Texas Gulf ports is for the refineries located there. The Texas refineries can get bitumen from Utah tar sands—and they do not want it. The Alberta bitumen is for shipment to world markets that do not care about the environmental damage it causes.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Trashing the tacky of tradition.

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Speaking of mixed metaphors! Thinking of trashing Conrad Black over his recent bereavement brought to mind both the BBC’s Downton Abbey series and musical  Fiddler on the Roof. It really takes both to put Conrad Black in perspective.

Downton Abbey is a period piece despite the fact that it was only 100 years ago. It is a wonderful dissection of the traditions and mores of the period. The noble Earl, his extended family, his retainers and the influences of his time interact in a poignant tale of the richness, refinement and basic cruelty of the times.

You probably have to be more of a mensch to really understand Fiddler on the Roof as it is a more allegorical discourse on the Jewish diaspora. For the rest of us, it is alternately joyous and sad and an enthralling piece of theatre. Based on a story by Sholem Aleichem, it is set in Tsarist Russia in 1905. There is a song on tradition that sets the audience up for the changes in the times.

And this thinking was stimulated by Conrad Black’s troubles. Poor Conrad, the Governor General has dispensed with not only his Order of Canada but his honour of being a Privy Councillor. Since the Order of Canada is a pin you can wear on your lounge suits or a thingy you can wear on a ribbon when dressing for a formal dinner, they will be missed. And since the Queen has not asked for advice from her Privy Council for quite some time, the P.C. after his name might not matter.

But, damn it all, back at Downton Abbey or in Tsarist Russia, it would have mattered. A gentleman wears these honours proudly. And, Conrad needs to understand that when a gentleman dishonours them, he gets more than a white feather. We are also tired of him overstaying his visit to Canada. He renounced his citizenship, after all.

Still, it is too bad that Canadians cannot find some proper way to bestow honours on those Canadians who achieve for us and do our country honour. The Order of Canada is forever blemished by some of the overt hypocrisy of this overly politicized honour.

Mind you, last year’s distribution of the Queen’s Jubilee Medals still ranks as the most politicized disgrace we have ever seen. Trust the Conservatives to come up with something that could be done in such a tacky way.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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