Archive for July, 2014

Are bloggers lower than politicians?

Monday, July 21st, 2014

There is an interesting facial reaction when you tell people you write a blog. Maybe the thing around the eyes is pity, at first. They then ask what you blog about. When you say politics, the nose definitely tilts up a bit and the forehead crinkles into a frown. They remain polite but quickly lose interest.

In reading Alison Loat’s compilation of the Samara Institute’s interviews with former politicians in the book Tragedy in the Commons, she notes that bloggers have been classed as something lower than politicians. It seems to be a casual observation. This blogger is still determining if it is worthwhile reviewing the book’s self-indulgent comments by ex-politicians on their years in Canada’s parliament.

One observation that she makes is a particularly congratulatory few paragraphs on MP Jim Peterson’s chairing of the finance committee that fronted for Finance Minister Paul Martin in the draconian financial decisions made by the Chrétien government in 1995. It was one of the most disheartening events to watch after more than 30 years of involvement in Canadian politics.

It seemed that everyone was using others as beards in a string of manipulative moves at the time and the people being bamboozled were the Canadian taxpayers. Jean Chrétien had already gone back on too many of his promises and used Paul Martin as his beard. Paul, in turn, used Jim Peterson and his committee to try to prove that massive cutbacks in government spending were necessary.

Jim Peterson’s parliamentary committee traveled across Canada listening only to the bankers, financiers and elites who wanted lower taxes and less government expenditure. The 99 per cent were ignored. Even Bob Rae in Ontario bought in on the fiction and created the Rae Days that ended the New Democrats brief reign in that province.

Jean Chrétien is now retired and so is Jim Peterson. The voters looked after retiring Paul Martin when his ego sent him after the job of prime minister—the job that his father always wanted.

We well understand the suspicions people have of political blogs. You sometimes think that if these bloggers could just set aside their egos while writing, some might have something to say. You hope that in the very least, they care.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

And you think this is voter apathy?

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

There has been a flurry of concern lately about what people see as voter apathy. And when voter turnout in federal and provincial elections heads toward the 50 per cent levels, we should be worried. What is wrong is not that the first-past-the-post voting is wrong or that attack advertising is turning people off. What is wrong is the political parties are letting us down. They are not doing their job.

The other day in a discussion with a local riding president, the question was asked of him what was needed in his newly formed riding. His answer was that he needed party executive members from one of the new areas. His existing executive does not have the get up and go to get out there and meet and interest people in the new area in the challenge and fun of participating in politics. The source of the apathy is right there on his riding executive.

Sure there are lots of external factors, pressures and misdirection but there is no excuse for a riding executive to allow gaping holes in their balanced representation of the riding.

We used to have choices when electing people to our riding executives. Today, it seems you have to use a press gang approach to find the people. They seem to enjoy the opportunity to sit and pontificate about their political opinions but when it comes to hard work, they get scarce.

A big part of the problem is the inexcusable top-down structure of our politics today. Party leaders are petty tyrants with the power to not only set policy and platforms but to appoint the party’s candidates and hire and fire throughout the party. The Conservatives and New Democrats have people detailed to police the riding association and approve their candidate choices (appointed by the party leader). The Liberals are just as disorganized as ever and have an inexperienced leader who interferes in riding decisions when he feels like it. (If he had not promised he would not do that, we would be more forgiving.)

But what the party leaders have done is create a swath of do-nothing riding associations across the country who are used to doing nothing. And they are good at it. Mind you, the Liberals and New Democrats are gradually realizing that the Conservatives are in full swing organizing their candidates for the coming federal election. Has the Conservative leader told them something that he has not told the rest of us? Do we really know when the next federal election will be called?

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Finding the facts on prostitution.

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Taking a poll on prostitution is probably the least helpful exercise by the government in assisting themselves and others to understand the issues. Top of mind response to polls can trivialize the topic. And that is what you get to telephone surveys. It is also why you get very different answers to the same questions in research focus groups.

In a group setting, skilled researchers can break down barriers to discussing the issues and then you can start getting thoughtful answers from people. Nobody in research work pretends that focus groups are representative of the total population. It just enables the researchers to be sure the respondents understand the questions.

That thoughtfulness can help avoid embarrassment such as the seeming ignorance of our Minister of Justice who said his new prostitution law is going to put an end to prostitution. It was a top of mind answer that he had to later recant.

Prostitution is known as the oldest profession because the sexual urge in humans is always with us. Let us hope that collectively we should never lose it. And what occurs between consenting adults in private is nobodies business but theirs. If favours or cash are exchanged, it is nobodies business but theirs. The state has no need to interfere in a free society.

And that is what the Conservative government does not seem to understand. The Supreme Court proved that they understood it when they ruled that the state was putting prostitutes in harms way with our foolish prostitution laws.

What can never be strong enough are the penalties for people who exploit the sexual services of others for profit. To sell the services of others for sexual purposes is reprehensible. There is no place for non-participants in the transaction.

It is because sexual transactions should be private. They are as private between a husband and wife as they are between two mutually attracted strangers in a pick-up bar. They can be a man and a woman, two women or two men or some combination of three or four or more. Do we have some need to condemn others for what we might not understand?

Canadians want and deserve a free society. We have a long way to go to really achieve that objective. Losing the stigma of legal censorship of our morals and sexual needs can be a good start.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

There are liars and damn liars.

Friday, July 18th, 2014

The Woodrow Wilson Institute based at the Smithsonian in Washington is an honoured institution recognizing the only American President to have earned a PhD. It seems a shame that its name is being besmirched by the cant of the tar sands exploiters and the sham of Prime Minister Harper’s energy policy. This commentary is instigated by a Toronto Star opinion piece on July 17 saying Canada must diversify its energy pitch to the U.S. It is by Andrew Finn program associate at the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Institute.

The first (complex) sentence of the article is all you need to read to question the writer’s veracity. He refers to the United States decision to “deny Gulf Coast refineries the heavy crude they so desperately need.” This is not only a flat out lie but it uses the wrong words to describe the Canadian goods planned to be shipped through the Keystone XL pipeline.

The facts are that the Texas Gulf Coast refineries have no need for the Canadian bitumen from the Athabasca tar sands. Utah has lots of tar sands type bitumen it can ship south. The refineries around the Texas Gulf oil ports have little interest in bitumen because of the additional and highly polluting processing required. They certainly do not need it.

And Canadian bitumen is not by any stretch of the imagination “heavy crude oil.” Bitumen is one of the oldest materials used by man. It provided the waterproofing pitch for the boats that plied the Mediterranean before the pyramids were built. It supplied the mortar for the bricks of Babylon. Bitumen might be available in the largest quantity in Alberta but it is found around the world.

But if you wash out the sands and add polymers to the mix, bitumen can be heated and pushed at high pressure through a pipeline. It is the most efficient way to move the stuff. And if you are ecologically minded, you leave the stuff where it lies. It can be refined into synthetic crude oil at great expense to the environment when our dying planet is desperate for oil resources.

But this does not justify the confused and inaccurate story from Mr. Finn and the Canada Institute. He uses Canada’s hydro power electrical generation as a counterpoint to the bitumen. He says the United States should buy more electrical power from Canada’s renewable resources while agreeing to move our bitumen to the oil ports for export.

Frankly nothing much is achieved by propaganda such as this. It makes life even more complex when you cannot trust the Smithsonian or the Woodrow Wilson International Institute. And worse, why is the Toronto Star running such garbage?

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Bells toll for the Common Sense Revolution.

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

One of the most frightening think pieces during the recent provincial election was the piece by Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star entitled Last gasp for Harris-era dream platform? It ran on the day when voters were going to the polls on June 12. It was a fitting time for it. It explained why Conservative Timmy Hudak’s days at the helm of his party were already numbered.

The article was ostensibly about the team preparing the way for a Tim Hudak-run Conservative government for Ontario. The team was chaired by Tom Long, the boy wonder of Canadian Conservatism in the Harris era. His team included Leslie Noble and Paul Rhodes who were back for another go at the hard right Hudak version of the Common Sense Revolution. Hudak’s wife Bev Hutton, also a retread from the Harris government of 1995 through to 2003, was at least an honourary part of the team.

The team was paid by the Ontario PC Party to plan the transition from a Liberal government to the hoped for Conservative government that the Conservatives anticipated. We should all be thankful that it never happened. After the Conservatives tried to spin that Hudak was the winner of the televised debate, many Conservatives were convinced that they were winning.

Hepburn told readers that the team had not been involved in Hudak’s embarrassing loss in 2011. Hudak was expected to win that election and the loss to the McGuinty Liberals was humiliating. Yet it was only McGuinty who realized that there was no next time for him and he set the wheels in motion for the tightly controlled convention that chose Kathleen Wynne as the new leader.

Hepburn also tells us that it was Long and his team who convinced Hudak to focus on the million jobs plan in the 2014 election campaign. They are also purported to be the geniuses who led Hudak to also promise to rid the government of a hundred thousand civil service jobs. It was that straw that broke the camel’s back. It caused a shift of about four per cent of the popular vote away from the Conservatives and a humiliating loss for Tim Hudak, Tom Long, Paul Rhodes and Leslie Noble. It might be a long wait for those four horsemen to be invited to their next Ontario Conservative Party meeting.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

The best attack is self inflicted.

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

The Conservatives have been wasting a great deal of money on their attack advertising against the Liberal’s Justin Trudeau. What is missing in their strategy is that kernel of truth that is needed to make the attacks plausible. Being young is hardly a negative. Nor is brashness a bad trait. The Conservatives have had to wait until Justin Trudeau supplies that kernel.

The most recent example of  a kernel such as this was supplied by Ontario Tory Leader Tim Hudak in the recent provincial election. He was doing fine with his extreme right-wing agenda going into the campaign. It was all built on a very ambitious million-jobs plan. He slipped when he added that he would do away with 100,000 civil servant jobs. The stretch for a million jobs was too much when you start with a negative 100,000 jobs.

Even a more centrist Conservative such as John Tory when he headed the Conservatives in the 2007 provincial election produced such a kernel. John’s was the offer to fully fund all religious schools. The facts are that Ontario voters dislike having to support two separate school systems and are not about to support more. And John failed to realize that his own most likely supporters were the least likely to support religious schools. It cost him and his party the election.

And this is the danger that Justin Trudeau faces. It is not the foolish stuff, his opponents have used to date but the injuries he does to himself.

A good example is the growing rift in the Liberal Party over his minions and Trudeau himself interfering in riding nominations. The infighting in the party over this issue has been costing the party for the past 25 years. The rule that the party leader has to authorize every candidate was a change made by the parliamentary wing of the Liberal Party. Many experienced liberals consider the measure to be arbitrary, destructive and illiberal.

In running for the leadership of the party, Justin Trudeau promised to keep his hands off riding decisions. He seemed to understand that grassroots development of party policy and the freedom to choose their candidates was core to rebuilding a strong Liberal Party across Canada.

He blew that idea. In the heart of Liberal Canada, Trudeau blocked a riding candidate and chose his candidate in the Trinity-Spadina by-election. Without an apology to the party and some contriteness, Trudeau has supplied the Conservatives with the kernel: he does not keep his word.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Reprising Sousa’s budget triumph.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Hey it won an election for the Liberals did it not? It shows how rarely we hear a good budget read in this country. It also shows how ignorant those people are who go on and on about the deficit. Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s Ontario budget of May 1 and again of July 14 is a winner. He needs to remember that.

Being a banker by trade Sousa does worry about balancing the books. What he needs to understand is that it is not the average citizen who got us into the current financial doldrums. It was bankers. Sure, they were American bankers that started the entire mess but they were still bankers. If it had not been for our Canadian bankers’ innate sense of caution and conservatism we would have been right into sub-prime mortgages like the American banks.

But here we are more than five years after the American financial bubble burst still struggling to move the economy forward and to create more worthwhile jobs for people in Ontario. While it was the tried and true infrastructure investment that carried us this far, we need better thinking for the future.

Charles has got to think outside the banker’s box. He has to realize that Ontario does not have to compete with other states, provinces, countries to be the cheapest. All we have to do is continue to be the best—the best educated work force, the best environment, with the best medical care and the best policed and peaceful communities and the best place for work, recreation and to raise a family. We have got a lot going for us in Ontario and Charles has to realize that people are more than willing to pay their share in maintaining it.

And he should not forget there are financial opportunities for the taking. Just because Toronto Council is dysfunctional is no excuse for Toronto not to have the casinos it needs to offer a complete range of attractions for tourists. Charles needs to remember that gambling is legal in Ontario—when it is run by the province—and there is no excuse for some places to not have the full range of services.

Charles also needs to understand simple opportunities such as selling beer in convenience stores. Who gives a damn what the blue stocking crowd think? There is far more tax revenue for the province from convenience stores than from those smelly beer stores.

There is a world of opportunities for the province to balance the books. It will happen if we just grow up and take the opportunities available to us.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Prohibiting political parties!

Monday, July 14th, 2014

People should be careful of what they wish. Now they want to abolish political parties. They make very serious complaints about them. Some of the complaints are quite valid. Some are just smoke. The only problem is that they need to think long and hard about what replaces them before they suggest a really stupid move.

Our favourite argument amongst the stupiditsia (the opposite of intelligentsia) is that municipal politics gets along just fine without political parties. Frankly, municipal politics would run much better if the political parties and their organizers were never allowed within a kilometre of city hall. If you cannot figure out which party more than three-quarters of your city council belong, you are obviously not paying attention. All parties use municipal politics as a training camp, a bull pen and a convenient dumping ground for political wannabes and has-beens.

But the idea of abolishing political parties has merit. There is little doubt that the original concept of political parties passed into antiquity many years ago. And it was a pretty good idea in its time. It allowed for like-minded legislators to work together to form a functioning government, choose a leader, bring in new business and participate in bringing good order and governance to the citizens.

Where it all fell apart was when the idiots we elected decided they knew more than the citizens. They thought they were there to rule the citizens instead of providing a service. They chose their leader and made the person an autocratic emperor who could tell everyone what to do. And that in turn created an opposition that spent entirely too much time telling the emperor what he could do with himself. It became somewhat unruly.

If we did away with political parties, we would need to have some sort of endorsement system to make sure we did not all send the village idiot to our parliaments. Let’s say there is a candidate endorsed by the Fraser Institute. You would know that this person is in favour of right-wing causes. Conversely a person endorsed by the Laurier Institute might be in favour of more liberal laws. And (keeping it simple) a person endorsed by the local labour council might be understood to be more socialistically inclined. It would be much more interesting when more groups started endorsing candidates and voters would have a matrix of endorsements to consider. We might even start to get better politicians.

But you get the idea. There are many possibilities other than political parties to consider. We should open the floodgates of dialogue.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Political polls past their prime.

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

Seen any political polls that you believe lately? If not, just wait, one to meet your bias will be along shortly. The only problem is that you have no trust in the sample, the methodology or the laughable chance that it might be right 19-out-of-20 times. It is not just our changing demographics, technology or attitudes as much as it is the inability of pollsters to read the information they do get and to ensure that it is properly explained to the intended audience.

Some of the best polling done in the past was based on voters’ lists from previous elections. That way you could take your sample from among known voters, have highly trained interviewers call them, make adjustments for new voters and base your results on a realistic scenario. The only way automated telephone calls can match the results of that technique is by accident.

This is brought up in light of the ongoing reports from research companies using automated telephone calling methods. While automated telephone calls are the least expensive methodology available, it is also the least trustworthy. It starts with people who are annoyed at the intrusion, raises questions as to the age of those responding and the truthfulness of the responses. You can use as large a sample as you wish and all you do is annoy more people.

What is particularly amusing about this methodology is that it is so cheap that political parties are using it to identify their vote. You know they are doing that when you have three different political parties calling you on election day urging you to get out and vote.

A recent poll based on automated calls shows the uselessness of the technique. This poll was done for a major newspaper and involved less than 2000 Canadians. It seems that 43 per cent of respondents liked Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, 38 per cent liked New Democrat Thomas Mulcair and just 34 per cent liked Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It seems to be the kind of information you can get from their FaceBook pages. And it is just about as useful.

What any reasonably astute political analyst can tell you is that less than half of the Canadian population are interested in ongoing political happenings. People only start to tune in when the elections signs start growing on the streets and the news media and your mailbox are overflowing with political propaganda.

And when that happens, you can start to talk to people and get their opinions. Mind you, the only poll that you really trust is the one when all the votes are counted.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

A choice for Babel Conservatives.

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

The Babel Conservatives thought they had everything organized. When the Barrie riding was split, the south half of the city had lots of reliable conservative country voters from south of the city added. It was the same for Barrie’s north half. The new riding of Barrie, Springwater, Oro Medonte comes complete with its strong phalanx of rural conservatives. The political name for the process is called gerrymandering.

It should have been clear to the Conservative Party adherents when the Babel MP adopted his new running mate on whom he intended to bestow the new north riding. (He had already decided that the south riding would be the safest for him.) It has been interesting watching while the wannabe MP follows the sitting MP around town. As a sitting councillor (for a ward in the south end), the trainee has had to decline to run for re-election this fall as he did not want to be seen running for city council while campaigning for the federal nomination. It shows the sacrifices our politicians sometimes have to make to seek high office.

But the more serious problem is that a contender has come forward seeking the Conservative nomination in the new riding of Barrie, Springwater, Oro Medonte. While there is some confusion about the origins of this contender, he certainly has some interesting bona fides as a Conservative. He worked for Babel’s Reform MP Ed Harper from 1993 to 1997 and ran a losing campaign for the Reform Party in the area that included Orillia in the 1997 federal election. He has since worked in Ottawa for various Reform-Alliance and Conservative MP’s. Most recently, he has been working for BC MP Russ Hiebert whose extremist views on social issues might seem more suited to American Tea Party Republicanism than Canadian politics.

And that is why the contest between the new contender and the Babel MP’s hand-picked running mate will be followed with some interest by other political parties in Babel. Somebody needs to ask some questions of the contender to ensure that he is not hiding any extremist credentials from the riding’s Ontario Conservatives who will be choosing their candidate.

The Babel MP’s candidate might be a little young, a bit naive and short of ideas but, like his mentor, is quite unlikely to ever make any name for himself in politics. This guy from Ottawa might be a lot more ambitious.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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