Archive for August, 2014

Why would you force people to vote?

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

It is one of those silly ideas that surface every once in a while. Someone notices how low the turnout of voters is at elections. They get all concerned and say, “We must get more people to vote.” Why?

Some even suggest that there should be fines for people who do not make it to the polls. Do you really want people to go and take their pique out on the politicians? ‘Leave sleeping dogs lie’ is more than just an aphorism. It is good advice. It can save people from being bitten.

There is the story from many years ago when a speaker on politics gave a spirited defence for having stupid members of parliament. His argument was that stupid Canadians also deserve representation in parliament. Please be assured that there is no lack of stupid members of our parliament. In fact, lately, there has been something of a surfeit.

And when you compare figures between Canada and the United States, Canadians are hardly as reluctant to vote as Americans. Judging by what you hear from American politicians these days, that is hardly surprising. The quality of American politics has gone a long way down hill from the hopes of the nation’s founding fathers.

The facts are that it is the inability of our politicians to inspire and motivate that is really abysmal in both countries. You see the worst of this in municipal politics. Here in Babel, the civil servants who run the municipal elections could not handle the crowds if more than 50 per cent of the voters bothered to vote. Mind you the biggest problem in municipal elections is for the citizen to a) find out what ward they are in, b) what positions and people they might like to vote for or against, c) at what times and d) where can they vote?

Everyone is waiting to see if the new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau can motivate more of our youth to vote in next year’s federal election. Even then, the key question is whether the candidates that he allows to run as Liberals can motivate enough workers to get people out to vote for the Liberals and their leader.

Mind you maybe the Conservative Party has some new tricks up their sleeves on vote suppression. It was actually the 2008 federal election when total voter turnout was less than 60 per cent. The turnout during the Robocall incidents in the 2011 federal election saw an increase in voting to just over 62 per cent. That is a far cry from the over 80 per cent figures we got in federal elections in the 1900s.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Understanding the morning line.

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

There is a caveat to Babel-on-the-Bay’s publishing a morning line on upcoming elections. While we are more accurate than pollsters, a morning line is based on a knowledgeable observer’s assessment of the upcoming race. We make absolutely no guarantee. It is only fair to point it out. Once one of our carefully evaluated selections in a major stakes race in the U.S. broke from the gate in the lead and held the lead for at least two furlongs. And then the poor horse dropped dead. Nobody can forecast the future.

And that is why the morning line is different from the efforts of handicappers. Track handicappers are paid for their opinions. If they do not offer a winning selection occasionally, they lose customers. Political pundits are nowhere near as accurate as horse race handicappers. Pundits are used more for their entertainment value. We are thinking of doing some commentary on the pundits during the municipal election this year—provided, of course, that we avoid potentially actionable observations.

This is not to say that a horse race is the same as a political race. Horses are much more reliable. Accident prone politicians are liable to crash at any point in a campaign. In the Toronto 2014 mayoralty, the analysis already done on Councillor Karen Stintz’ campaign was a waste. She is an early scratch. Nice lady, good credentials, solid workouts. She had no chance to connect with the voters in the zoo of Toronto politics this year.

In a municipal race, incumbency is usually the key to re-election. Having three or four years in the job gets you known and gives you a chance to show what you can do. Good or bad, you have an easy leg up. Not so in the Toronto mayoralty this year. The incumbent Mr. Ford has been entirely too controversial. Luckily it is really the civil servants who keep the city operating at an even and stolid level. It has only been the political scene in the city that has been chaotic.

With another dozen days to throw their hats into the ring and nominate themselves, Torontonians will likely end up with about 70 candidates for mayor on the ballot. Not to worry though as only three of those candidates have a snowball’s chance in hell. They are Olivia Chow, Rob Ford and John Tory. Babel-on-the-Bay will comment on each after Labour Day and discuss the opening odds.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

But when does the PC contest begin?

Friday, August 29th, 2014

We are missing some fun here. Sure MPP Christine Elliott is going to run for the Ontario Conservative leadership. That is not a race, it is a leisurely walk. We need some contestants. Let’s deal some excitement.

Obviously Christine Elliott is a tough opponent. Why do you think Stephen Harper held her late husband, Jim Flaherty’s, seat for her in the House of Commons? He could have called the by-election before this but he knew she could win the seat easily. As things stand, he might just call a general election before bothering with a by-election that the Conservatives are likely to lose without Elliott running.

Actually the idea of having a federal general election before the provincial Tories pick a leader sounds smart. There will be a lot of has-been Ontario MPs looking for something to do after the coming federal election. John Baird and Tony Clement for example might like to return to their salad days with Premier Michael Harris. And they can claim to be much more right-wing than Elliott.

Our local MP in Babel is already playing peek-a-boo with the provincial contest. Most people think it is just a publicity ploy on his part, but it might not be. Patrick Brown has now had a chance to see the poll-by-poll results of the recent provincial election for the newly redistributed federal riding he chose for himself. He now knows that this new riding is not as safe as he expected.

In fact there are few federal electoral districts that are not impacted by the redistribution in Ontario. While the Conservatives had an edge in how some of those electoral districts were redrawn, times are changing. There is a new sheriff in town by the name of Justin Trudeau and if he really has the impact on younger voters and women that we expect, there are few safe seats left in Ontario for the Harper Conservatives.

Realizing that it is something of an oxymoron to say this, there just might be enough smart Conservatives left to recognize that they have to get back to the days of Bill Davis. Bill’s advantage as Ontario Conservative leader was that he was progressive and he was well liked. Compared to Bill Davis who was the daddy we all wanted when children, former Tory Leader Tim Hudak was that nasty kid from down the street.

The coming provincial Conservative leadership will be an ideal opportunity for the party to redefine the type of conservatism they want to preach and practice. The brutal memories of the Mike Harris days are still alive and are serious handicaps for the party. And some of the Harper hang-ups are even more current. If the PCs pick the hard right tea-party route so be it. They also have an opportunity to rethink and remodel.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Torstar: The ugly face of today’s capitalism.

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

A classified advertisement in The Toronto Star caught the eye the other day. It was offering $13.50 per hour for ‘production operators’ at the newspaper and publishing company’s printing facility in Vaughan north of Toronto. It is only when you read the entire ad that you realize they are not looking for printing plant workers but for part-time casual labour to bundle, label and ship newspapers and other printed products coming from the facility’s presses.

But the disgusting part is that The Toronto Star, founded by social activist Joseph E. Atkinson more than 120 years ago, is offering miserable, repetitious bindery type work to people who need to earn a living—at less than what is considered to be the poverty line.

Atkinson, we are told, believed that his newspaper had a social responsibility to the people of Toronto—which does not explain why the company moved its printing plant from Toronto up to Vaughan.

And if you do not live in Vaughan or Brampton, it would certainly cost a good deal for you to get to that job where you can earn less than a living wage at physical drudge work.

The ruling Liberals promised earlier this year to raise the minimum wage in Ontario to $11 per hour. And they kept their miserly word. The Toronto Star gave good play to the complaints of the retail council that the increase was too much. Nobody paid too much attention to the concerned social workers who pointed out that you cannot afford to live in the Greater Toronto Area unless you have a fulltime job paying at least $14 per hour.

But what do the capitalists at The Toronto Star offer? They offer part-time work, no benefits, no nothing extra. Do they even guarantee more than 20 hours per week? They offer a wage that you cannot live on and you do not even know if you would get enough hours to pay your rent.

And you wonder why so many young people are giving up on finding a decent job today? Capitalists such as Torstar are driving them away. Torstar, along with other capitalist exploiters are grinding down the aspirations of a generation. If they really knew how to run the publishing empire that Joe Atkinson created, they could treat people properly. As it is, old Joe would fire the lot of them.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Considering the alternatives to Trudeau.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Will Justin Trudeau make a great prime minister? Not likely. Is he better than the alternatives? You bet. There is something of a debate in the household these days about a forthcoming event for Mr. Trudeau in September. We might just use the $300 it would cost for two of us to attend to stock up on Kraft Dinner. There is a long cold winter coming.

You would think at her age, the wife would hardly be gaga about Justin’s good looks. She liked the father too. While Pierre Trudeau was hardly as good looking, he was certainly a lot smarter. Last time we saw Justin, the wife was telling him about her collection of Trudeau family Christmas cards that chronicled Justin and his brothers’ youth. He only looked slightly pained at the recounting.

But this country has really had it with Mr. Harper and the Hair. This guy would be much happier as the dictator of some banana republic somewhere. He reminds us of the late Idi Amin Dada from Uganda. The two of them are so impressed with their importance they lose sight of the objectives of leadership. The journey itself becomes the objective.

Mr. Harper is only happy when he is flying to some world capital with his hairdresser where people will treat him as though he is important. You get the impression that the recent problems of Alison Redford as Premier of Alberta were just as a scapegoat for Alberta’s frustration with Canada’s high flying Prime Minister. You really wonder when the son of the guy who created the National Energy Program starts to look good to voters in Alberta.

The one thing you can count on is that New Democrat Thomas Mulcair has a much further journey in the land of William Aberhart than young Trudeau. They will have to provide the NDP leader with a 20-gallon hat in Calgary that can sit on his shoulders. It would be the only way to hide the fact that he is a stiff necked easterner. Mulcair’s finicky manner and prosecutorial style just do not sit on a western saddle.

Across Canada, we now know that people want their country back. They want the respect of the world community for Canada’s fairness and willingness to keep the peace. They want a balanced approach to our economy that creates jobs for all. They want more federal concern for education and health care and our environment. They want a shared vision for this great country.

If Justin Trudeau can motivate our youth, charm our women and offer the caring kind of government this country needs, he has sure got our vote. It is just a shame that we are supposed to wait until late next year?

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

The Hair’s annual northern holiday.

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

We Canadians seem to enjoy our regular getaways but the Hair beats us all. How many times is this now that the Hair and his hairdresser and his wife have headed for the Arctic during the dog days of the Ottawa summer? Sure, it guarantees full coverage by the servile news media—that has nothing else to report on. It also saves the Hair the tedium of talking to other dull Conservatives on the political barbeque circuit.

Just think of how much money Canadians could save if those scenic sets he goes to could just be blown up pictures in the backyard at 24 Sussex Drive. He never says anything there anyway. If his wife has to hold that lock-jawed smile much longer, she is going to break her Cover Girl certified Girl-Next-Door look. And, as for the Hair, he could keep his heavily lacquered hairpiece firmly in place out of the wind.

You have to admit, the Hair is the stiffest Prime Minister Canada has ever had. Go as far back as Sir John A. Macdonald and you have to admit for a drunk, old Sir John did more for this country than a priss like Harper the Hair.

Back when the Hair was first trying to get elected as head of the Conservative Party, they dressed him in knit sweaters and softened his make up to appear harmless. Canadians no longer think he is harmless. They have his number and it is up. They know it is better to elect a naϊve kid like Justin Trudeau than a fuddy-duddy like the Hair.

Whether he can blame it on his stupid staff or it was his idea, the Hair’s recent handling of the question about an enquiry on missing aboriginal women was some of the worst politics we have ever seen. When the police have just taken the body of a beautiful young girl out of the water where it was discarded, is no time to say the continuing problem is just a police matter. That is insensitive ignorance and the man will pay the price.

There is an obvious and systemic problem across this country in regards to our native peoples and it is about time we recognized it. In one of the most diverse countries in the world, we need leaders who can recognize bigotry.

But then the Hair is too busy on his summer cruise of the Arctic. If he had anything but denial in mind for global warming, he would wonder why there is now so much open water. Maybe the man is sleepwalking on the job.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Michael Chong, the MP from naϊveté.

Monday, August 25th, 2014

No, Naϊveté is not an electoral district in Quebec. The Hon. Michael Chong is the Member of Parliament for the Ontario riding of Wellington-Halton Hills. What Mr. Chong has not done is endear himself to his Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper. He left Mr. Harper’s cabinet over what he likely perceived as its pandering to Quebec separatists. He has further distanced himself from his leader by promoting a private member’s bill to give MPs the power to remove the leader of their party. What Michael Chong has really done is annoy members of all three major political parties in Canada.

Michael Chong obviously is not in touch with the history of Canada’s political parties. You would at least think somebody might have told him about the classic battle in the 1960s between his party’s Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and then party President Dalton Camp. This simple disagreement between two prominent Conservatives was the stuff of books and television specials. Dalton, delightful chap that he was, had decided that since the Conservative Party had selected John Diefenbaker to lead the party, the party, in turn, should have the right to dismiss him. Suffice to say, Dalton won.

The major point to this is that all three major political parties have to some degree or other the power to remove their leader. Michael Chong thinks that the power should be vested in the parliamentary caucus. That is similar to the way it works in the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster. Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan mocked the undemocratic customs of the British Parliament about 150 years ago and the Brits are still stuck with many of them.

Mr. Chong’s private member’s bill, due to be debated and then voted on in second reading in September, also provides for the MPs to decide who is allowed to sit in their caucus. He wants to take that power away from the party leader. Mr. Chong might have attended school in Ontario but he seems to have missed classes on British history. While the British parliament had its origins about 1000 years ago, political parties are a much newer phenomenon. Formal political parties only made their appearance in the early 1800s. Even in Canada, while the Elections Act lays out rules for parties, there has been little formal recognition of them. And every time parliament passes new rules for political parties, you can be sure that it is the parties that lose and the politicians who win.

The only point of agreement between Mr. Chong’s private member’s proposal and modern political thinking is that we have to take the power to veto local party nominations away from party leaders. That does not mean that the power should be vested in caucus. That veto is destroying the democratic process and saps the vitality and interest in electoral district associations across the country. That power needs to be returned to the electoral districts.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Premier Wynne should not toy with Quebec.

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

It seemed an unfortunate heading given to a story in The Toronto Star the other day. The heading was “Wynne toys with buying more Quebec electricity.” The headline editor must have been very impressed that the two lines of the headline were balanced but the connotation was unfortunate. This is not a question with which anyone wants to ‘toy.’

And the absolutely worst basis for this discussion is as a customer. To approach Hydro Quebec, hat in hand, as a customer is entirely wrong. Ontario and Quebec are the two oldest and largest members of the Canadian confederation. The only appropriate stance for them is as equals and as partners.

Yes, Ontario is going to need Quebec’s huge hydro capability. It has to offer something in return. To offer just to pay is crass and stupid. It does not say partners.

But what both provinces need is high-speed electric rail service carrying commerce and tourists between Windsor and Quebec City. That is a dream that’s time has come. It is now. Both provinces need the market access, the tourism, faster movement of people and the ease of business connection.

Ontario is already well aware that it can never make the commuter train system in southern Ontario function effectively unless it is electrified.

And both Premier Philippe Couillard in Quebec and Premier Kathleen Wynne in Ontario are Liberals of a sort. And they are in the driver’s seat. With the federal government set for an election next year, the provinces are in position to bring that third party, the feds, into the partnership. They have to make it very clear that whoever wins that federal election has to be ready to pony up their fair share of the infrastructure funds needed by the two provinces to make that rail dream a reality. It is vital to the country’s well being.

It is certainly in the interests of both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair to assure voters of their intentions to support the two provincial partners. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper might be writing off Quebec in that election but he dares not write off Ontario. Nor does he dare to take the Conservatives back to being a western rump party.

The west can keep thinking of its resource based economy as being the answer but reality is that no party can carry the country without addressing the east’s need for a strong business economy to match. This is a country desperately in need of economic balance and our leaders have to start thinking about how to get us there.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

C.D. Howe tells Ontario how.

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Clarence Decatur Howe, minister of everything important in the Mackenzie King government, was never one our favourite Liberal role models but we always gave him the credit for creating Trans-Canada Airlines (now Air Canada) and for the amazing effort he put into Canada’s war materiel production in the Second World War as well as the remarkably quick switch to reconstruction after the war. The C.D. Howe Institute named for him is a right-wing think tank with much more credibility than the Fraser Institute. It means when the C.D. Howe Institute tells you how you can make money, you best listen.

And the C.D. Howe Institute gave some very good advice to Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa last week and he had better listen up. The institute told Charles the same thing we have been telling him, repeatedly, over the past year. If he chooses not to listen to Babel-on-the-Bay, that is his problem. If he chooses not to listen to the C.D. Howe Institute, then the Wynne government has a problem with him.

What the institute said very simply was that “The lack of competition in Ontario’s system for alcoholic beverages causes higher prices for consumers and foregone government revenue.” You can deny the logic of that when it comes from someone who merely understands retail merchandising but now the capitalists and economists are on board.

But you can bet the government will fight back. These paternalistic political Neanderthals in Ontario think that they are doing something socially responsible. They actually pour profits into the pockets of foreign-owned beer companies by setting the minimum prices for selling beer in Ontario. The Beer Store operates the worst, inconvenient and most regressive system of retailing in this province and the government stupidly takes pride in screwing the consumer.

What the government fails to understand is that they would create more jobs, reduce binge drinking and earn more in taxes with beer being distributed through convenience and other food stores. The vertical integration of the majority of beer sales in Ontario is not just an impediment for the consumer but a choke on government tax earnings.

And as much as the politicians will rally around the LCBO ‘model,’ it is a failure in multi-billion dollar proportions. It is a lasting tribute to the ignorance of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of 100 years ago and the politicians who allowed the WCTU’s foolishness.

The effective transitioning of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario to private hands would produce billions in found revenue to the province as well as assure the continued growth of annual revenue from the sales. And when the C.D. Howe Institute tells you can make more money from something, you know you can take it to the bank.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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

Liberals playing stupid numbers game.

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

It makes sense that you would not waste your good ideas a year before the election but nobody wants to play the numbers game. It is just that the last thing that voters care about is how many seats you might win a year from now. And it sounds very naïve to tell reporters that Canadians want a stable, strong government. It was with that banality that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wrapped up the Liberal’s Edmonton caucus meeting this past week.

It seems like a terrible waste of time and money to put the caucus on display in not so friendly territory and not deal with ideas and opportunities. Why, for example, could the meeting not consider questions important to Albertans? Why should all these non-Albertan Members of Parliament not have an opportunity to learn directly about the need to exploit the Athabasca tar sands? There are sure a lot of people in that part of the country who would like to talk on that subject.

As a counterpoint, there are also some fairly enthusiastic environmentalists who might have conflicting ideas on that exploitation. With the environmental blindfolds of the current government, it might be helpful for the caucus members to hear from the people on the firing line. It would be such a fine thing for Justin Trudeau and his caucus to show that they give a damn about our Canadian environment.

Instead Justin Trudeau seems to have a strategy that says no voter will be left behind. If they do not at least get to take a selfie with Justin, they will have an opportunity to vote for one of his hand-picked candidates next year.

The only people that seemed to take the Liberals seriously in Edmonton were at the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa. They issued some relatively snide comments on the meeting that we do not need to repeat. The PMO even sent MP Chris Warkentin into the Edmonton Westin where the Liberals were meeting. It was like riding a manned torpedo into unfriendly waters and finding out the torpedo and the rider were both duds.

Warkentin told reporters covering the Liberal meeting that the Liberals had spent three days discussing things that did not seem to matter to Canadians. When asked if the Conservatives were worried about the Liberals, he said “Absolutely not.” We assume if the Conservatives were really worried they would have sent someone more important to rain on the meeting.

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Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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