Archive for August, 2014

Do nothing, deny everything.

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

One of the less endearing qualities of Conservatives is that they are never responsible for anything. To a lesser extent, Liberals often follow suit. Luckily for New Democrats, they get few opportunities to show their incompetence. The only reason the Conservatives are best at being irresponsible is that, with them, it is an ideological trait.

Take the scene the other day when Transport Minister Lisa Rait blamed everyone except the government for the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster last year. The Transportation Safety Board reported that there were 18 different factors that came together to cause the deaths of 47 people. The only factor missing in the report was the Conservative government’s failure to take responsibility.

That seems to be a common problem with Conservative governments. They relax the rules and then fail to enforce their minimal standards. In Ontario, the Harris Conservative government cut the funds for water quality inspection and then were surprised when a community drank water laced with e-coli bacteria. They just denied responsibility.

Transport Canada relaxes the rules and allows a single over-worked engineer to run a train with a miss-labelled cargo. There were so many wrongs in how that railroad was being run, why was anyone surprised when a train ran unsupervised and unmanned into the middle of a sleepy town?

But that is the basic problem. Conservatives love business. We know that. There is nothing wrong with loving business. It is their trust of business that is wrong. Business runs best when it knows the rules and knows there are consequences for ignoring the rules. These ignorant, laissez-faire Conservatives think that business is going to police itself. And surprisingly most properly run businesses will because they have a reputation to protect. It is the bad apple that needs to be identified and helped to understand that there are reasons for rules.

Transport Minister Lisa Rait said it the other day: “The government puts the rules in place. The companies are expected to follow.”

We could not imagine a more naïve and stupid statement. Without oversight, without checking, there will always be people who will take shortcuts to profits.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Harper is culpable and should be charged with complicity in the murder of the Canadians killed in Lac-Mégantic by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railroad.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Bala watch out, the NIMBY’s are out.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Nothing seems to arouse passions more than when somebody decides to build something in what you consider as your backyard. There are those who will sometimes carry their protests beyond what is law-abiding. NIMBY’s we have known have been known to riot.

But the real problem with NIMBY’s is that they can sometimes get in the way of progress that is of benefit to the rest of their community. This can cause a counter reaction to nimbyism that can raise temperatures and trouble for a community.

Take the current argument in Bala, Ontario. Bala is a jewel of the Muskoka’s. It is where on warm summer weekends, we young guys used to clamber into the sharpest convertible one of us was driving and troll for nubile females. Some of the ladies with large purses were also invited to join us at Gerry Dunn’s Pavilion in the evening. You needed someone to sneak your bottle of Canadian Club rye past the vigilant provincial police.

And for scenic beauty in the area, it is hard to beat Bala Falls. It is where water from the Moon River empties into Lake Muskoka. There is enough of a drop at the Falls that at one time there was a small hydro-electric generating station there. The generating station became redundant when Ontario Hydro said that big was better and opted to go with nuclear energy.

Since what goes around really does go around and we realized small was better, there is now a company building another hydro generating station at Bala Falls. And that has brought out the NIMBYs. Since they can hardly object to the old generating station being replaced, the NIMBYs are complaining that the new generating station will block an historic portage around the falls. Nobody seems to know how many people are foolhardy enough to try to do a very dangerous portage there today or need to when it is easier and safer to do it by road.

Not surprisingly, it is property owners within sight of the falls who are screaming the loudest. They remind us of the people in Mississauga and Oakville who objected to the gas-fired generating plants for those communities. They were quite pleased to waste many millions of taxpayers’ money to get those plants out of their backyard. They had no idea what those plants would look like or how they would blend in with the surroundings.

And is it any wonder that people have less and less tolerance for NIMBYs today?


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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The Babel-on-the-Bay complaint desk is open.

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Boy, you just try to be fair and you hear about it. Babel-on-the-Bay’s complaint desk was overworked the other day after commenting on the Guelph Robocall verdict. You try to be fair because a foolish young man took the blame for something really stupid and people jump on you for not wanting to throw him in jail. If they had the real perpetrators of the crime in court, we would have been calling for a life sentence.

The Babel-on-the-Bay commentary under discussion was lamenting the ongoing cruelty of the political process in this country. There is a huge difference in politics between being competitive and being criminal. It is also a good reason why running a political campaign is not a democratic process. The factors determining how a campaign is run are time limits, spending limits and the limits on our actions imposed by criminal law.

First of all, the reason why we have always had fixed limits between the writ of election being issued and polling day is so that everyone has an equal opportunity. The campaign manager has a fixed calendar from the Returning Officer as to such campaign activities as when people can vote. The campaign manager builds the campaign within the parameters of that calendar and there is no forgiveness if you miss some critical milestone.

Spending limits are a newer aspect of campaigns and the campaign manager and the official agent have to work together to meet all the obligations. There are no ‘oops’ allowed after the fact that can remove your candidate from office. (You can look up Peterborough federal riding on that subject.)

And in addition to election law, you have criminal law. Just one example: Every political worker at some time or other has felt the urge to kick down an opponent’s sign. What stops you is that it is known as vandalism and has been the cause of getting people arrested. No campaign manager likes being woken by the police in the middle of the night to discuss what a group from the campaign thought would be a lark in the dark.

And as much as older politicos refer to the parliamentary staffs on the federal and provincial level as “kiddie land,” the reality is that the more senior members of the party usually have too many responsibilities that keep them from being available for those jobs. It is a great learning experience for these young people and we greybeards have a responsibility to keep them out of jail for some stupid act on behalf of their party.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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A resourceful, resilient Rob Ford recovers.

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Sometimes you have to eat your words. We said the other day that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford would not accept the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. He did—on his terms. With not so much as addressing the cause he was supposedly supporting, Ford pulled a number on the Toronto news media.

As someone who has supplied the Toronto media with background, articles and news releases over many years, you are sometimes amazed at how gullible the media can be. Rob Ford could pass wind and the Toronto media would want to report it. Mind you the Toronto Star would complain that it was the cause of air pollution while the Sun would comment on the smell.

While we refuse to waste time on whatever social media is hot this week, no doubt you can see Rob Ford there getting some water poured over him. Big deal. It is nothing but another cheap advertisement for Ford’s re-election campaign. It stars Tie Domi of former Toronto hockey fame, Doug Ford of former Toronto council fame and Toronto’s soon to be former mayor.

Instead of his usual suit and tie and ill-fitting dress shirt, the mayor is decked out in a warm-up suit. The event is outdoors somewhere and on the wall behind is a large sign promoting the fiction of Ford Nation. The mayor’s brother Doug and friend Tie lift what looks like a plastic cask with some water in it and covered with signs suggesting viewers re-elect Mayor Ford. We did not see any ice cubes. He does not appear to be very wet or particularly cold afterwards.

It seems the mayor missed the point. This bucket business is not about him. It is about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Rob Ford probably cannot even pronounce that. Maybe he can say ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Solving the mystery of that disease is far more important than Mr. Ford’s hopeless attempt at re-election.

We do hope though that he remembered to send in $100 or more to the Canadian ALS Society. The campaign to solve ALS is very important. Some day, there will be a solution. Re-electing Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto is much less likely.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Finding fair and impartial Conservatives.

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

We have discovered why the federal government cannot find enough people to adjudicate on its Social Security Tribunal. Murielle Brazeau, Chair of the tribunal, explains on its web site that the tribunal is fair, transparent and impartial. That must be why the Conservatives cannot find more people. There must be a limited supply of fair and impartial people among Canada’s Conservatives. There used to be about 1000 people working part time for Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security. The new tribunal serving the three agencies is trying to do the job with less than 70 people.

And then maybe the problem rests with Treasury Board President Tony Clement. This gentleman has the government purse strings in his hands. If he is not allowed to build anymore public washrooms in his Parry Sound-Muskoka electoral district, he is not going to help any of his colleagues to build them in their electoral districts. He appears to think his job is to make sure the budget deficit is thoroughly beaten next year so that the Conservatives can promise more tax cuts.

It hardly bothers Tony Clement and his ideological colleagues that they are taking out their promises on those Canadians least able to complain. These are the sick and disabled who need fast and fair assessments of their needs for government assistance.

What really rubs the wrong way in this situation is that the tribunal is supposed to be an independent administrative tribunal to provide an efficient, effective and independent appeal process. What it really creates is more barriers. It was handed a caseload of more than 7000 appeals a year ago and has disposed of only 500 of them. In the meantime, the caseload keeps growing at about 3000 per year.

And this ‘independent body’ still reports to Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney. The Calgary colleague of Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to look after the needs of the Conservative Party in anticipation of the time he hopes to inherit the prime minister’s job. He has turned a deaf ear on the appeals of the tribunal for help in doing its job.

The government’s stated intention in creating the new Social Security Tribunal was to save the government $25 million per year. It appears they are doing better than forecast on the backs of those who need help.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Why Ford and Tory skip the ALS Challenge.

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

This item has more to do with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) than the Toronto municipal election, so we are running it before our ban on municipal elections items is lifted. Known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a terrible progressive neurological disorder that destroys the body’s ability to control the voluntary muscles. And until there is some relief found for people with this disease, it remains one of the strongest arguments in favour of assisted suicide.

The ALS Association in the U.S. lucked into a summer fund-raising idea this year that is racing around North America. It is the Ice Bucket Challenge and it started with some Boston area baseball coaches. The idea is that you either have a bucket of ice water dumped over your head or you donate $100 to the ALS Association. Most people accept the ice water to show they are cool and donate the money as well. In the first two weeks of the craze on social media, the ALS Association received more than $4 million.

There being no reason why the ALS Society of Canada should not also cash in on a good idea, the promotion is getting good play in Canada. In Toronto, for example, television personalities, hopeful politicians and sports figures are getting the challenge. To-date, we understand the only major mayoralty hopefuls to accept the challenge have been Olivia Chow and Karen Stintz. Both endured a bucket of water that did nothing for their hair styling. There seems to be no answer from Rob Ford or John Tory.

Since they can both easily afford a donation to the ALS Society, we will assume they made it. Neither would want to endure a bucket of ice water over their heads. It would just be for different reasons.

It would certainly not be a problem for Rob Ford. The man desperately needs a dose of reality. The only problem is that you have not likely ever seen that man in anything other than a suit and tie and a shirt that does not fit. You have to figure that those suits are wool and worth a lot more than $100. He would not want to have a picture of himself on social media looking wet in a ruined suit.

John Tory has a different problem. We have always assumed that this gentleman wears a hairpiece. You really would not want to see what can happen when a flood of water and ice cubes hits a hairpiece. We can well appreciate his decision to pay the price of refusing the challenge.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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The political expendables also serve.

Friday, August 15th, 2014

While it is never wise to disagree with a judge, we hope the superior court justice who tried the case goes easy on the kid blamed for the Guelph Robocalls. As much as you agree with how reprehensible the act might be, letting the perpetrators of the crime pick the scapegoat is not justice.

When the Prime Minister can throw his chief of staff under the bus at the hint of possible legal action, you know that nobody is safe in politics. It is the way the system works and nobody should be proud of it. It leaves us without honour.

The truth is that in politics, nobody has your back. In a political campaign, everyone but the candidate is expendable. If you choose to act like a band of thieves, there are consequences. The arbiter of what transpires in a campaign is the campaign manager. Candidates must deal with their own demons but the campaign manager is the stand-in who deals with the workers and the suppliers. The campaign manager is the buffer that hopefully protects the candidate from liability.

This young gentleman who has been found guilty of the Guelph Robocalls charge was believed to be the campaign communications person. In most riding campaigns this person reports directly to the campaign manager. Even if the candidate requests a specific chore of the communications person, the assignment is routinely discussed with the campaign manager. That is the routine that keeps a campaign on message and on budget.

And no supplier to political campaigns would ever accept verbal instructions from some stranger named “Pierre Poutine” on behalf of the candidate. There are only three people in campaigns who can routinely order something. The people with the authority are the candidate, the campaign manager and the official agent. Delegating any person other than those three is asking for confusion and budget problems.

When talking about campaign budget problems today you are not talking about problems of paying the bills but problems of keeping expenditures within legal limits. All candidates face the challenge of presenting campaign expense reports that can pass inspection. It is not the federal or provincial election officials that candidates worry about but the angry inspection of disgruntled opponents.

Any experienced campaign manager is likely to wonder at what was claimed at the Robocall trial. It appears the judge might have been gulled. If he had experience in political campaigns, he might never have given credibility to what some people said in the trial. The kid convicted probably deserves a slap on the wrist for being naïve but not having his life ruined with a jail sentence.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Is Justin Trudeau peaking too soon?

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

With at least 14 months to go before the expected federal election, you would be wise to hold off placing bets. And it has little to do with the pollsters who see Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau leapfrogging his way ahead of both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair. It is the people running the Liberal campaign that have us worried.

The one thing you can count on over the next year is that the strategic plan necessary for the Liberals to win is going to have to change at least three times. The first change will be when the team around Trudeau realize that he does not even look like a Prime Minister and he needs stronger positioning in that role. He hardly needs to be as much of a stuffed shirt as Stephen Harper but he has to look like he can be prime ministerial.

The second change is harder to forecast because it is that point in time next year when the news media realize that Canada’s economy is going south. The problem for the team is that Justin Trudeau has absolutely no credibility in economics and his caucus is also light on possible finance ministers. The team has to sort through their candidate material for next fall and select their potential saviour—convince him or her and build an aura of action around the person.

The third possible change is not guaranteed but it is Stephen Harper’s resignation and having a new leader selected by the Conservatives. That could happen this fall with the new leader in place as prime minister in May or June. That is a serious game changer. And the new leader for the Conservatives might not be brushed off as easily as just having an interesting summer job.

There are many other things that can happen between now and the election. What we are concerned about is this team’s ability to respond strategically. It is one thing to roll with the punches through the period in time. It is another thing to take strategic advantage of whatever happens. We would question whether the team that appears to have been chosen for their compatibility with Trudeau are up to it.

It is a young team. They have an interesting mix of experience so nobody should sell them short. The only specific question mark is the choice of Dan Gagnier as national election campaign co-chair. Maybe the balance is his co-chair, the young and enthusiastic Katie Telford. Dan is a civil servant and we could not imagine a further departure from previous co-chairs such as the late Keith Davey or Senator David Smith. Their strength was their extensive knowledge of the people and the party.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Fraser Institute spreads alarm on taxes.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

There was a news flash from the Calgary based Fraser Institute the other day. Researchers there found that the tax portion of the income of an average Canadian family had gone up more than any other necessary expenditure since 1961. As the Fraser Institute only sends out tax information to convince people they are overtaxed, they left out some of the most interesting information.

When you consider what we got for our tax money in 1961, there is no surprise that we are paying more today. The Canada Pension Plan and Medicare are just two very major components of today’s taxation. Those programs where introduced after 1961 and could not be duplicated today on an individual basis by the average Canadian family.

The bias of the researchers in this release is obvious. What gives them away is what they try to hide. Their own figures point out that in 1961 the average Canadian family spent 91 per cent of their income on clothing, food, shelter and taxes. Their figures also show that in 2013, the average family spent only 78 per cent of their income on the same necessities. What it means is that despite the alarmed sensationalism of the Fraser Institute, the average Canadian family now has more than twice the disposable income for savings and optional expenditures.

And while on that vein, we should also question why the researchers would include alcohol, amusement, automobile and tobacco taxes in the tax figures but not encompass the costs in the other expenditures. That does not compute.

What also does not compute is the failure of all Canadian governments to help constrain shelter costs for Canadians. Conservative groups such as the Fraser Institute think Canadians are unrealistic in their wage demands. They seem unwilling to recognize that Canadians live in a cold climate. Our shelter costs are higher than in many other countries. With this are the higher heating and cooling costs, Clothing also costs more in Canada than in more temperate regions of the world.

And yes, our taxes are higher than in some other countries. In Canada you are assured medical care. We have a superior education system. We have the snow taken off our streets in winter. We spend more on our military. Many things cost more in this country. And this country is worth it. If you think you pay too much in taxes, please look at what you get in countries where they pay less.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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Bad math trumps bad science in bitumen battles.

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Following the battle over bitumen is like following a small car full of clowns. You never know what will happen next. The latest on bitumen is that a study published in the U.S. science journal Nature Climate Change has claimed that the U.S. State Department figures on greenhouse gasses from the Keystone XL pipeline are wrong. The authors are saying that greenhouse gasses emissions estimated by the State Department were underestimated by a factor of about four times.

What you might remember is that we humans are pumping some billions of metric tonnes of carbon into the earth’s atmosphere every year. It is only the rapid melting polar ice caps and drastically changing weather that are bringing more people on side in wanting to reduce these emissions.

The premise the authors are using in this new math is that the availability of bitumen to be refined into synthetic crude oil will reduce the cost of oil. This, they claim, will automatically increase the use of oil. The State Department said that refining the more than 800,000 barrels of bitumen that can be pumped down to Texas every day will increase greenhouse gas emissions by between 1.3 and 27.4 million metric tonnes annually. The authors say these figures are wrong. They estimate the increase in usage will add between 100 million to 110 million metric tonnes of carbon every year.

In as much as President Obama has said that he will not approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it increases carbon emissions, you may be sure that the authors will want to share their findings with him.

But we do not think he reads Babel-on-the-Bay. And our best guess is that he will turn down the Keystone XL proposal anyway. That means we can tell you the truth despite the bad math and bad science being used by both sides of the argument.

Canadian bitumen is unlikely to make any difference at all in the carbon emissions from the Texas refineries. Those refineries can get all the bitumen they might want from tar sands in Utah and from Venezuela’s Orinoco region. Sure Alberta has lots of tar sands it wants to sell but so does Venezuela and that county’s cost of labour is much lower. They can call it heavy oil all they want but it still is a highly polluting process to convert it to synthetic crude oil. And then you still have to refine it to produce gasoline and other oil products.

The simple facts are that Alberta is land-locked and is desperate to ship its bitumen to countries that do not care about pollution. Any coastal location where ocean-going tankers can reach is fine. South to the Texas Gulf oil ports, west to Kitimat or Surrey in B.C. or east to Montreal or Saint John, New Brunswick will do.

The exploitation companies want to sell bitumen to make a profit. There are Albertans who want to sell bitumen so that they do not have sales taxes. Less scrupulous refineries will process bitumen if it is cheaper. None of these clowns seem to care about our world environment. It all boils down to greed.


Copyright 2014 © Peter Lowry

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