Archive for May, 2015

An e-mail on preferential voting.

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

To:  tmcmeekin.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

Dear Minister McMeekin:

You must have missed reading Babel-on-the-Bay on March 26 this year. That was when one of the postings was devoted to Toronto council’s request to your Ontario ministry for preferential voting in that city’s municipal elections. The posting was about why this might not be a good idea.

It is obvious that under the pressures of your ministry’s work load, neither you nor your staff have had time to analyze the city’s request. Should you require further discussion of the subject, this writer would be pleased to help.

First of all, having been involved in municipal, provincial and federal elections for the past 53 years, we have some hands-on experience. And having held every position on a riding executive other than chair of the women’s committee, we have considerable political awareness. And having once run as a Liberal candidate, we have also spilled blood for the party.

But even then, it takes extensive study of voting systems and government structures around the world to truly understand their strengths and weaknesses. In response to the 2007 Ontario referendum on mixed member voting, we authored the Democracy Papers, a series of documents supporting our first-past-the-post voting system. The Democracy Papers are archived in Babel-on-the-Bay.com and even eight years later are accessed daily by researchers from around the world.

The very simple answer to people supporting preferential voting is that it is a system that makes the losers the choosers. It is not the complication of the ballot that is confusing. It is the suggestion that the voter has to make more than one choice. It is like back when Toronto had two aldermen per ward. A lot of mediocre candidates got elected because of that second vote.

Toronto has to be saved from its ignorance. And we certainly do not want to spread the disease across the province.

Thank you,

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

The two expressions of Joe Oliver.

Saturday, May 30th, 2015

This is not to imply that Canada’s Minister of Finance is two-faced. It is just that he seems to have only two expressions. One is that dour look that we have all come to hate. He uses it when giving financial news—which is usually bad news. The other expression is that look of surprise. That is the look he puts on in the House of Commons when he is supposed to answer a question.

And you can imagine the looks of surprise across the House when and if he ever gave a straight answer to a question.

That look of surprise was on just about everyone’s face in the House the other day when the Finance Minister recanted on possible changes to the Canada Pension Plan. He told the House that his department would be consulting with us about the possibility of allowing us to make voluntary contributions to our individual CPP account.

This was not the Joe Oliver we have come to hate and despise. He had ridiculed those making that suggestion ever since getting the job. Jim Flaherty might have been a bit more encouraging about some improvement but Oliver used his dour face. “It’s a job killer” he told us. Why it supposedly a job killer, he did not say.

It is interesting that the Ontario Liberals have been making motions about doing something to improve pensions in Ontario. It must have been because they saw a political benefit in helping Ontario voters improve their pensions. Maybe the Conservatives thought they were wrong but the Ontario Liberals not only won re-election last year but came back with a majority. Any promise with that kind of mojo was of interest to the Conservatives. They had to have a piece of that pie.

What is most likely about the Ontario move was that they thought they might force the federal government to do something. And the plan worked. The only problem is that nobody really believes that Joe Oliver will find out anything. All the Conservatives want out of this promise is to keep their majority in October.

Can you imagine just how dour Joe Oliver’s expression would be if he got a chance after the election to announce the results of his investigation. If you look closely though you would also see just the glimmer of a gloat when he announced his findings that changing the CPP would still be a job killer.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Premier Wynne and the teachers’ Greek chorus.

Friday, May 29th, 2015

If you have this Greek tragedy at Queen’s Park figured out, you might be smarter than the rest of us. It seems to be a battle of choruses. And you can only tell the players apart by the masks they present to the audience.

We know that this current conundrum has something vaguely to do with educating Ontario’s children. Now if we could also educate the educators, the politicians and the public, all would be clear.

What we do know is that our children are being held for ransom by the teachers and if the teachers do not get what they want, our children will suffer. Parents will be angered. Politicians will be blamed. The only problem with this is that these teacher choruses wear many different masks and we have no way to know what it is they want.

Politicians also wear different masks and the three major choruses at Queen’s Park snipe at each other, pointing fingers at each other. There is no lack of blame being distributed.

Some of us remember those halcyon days when the teachers and the ruling party were close and loyal friends. Teachers paid much money to vilify the Conservative leader. They did such a good job for their Liberal friends that the Liberals were returned to a majority government. That meant that the Liberals no longer needed the teachers.

And now they are not friends. They have turned their backs on each other. They do not communicate—except through the news media. The news media do not understand anything either and are not helpful.

Those of us watching this fiasco unfold know quite well that none of this mealy mouthed concern for the children matters to the protagonists. It will be the first to recognize that this is not the way to win friends or influence voters, that starts to make sense of the situation. It might take a superhuman effort but someone has to put their brain in gear and come down to a 12-word condensation of what this fighting is about.

And if they are smart enough to do that they might also propose a 12-word solution to the problem.

The alternative is to having the situation fester for the next three years and we can end up with a new government that nobody thought possible. And then we will only have ourselves to blame.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Simple solutions for simple minds.

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

It’s tough enough for politicians to get people out to vote in elections without confusing them. Yet here is New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair telling people that they are being cheated by our First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) election system. That will certainly confuse them. What he wants them to do is to elect people to parliament that are chosen by the political parties not the voters.

What Mulcair and his New Democrats are really complaining about is that despite their usually gaining about 20 per cent of the votes across Canada, they do not always get 20 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons. That is just a quirk of how FPTP voting works. If we are going to have more than three political parties, we are often going to be electing people with less than 50 per cent of the vote. Our system works on a plurality basis, not a majority.

While the smaller political parties kick and shout about the supposed unfairness of FPTP, it has worked for us since Canada became a country. We use FPTP in municipal, provincial and municipal elections. We trust it.

Smaller parties might feel cheated but the reality is that the public are not going to buy into some method of voting that they neither understand nor control. Transferable votes, preferential votes, mixed member voting or other variations are just not on the public radar. And until there is greater trust in the Internet for large scale voting, simple run-off elections are too expensive and time consuming to consider.

The problem for Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats is that they should think more before coming out with policies such as one of these other voting methods. They should remember that Bob Rae’s surprise NDP victory in Ontario in 1990 and Rachel Notley’s amazing recent win in Alberta were because of FPTP voting. Neither of those Premiers were elected with a majority. Notley’s NDP at least got 41 per cent of the popular vote and a majority of the seats in the legislature and Rae had just under 38 per cent.

If Mulcair and Company were really interested in serving the middle class in this country, they would be negotiating now with Trudeau’s Liberals and thinking of a new social democratic party for Canada. Add Elizabeth May’s Greens and you would have an unbeatable combination.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Bashing Barrie is a provincial sport.

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Queen’s Park dashed Barrie’s hopes for a university campus recently and nobody in the city is happy about it. You would swear that bashing Barrie could be made a sport as part of the upcoming Pan-Am Games. Barrie was again among the forgotten as the province announced that only York University is currently allowed to expand. And that expansion is only as far as Markham on the northern boundary of Toronto.

To Barrie’s credit, it made a very strong case for building a campus for Sudbury-based Laurentian University in the city. Georgian College already partners with a number of universities in offering degree granting courses for students in Barrie and Orillia. As it stands today, it is reported by the media that more than 80 per cent of Barrie’s young people seeking post-secondary education are forced to leave Barrie for that education.

As the major centre of population growth at the north end of the Greater Toronto Trading Area, Barrie serves a large trading area of its own covering much of Simcoe County. While most people assume that the city is just a bedroom community for Toronto, it actually is claimed to have more people coming to work there from the neighbouring areas than leave it to go to Toronto each day.

It is only Torontonians, such as Premier Wynne who assume that Barrie is just the gateway to the Parry Sound-Muskoka-Haliburton lake country. Mind you, Barrie residents are used to directing lost tourists on summer weekends that make the mistake of trying to find routes through town other than a jammed Highway 400.

But Barrie is something of a political nonentity at the moment. Having the leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park from Barrie and without a seat in the Legislature leaves the area in limbo even though represented at Queen’s Park by a Liberal backbencher. The MLA is new and has little experience, knowledge or background on what the city needs from the province.

Federally the situation has been much worse for some time as the Conservative Member of Parliament that just resigned had no real influence in Ottawa and is not expected to ever have any influence at Queen’s Park.

It will be interesting to see how much influence Bryan Tamblyn, the former president of Georgian College and candidate for the federal Liberals in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, can bring to bear on the matter. It depends entirely on whether or not he is under the thumb of the old guard Whigs who think they run the Liberal Party in Barrie.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

If trouble comes?

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

We live a very peaceful life in Canada. It was surprising though the other day when in an interview on Global Television, Tom Clark asked Ottawa’s chief of the defence staff his major concern for Canadians. Without hesitation, General Tom Lawson said his main concern was a natural disaster. He made no reference to any threats from the jihadists of the Middle East. He did note that we were well protected by moats on the east and west of our country known as the Atlantic and Pacific, as well as on the north.

The natural follow up to that answer was obviously the nature of the natural disaster that can cause concern. The General and his interviewer left that to our imagination.

What the answer did was make a lie of the Conservative government’s security legislation that is intended to convince Canadians of the threat from home grown terrorists. It is almost as though the party in power is looking for a Canadian 9-11 event that will make Canadians accept the Conservative’s police-state.

All that Canadians have witnessed to-date has been the occasional mentally ill individual taking on police, shooting a soldier or otherwise seeking attention. In a country of over 35 million people, that type of event flies under the radar of many citizens.

But what are General Lawson’s military personnel able to do if trouble comes? If the disaster in Lac Mègantic for example had taken place in Montreal, it would have taken a major effort by Canada’s army to assist local authorities to provide aid and order when casualties could be in the tens of thousands.

And when you consider the growing numbers of abnormal weather events across North America, you start to wonder just how prepared Canada’s military is to provide the necessary assistance. Sure, we had a good laugh some years ago about Toronto’s mayor calling in the army because of a larger than usual snowfall, yet the army seemed as confused as the mayor about what to do about it.

We have a federal government that has not only been ignoring climate change but accelerating it on behalf of their friends in the oil and gas industry. The unusual in the weather department seems to be becoming the norm.

The question is whether the Canadian military is as prepared as it could be? It is the Conservative’s penchant for taking funds from where they might not be noticed that worries us. Are we really properly prepared if trouble comes?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

It takes a politician to screw up a good war.

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Listening to Defence Minister Jason Kenney doing the rounds of the news recap shows on television this weekend one thing was obvious. Kenney probably has not heard a word of what his military advisors are telling him. He set up Canadians as the biggest patsies of all when he sent those F-18s to the Middle East to fight the gangsters of ISIS.

This is not war. This is a terrible waste of Canadian money. Every time a laser-guided bomb is released over Iraq or Syria the taxes of another 20 Canadian families are wasted. And we have absolutely no idea of how effective that bomb was in slowing down those Arab hoodlums.

Whatever we are doing is obviously not working. We can maybe cut the ISIS supply lines for today but what can we do when the Iraq soldiers run away when the ISIS bogeymen threaten them?

When you go to war you need many things. To stupidly select just jet-fighter launched bombs and rockets guarantees failure. Does the jet pilot find a chocolate on his pillow when he returns to base at night?

To interdict these brigands you need to deal with them where you can see their eyeballs. If you would rather not put your soldiers at risk on the ground then use helicopter gunships, tanks, field artillery. You can reduce the risk but war is about people being willing to kill each other. If you do not understand that, you are in the wrong job.

Nobody expects the Minister of Defence to be schooled in Sun Tzu’s Art of War or Carl von  Clausewitz’ On War but the blather Minister Kenney was spreading on the weekend was thin and weak. It seemed in all the video clips from his weekend in Iraq and Kuwait with the Prime Minister, he had nothing to say. He should be so wise as to shut up now.

It is becoming very obvious that the Conservatives have taken Canadians down the garden path and some how ended up in Syria. We not only do not belong in Syria but there is no side we would want to be on. The mess in Iraq is almost as bad. At least there is a political structure in Bagdad that pretends to be in charge.

If the Prime Minister got us into this mess to kiss up with the Obama administration in Washington, he has wasted our time and money. Obama is still going to tell Harper to shove his Keystone XL pipeline where the sun does not shine,

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

The Hair’s hopes in Quebec are fading.

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

The pundits are catching on. There are a paucity of votes for the Hair and his party among voters in Quebec. Mind you, there are even fewer for the Bloc. This fall in Quebec, it will be a head to head contest between the Liberals and New Democrats. The other votes are just spoilers. And do you think Quebec voters are not conscious of the position they are in?

Quebec, more than any other province in Canada, wants change. The province wants to get out of the Conservative yoke that it put on when it voted for the Orange Wave in 2011. The voters never really acknowledged their error but might in the fall. What they know is that the Hair will target five to seven seats in the province and be lucky to win one. And the Liberals will need to win some of those NDP seats for a majority.

The only seat of interest targeted by the Conservatives is Mount Royal. With a Jewish population of over 35 per cent, it has been held by the Liberals since it was Pierre Trudeau’s riding for his years in politics. The Hair has pulled every dirty trick and pandered outrageously to the Jewish voters to try to replace a highly respected Liberal MP Irwin Cotler. It is only the fact that Cotler is retiring that gives the Hair hope.

But that seat is not guaranteed. Even the four or five Tory base of ridings in the Quebec City area are now in question. That is how determined the mood for change has permeated the thinking in Quebec. The dislike and disrespect for the Hair’s Conservatives is undeniable. No amount of anti-terrorist propaganda is going to change the Quebec attitude.

What has to be resolved is the struggle between the restored Liberals and last election’s New Democrats. It is the memory of Pierre Trudeau fighting the memory of Jack Layton. Both are false memories.

Jack Layton spoke a street French that gave voters a laugh. Pierre Trudeau spoke educated French that annoyed them. Jack Layton was still an Anglo.

But Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair are both Quebecers. Mulcair is so French he carries passports for both Canada and France.

Young Trudeau offers youth and vibrancy. Tommy Mulcair is boring.

Which one do you think offers Quebecers the change they want?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Butter the edges, the middle will look after itself.

Saturday, May 23rd, 2015

It is one of those old adages that you might have heard once or twice in grandma’s kitchen. We probably heard it wrong as research turns up no reference. It is just the simple idea that if you butter the edges of your slice of bread, you will find the middle has been buttered also. The thought has been nagging at us for some time as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau keeps talking about Canada’s middle class.

The problem is that we have no idea of the size of this middle class or how it is defined. Is this a financial measure or just a state of mind? As one of six siblings with just mother trying to raise us our family might not have passed any middle class financial test. Yet one brother earned a doctorate at MIT and another made millions. Presumably the rest of us are satisfied with just thinking we are middle class.

But who gets to choose? Is Canada some brave new world of predetermined class structure? Are our politicians the dystopian rulers who decide? It might be easy for the Conservative Prime Minister as he only worries about the one per cent anyway. That leaves the rest of us to be divided up between the Liberals and the New Democrats.

And who gets the poor? Have they been left out? Does no one give a damn about them? They are certainly not top of mind. When you realize that minimum wages set provincially across this country are all set below the statistical poverty line, it appears nobody cares.

The largest swath of potential voters must be in the middle because the New Democrats are also trying to crowd in on the middle class with young Trudeau. If Tom Mulcair was not such a stuffy little man, it might be a fair fight. And has Mulcair really turned his back on the labouring class?

But it does not answer our question about which politicians would give a damn about mother and her six rug rats in this day. It seems everyone wants to cuddle up to the undefined middle class. Obviously mother would still be left to her own devices.

Is this just the new cycle of life that we are born into poverty only to struggle and brazen our way into the middle class? As we then cycle into our failing years, does the planned inflation return us to poverty? Are we once more ignored?

The more you think about it, the more the buttering of the edges makes sense. If we took better care of the very young and the very old, there might not be very much poverty for the politicians to worry about.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

It’s the Third Law of Politics too.

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Not all of us are trained in physical sciences but we seem to easily grasp Newton’s third law of physics. It simply makes sense that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. It should come as no surprise that it also applies to other aspects of life. We have become used to it in politics. We expect it.

The difference in politics and human relations is that the reaction to a given force is not necessarily immediate. The energy expended in a slight or perceived grievance, can be stored and accumulated over time. In that time of storage, that energy can feed on itself and gain strength in its host. It can return with more energy than the original force.

After four years of an arrogant and autocratic Conservative majority government in Ottawa, you can witness the hapless hostages to their policies who are lining up for their time to react. The government scientists had their turn the other day. They had little nice to say about their political masters. Their frustration was even greater given the likelihood of little succour as long as the Conservatives rule.

What should have further enraged these scientific minds was the promise by the Conservatives to push new and less onerous greenhouse gas emissions targets out to 2030. Since they have missed all their earlier promises, nobody is really impressed with these new promises. Everyone is still waiting to see how the Conservatives intend to rein in their friends in the oil and gas sector who are exploiting the tar sands.

An unexpected blow back for the Conservatives was the charges against the RCMP under the Canada labour code for the deaths of three R.C.M. Police officers in New Brunswick. It is not possible to sue the government for what they did so the second choice was for the Mounties to be charged under Canada’s labour code. This can result in heavy fines and possible jail time. Commissioner Paulson will probably resign before going to jail for the Conservatives. After all it was Treasury Board President Tony Clement who denied the federal police the carbines and training that had been budgeted for and had been approved by Parliament.

This is just one example of how the Conservatives think they should rule—by subterfuge and deception. They lie. They belittle the parliamentary processes but use them to their own objectives. They use government resources as their own to pander to voter groups. They embarrass Canadians with their wilful abuse of Canada’s formerly decent foreign affairs operations. They put themselves forward as our guardians of peace while stirring a hornets’ nest of hatreds by choosing sides instead of diplomacy.

A government is chosen to serve the people. These Conservatives think they were elected to serve themselves.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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