Archive for July, 2015

Learning about “Caveman Voting.”

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Babel-on-the-Bay received some interesting responses from readers to the commentary on the NDP plan to implement Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting if they win a majority in October. One reader supports proportional voting but he does not like the way the New Democrats and other proportional voting supporters want to “try to ram this voting system down the throats of Canadians.”

While that reader and this writer are actually closer to agreement than disagreement on the issue, he brings up some important points. The first point is the common misconception that in a democracy, the majority rules. Ours is technically a Representative Democracy. In this form of democracy we should have the right to vote freely and effectively, without intimidation for our representatives. It is the representatives that then rule on our behalf.

But democracy is also based on the value we place on the individual in society. We are ‘Demos’ the citizen body. We all share the same basic rights and we impinge on the rights of others at our peril. Yet we have people who hate our democracy because they want to impose their mores on others. We need to recognize that to rule is a privilege, not a right. And to help choose our rulers is a very serious responsibility of us all.

But we can hardly have the best rulers by choosing the lowest common denominator. We need to seek out and encourage the best. The most common complaint with First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting is that many are unhappy with it being based on plurality choice as opposed to majority. If we really want to elect by majority, we should insist on a run-off vote for the top two contenders. (And forget ranked ballots or preferential voting as those systems leave the losers to be choosers.)

The reader mentioned refers to FPTP as “caveman voting” but it really does not go back that far. We always assumed that the person who ruled the cave was the one who wielded the biggest club. FPTP is only as old and durable as it is because it seems to work for us.

But no system of voting is perfect. This writer has studied voting systems in many parts of the world and is still looking for a better solution.

The most interesting study of a Mixed Member Proportional voting system in action is what happened in Germany’s Weimar Republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s. That the Brown Shirts were able to do what they did could probably never happen again. It would be a good idea though for the NDP to check out their proposals more carefully.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Is Justin just keeping his powder dry?

Monday, July 20th, 2015

You get the impression that the quiet of the federal Liberal campaign is just the wariness of a trap about to be sprung. Maybe the Liberals are waiting to see how parents respond to the Conservative bribe. It seems to be the only thing happening. At this time in the summer the television networks are running reruns of reruns, voters are only interested in tomorrow’s weather and political pundits are taking some time off. It is a time for leaders to be attending barbeques, debate preparation sessions and getting ready for the stretch run in September and October.

And if you are worried about some political polling, you are wasting time and energy. The real national campaign starts in September. Sure the candidates are out there testing the voters, dropping throw-away literature and talking to them at their doors but even that activity will not be widespread until the kids go back to school.

Judging by the television commercials, there seems to be something going on but nothing worth worrying about. And if the Conservatives think they are impacting the Liberal vote, they might not realize that they are doing Trudeau a favour by keeping his name in front of the voters.  And the ‘Trudeau’s not ready’ ads are boring Conservative voters, delighting NDP supporters and invigorating the Liberal supporters. Harper’s strategy is not only wrong but it is backfiring on him.

It was amusing to see last week that New Democrat supporter Robin V. Sears of Earnscliffe Strategy in Ottawa is going to handicap the odds on the October 19 election for the Toronto Star. His major problem is that the Star wants to publish the findings of his handicapping this week.

Babel-on-the-Bay has always qualified its Morning Line commentaries on elections because we publish them after the writ is issued (a minimum of 37 days before a federal election). This guy thinks he knows what is going on three months before the vote. Any track aficionado knows that odds posted more than a day before the race are nothing more than speculation.

With the Conservatives keeping the Trudeau name in front of the voters, he can spend time learning the ‘adlibs’ he is going to use instead of shooting from the lip in the coming race for the wire. It matters little whether Mr. Harper attends the debates or not. The attention will be on Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau. The voters have already decided that Stephen Harper is past his ‘best before’ date. He will be gone in November.

It is at the debates that the voters will choose between to the two opposition leaders. It is when the voters will realize that Mulcair lacks the leadership ability. The debates are most likely to put the mantle of PM on Trudeau. The voters likely think he is ready now.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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NDP promise to change how we vote.

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

Ontario voters rejected a scheme for mixed member proportional voting in a 2007 referendum because the political parties wanted to appoint party faithful to the provincial parliament so that they would have representation according to the party’s popular vote. That is the scheme that New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair promises to use in future federal elections if he is elected Prime Minister. It is also the scheme that is used in countries with high rates of illiteracy.

Mr. Mulcair makes the outrageous statement in supporting this system that “The current system over represents some voices and silences others.” He goes on to try to convince us that not every vote counts in the present first-past-the-post voting.

Instead of taking the time to study different voting systems and letting the people make the decision, Mr. Mulcair and his party want to impose a process that puts unelected people in parliament to represent their political party. He ignores the fact that in Canada we have always tried to send the best people to parliament rather than people who vote blindly for a party. You would think he would have noticed how badly that idea has worked for Canada’s Conservative Party.

What is really wrong with the NDP stand on this issue is that much of the propaganda for the system is based on lies. FairVote Canada whose ideas the NDP are cribbing say that more people will support proportional voting but never provide a reason why they would. It is like the statement that this would improve the representation by women and other marginalized groups. First of all, women are not marginalized in Canada and the NDPers supporting this foolishness need to talk to women MPs in the NDP caucus.

The NDP point to the present system of voting as the reason the number of voters has been falling. One can also make a strong argument that the lack of interest among some segments of the population is more the fault of our politicians than the voting system. The recent ‘Fair’ Vote Act that is designed to disenfranchise many thousands of Canadians is also an example of a government desperate to stay in power.

The New Democrats seem to be desperate to get a turn in the Prime Minister’s office. The prospect of them then changing the voting system to their advantage is not going to appeal to many Canadians.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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The Candidate: “Staying the course.”

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

Part 7 of our series for Canada’s federal candidates.

‘If you do not have a plan, you do not know where you are going.’ Every campaign manager should write that on their forehead so that they can study it every day as they shave or put on their makeup. The one thing you know for sure is that there will always be pressure to change the plan. Candidates are always concerned. Poll workers panic. Well-meaning supporters nag. And the best campaign managers have doubts.

No matter how good your plan, the pressure to change is insidious. Any real or suspected action by opponents causes concerns. It is a serious measure of your plan if you cave. And if you do cave, you will have created a snowball that will gather costs and trouble for the rest of the campaign.

Good campaign plans we have seen are detailed, include pivot points and are fully costed. Always bear in mind though that pivot points are places where you can change direction by a few degrees. You can hardly throw your campaign into reverse. If the feed back from your ground campaign is that women’s rights are the main issue, you have to have the pivot point that can enable you to move that issue forward and leave the economy in second place. You have not changed anything but you have put your best policy forward.

As a candidate you can neither make policy nor change party policy. You have to hold off on that until you and your party are elected. What you are is the face of the party in your electoral district. Every vote that you win with your personality and charm is a plus but you will probably find that just identifying your vote and getting it to the voting places will do the job.

And you hardly need to waste your time on the party leader’s campaign. The party leader also has a plan. It might include a visit to your riding and it might not. It is usually centred on announcing the party’s policies and dealing with opponents. If it is a good plan, it will have more pivot points so as to respond more effectively to the opponents.

What is so different in this campaign of 2015 is the found time that candidates have through July and August to meet their voters. That time is precious. Do not waste it.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Poloz does because Tories don’t.

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Did nobody understand the implications of the Bank of Canada governor’s actions on Monday? Governor Stephen Poloz had no choice but to make the only move he could. He cut the prime rate again. He did no good for anybody. He just made the point.

Cutting the prime rate from 0.75 to 0.5 per cent made no difference. The chartered banks were hardly likely to pass on much of the cut. Canadians are already in enough debt thank you. Industry hardly needed lower rates. The loonie was already falling and this cut just greased the skids. And already overheated real estate markets in Toronto and Vancouver are seriously overpriced.

The problem was that the Bank of Canada governor cannot tell Canadians that the government in the person of the Finance Minister is lying to them. ‘Staying the course’ as the Conservatives see it is the worst thing for the Canadian economy. And anyone who thinks Stephen Harper is a good manager of the economy must have fallen out of their tree onto their head.

When someone drives your bus into a dumpster, you are not likely to want to re-elect him. Canada has now had two three-month periods of negative economic growth. Despite this, the Conservatives are telling us that things are going to get better the rest of the year. They have been telling us that since last year when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) started their war of attrition to drive countries such as Canada out of the oil producing business.

But with Iran having the third largest reserves of oil in the world coming back on the open market, the oil glut is hardly going to be solved soon. And with Stephen Harper having lost the farm by putting his faith in high-priced tar sands oil, Canada has to have new leadership.

But it was not just Harper putting his faith in tar sands. He has placed Canada on the outs with the rest of the world as a global warming denier. He has blatantly used foreign affairs to attempt to pander to the votes of ethnic groups in this country. He has sullied Canada’s reputation of honest and open relations. As a leader he has failed.

Our country has to refute Conservative ideology. We have to be open to new markets, new opportunities and new ideas. We have the resources, the people and the talent to build a stronger country, a stronger economy with strong international allies.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Rob Nicholson: Conservative curmudgeon.

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Would the Harper Conservatives prefer a nuclear war? It really makes you wonder when you hear the undiplomatic comments of Canada’s foreign minister. Canadians had reason to be embarrassed on Monday when the success of the Iran nuclear talks was announced. While most of the world was rejoicing, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson was ‘staying the course’ as directed by Prime Minister Harper. He was also insulting Canada’s most important allies, the Americans, the British, the French and the rest of the European Union.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu practically foaming at the mouth at turning the Iranians loose from severe trade restrictions, Mr. Harper must have been regretting his pandering for the Jewish vote in Canada. There was no place for the Conservatives to hide their faux pas. It would have required real diplomacy and that is something Canada’s Conservatives have never practiced.

The Obama administration in the United States deserved a great deal of credit for their perseverance. In combination with their European allies, the Americans stuck to diplomacy to try to resolve the nuclear danger. That seems to be an untried concept to Harper and friends. They closed the embassy in Tehran in 2012 as part of their skimming of the foreign affairs budget and rejected any further dealings with the Iran government.

And if Canada refuses to lift sanctions against Iran in concert with the Americans and the European Union, it will harm Canada more than Iran. The Conservatives can hardly dig a hole and hide from the need to do business with the entire world. You would think that they had done enough harm in putting all Canada’s eggs in the fossil fuel market. This country is still a major supplier of financial and engineering services to the world and a freer access to Tehran opens up a major market for us. Though there might be some problems with not having an embassy in the country.

And Prime Minister Harper needs to pay attention to the statement made Monday by President Obama of the United States of America. That man stood proud. He had something to crow about. And he did not take any guff from anyone. He drew an immediate line for his political enemies—and he certainly has those. He told them that if they tried to screw around with lifting sanctions according to the agreement, he would veto them. The American people will see that intransigence is a fool’s game. That is the one that Mr. Harper is playing.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Can Harper tell a trade pact from an aid package?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

Did you hear that Canada and Ukraine are signing their own free trade deal? The Ukraine had another US$ 5 billion trade deficit last year and Mr. Harper wants to sign a free trade pact. With a population 11 million larger than Canada, Ukraine’s most important trading partner to-date has been Russia. And Ukraine is in the midst of a full blown war with its trading partner Russia.

Somebody must have pointed out to Mr. Harper and his Conservatives that there are more than a million descendants of the Ukraine Diaspora in Canada. And what that boils down to is another five electoral districts that might be convinced to vote for a Conservative. Mr. Harper will take the votes for his party any way he can get them. When you see how kissy-kissy Stephen Harper can be with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for just a possible three additional ridings, you understand the plan. Harper believes that he can out-whore any other politician.

But why not be honest and start a “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine? Why disguise it as free trade. The only people it will be free for are in Ukraine. Canada will do all the paying.

There is no doubt that Canadians are sympathetic to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression but that hardly means we want to go to war to support the cause. Nor do Canadians approve of Mr. Harper being rude to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. All that has been proved is that diplomacy is definitely not Mr. Harper’s strong suite. We all know that a bully is just a coward acting out but nobody wants to test the theory with Mr. Putin.

Nor does Canada need to have the Russians pushing the Canadian envelope in the Arctic. Our very thin presence in that area is only protected by the might of the Americans. And Mr. Harper has not even been making nice with Mr. Obama lately.

For the past nine years, what international presence that Canada has left has only been used to the Harper government’s political advantage. It has been demolishing Canada’s reputation around the world and it is going to be very expensive and take years to repair.

First, we replace Mr. Harper and his Conservatives…


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Star candidate or sacrificial lamb?

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

If the son of late author Mordecai Richler had been offered his choice of electoral districts for the October election, the last choice should have been Toronto-St. Paul’s. This is not New Democratic territory. And while the voters are educated and literate they are not ones to be enthused about The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. St. Paul’s is just too far from The Main in Montreal.

You might also note that New Democratic candidate Noah Richler is a long way from his roots in Montreal and his career in England with the BBC. He might fit in with the polyglot white painters of Toronto’s Cabbagetown where he is now living but he is a lost lamb in the white bread mix of St. Paul’s. It is a shame though to use him as the New Democrats so often do with first time candidates—throw him in the deep end of the political pool and see if he can swim.

St. Paul’s is MP Carolyn Bennett’s riding. A Liberal, she has held it against all comers since 1997. While sometimes a symbol of what has gone wrong with the Liberal Party, she certainly represents St. Paul’s. From her days at Havergal College to her medical degree from the University of Toronto, she epitomizes the Toronto intelligentsia. As long as she chooses to stay in that riding, she will be very hard to unseat.

Richler is under the impression that the New Democrats will put resources into his run in St. Paul’s. If the party holds true in this, it means that he will be given enough for a modest sign campaign and a couple pieces of literature. What he will lack are the workers who would normally be available to the riding that will be drawn off to help in more promising ridings in the downtown Toronto area. Richler will be on his own.

It is disappointing that the Richler name is not more prominent in a riding where there is more of a confrontation between Canada’s solitudes. Other than his novels, Mordecai Richler was known for his polemics on Quebec intolerance. Noah Richler obviously escaped from this anti-Semitic environment at a young age even if it left some scars.

If New Democrat, Noah Richler expects St. Paul’s riding to be Toronto in microcosm, he could not be further from the truth. A novice politician might make that mistake going from one downtown electoral district to another. The truth is that downtown Toronto is a world apart from the suburbs. It is the city as a whole that needs to be understood—and appreciated.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Do Conservatives consider Justin Trudeau dangerous?

Monday, July 13th, 2015

While most Canadians simply laugh off the silly “Trudeau’s not ready” commercials playing with increasing intensity on English-language television, there is another more layered campaign underlying it. This more insidious campaign is spreading through social media and says that Trudeau is ‘dangerous.’ If you have not received the core threats of this campaign, it is probably because you do not fit the demographics.

If you are not a rabid right-to-life supporter, you would not be included in the outrageous campaign against Trudeau for his stance on women’s rights. Not content to pillory the Liberal leader for his condoning abortion, this campaign makes statements about his stand on late-term abortions that are absolutely false. Bear in mind that this campaign is directed at the extreme right-wing religious groups who support the Conservatives in any event. The Conservatives recognize this demographic as about a third of their base vote and they will play hard ball to protect that base.

It is similar to the gun nuts. We are lucky to not have a bunch of loonies running around this country such as the American National Rifle Association. Never mind that most national police chiefs supported the national long gun registry, the Tories scrapped the registry as soon as they had a majority government. It might be hard to pin a number on the size of the gun supporting demographic, it spreads across the country like influenza. They are Conservative lap dogs and Trudeau is dangerous to them.

This background campaign gets more complex when you get into subjects such as the national security Bill C-51. Trudeau and most of his caucus supported that bill despite the screams of anguish from real liberals. We expect it was a sop to the right wing of his own caucus but it is costing Trudeau in terms of left-wing votes this fall. He tells us that the bill can be fixed but Trudeau hardly needs the ruction. The Conservatives are gleefully picking at the Liberal scabs.

And that is how the Conservatives still hope to win the October election. They have the bags of money from years of fund raising from their more rabid followers. Despite all their mistakes and bad planning, Mr. Harper is staying beyond his best-before date to try for one more mandate as Prime Minister.

The Conservatives have a base vote of close to a quarter of Canada’s voters. They proved four years ago that they could vilify the Liberal Leader, concentrate on their base and misdirect voters in close ridings to win. It was made easy when only 61 per cent of voters cast their ballots. We need to improve on that.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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The Hair makes his first mistake.

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

In front of a bored group of children in gym clothes the other day, the Hair announced the obvious: Canada is in an economic ‘downturn.’ Neither he nor Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver has used the ‘Recession’ word. Even with our economy so obviously in the crapper, the Conservatives will stay the course, the Hair informs us. It could be the beginning of a crumbling Conservative campaign for re-election.

Whether Canada’s current economic doldrums are a full-blown recession or not is still to be resolved. Economists with the major banks and investment houses are arguing but if we have one more quarter of no growth in gross product, it will officially be a recession.

In the finest tradition of his Parliamentary Secretary Paul Calandra, the Hair knows that any question can be easily answered by ignoring it. The Hair told the children in his audience that the downturn was not his fault. After all what is the point of telling children that by choosing to put all of Canada’s future in the hands of the oil and gas industry, he had backed the wrong horse. And he is not about to admit that the destruction of Canada’s manufacturing sector was as deliberate as it looked,

The Hair is very proud of his government’s “strong fiscal discipline” which means nothing will be done about the economic ‘downturn.’ Joe Oliver certainly seems to buy that. He also tells us that he is a ‘stay the course’ type of guy. And if he said there will be a surplus this year, he will make sure the figures say there will be a surplus this year. He is not about to change the story just before a federal election.

It is also critically important to the Conservatives that their supporters get money this month to prove that the Conservatives are keeping their word about the benefits of voting Conservative. While in a sane world you would expect that the government should have a couple years of surpluses under its belt before scattering largess to people who do not need the money.

Mind you, when the government recently announced that “the cheques are in the mail,” people had every reason to be puzzled. With the National Revenue Agency insisting on direct payment through your bank these days and the current drive to eliminate mail delivery to your door, these people really know how to rub salt in wounds.

But for the few people who will benefit from Conservative generosity, get it while you can buster. The Hair and his friends have caused enough hardships for Canadians.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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