Archive for October, 2015

Democratic renewal has to start at the top.

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

If you think the Trudeau Liberals will push democratic renewal very far, you need to learn what politicians mean when they say they will study something. Admittedly the Liberals never dreamed they would go from third-party status to a majority government in a single election. It is why Leader Justin Trudeau made the slip of the tongue that this might be the last election in which Canadians use first-past-the-post voting. There might be more steps to that change than Justin Trudeau realizes and you best not bet heavily on it happening all that soon.

And the truth is that democratic renewal has to start at the top. The most serious challenges to our democracy over the past nine years have originated in the Prime Minister’s Office. And the second worst have been from the offices of the leaders of the opposition parties.

Stop and think for a minute about why the leader of one party kicked two members of his own party out of the party caucus. They were accused of doing what young men have been doing when dallying with young women since the beginning of time. Without proof or a chance at a defence they were kicked out of caucus. This was the same leader who promised he would not interfere in ridings choosing candidates and then was picking candidates in Toronto.

At least the Conservatives were honest about running their party from the Prime Minister’s Office. There was never any pretence at democracy. And you can see the good it did them.

Even if Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau did suggest that this was the last time Canadians might use first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting, there are more than a few problems. First of all, getting a consensus from Canadians on a replacement voting system is unlikely. Both Ontario and British Columbia allowed their citizens to vote on change and both rejected the proposals. The Trudeau government would never get away with arbitrarily changing how Canadians vote. And it would be anti-democratic to try.

Some Liberals might think there is no difference between a ranked ballot (preferential voting)—where you mark your ballots for choice one, two, three, etc.—and FPTP but there is a very serious difference when you let the losers on the first ballot pick the winner. It is certainly not the same as a run-off election.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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The small thinking of the railroader.

Friday, October 30th, 2015

It was a long time ago. When heading to Montreal for an important luncheon, we heard the Toronto airport had problems and instead of going west to the airport, the route chosen was south to Toronto’s Union Station. With one more passenger comfortably seated in the club car, the train started for Montreal. It almost got to Guildwood station (at the eastern edge of Toronto) before it stopped and started backing up. It went all the way back through Union Station and into the freight yards and there it sat—for more than an hour.

Somewhat concerned about the delay, we headed down the train looking for a conductor. Finding one he laughed and responded to our query about forward progress with “Missed your plane, did you?” He turned to some regulars he was talking with and said “Another frequent flyer!”

That was the last time we took a Via train unless we had a very good book and some down time to waste. In Canada the railroader’s definition of ‘on time’ is ‘what day?’

It is also why we have always been very impressed with France’s TGV and the Japanese Shinkansen. They are inexpensive, electric, fast, on time and Via Rail cannot compete.

But what really galls is that at the turn of the Twentieth Century, southern Ontario had a network of interurban electrified rail cars that carried parcels and passengers efficiently and well. We gave up that advantage for the pollution of the internal combustion engine and slower diesel trains.

This subject arises from reading that the CEO of Via Rail has a scheme to lay before the new Minister of Transport in the Trudeau government. He wants the feds to approve a $4 billion plan for Via Rail to have dedicated tracks in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal rail corridor. He wants to more than double the number of trips from each city each day. He thinks this would convince more commuters to switch from their automobile to the trains—as many as five million more passengers per year.

Like most railroaders, the Via CEO thinks small. Yes, we need dedicated tracks for passenger trains in the corridor. They should also be electrified and capable of handling speeds of more than 300 kilometres per hour. That speed would challenge air travel as well as the private automobile. Mind you, the trains would need to be on time.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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The Social Democratic opportunity.

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

New Democratic Party members have a rare opportunity over the next four years to create a political party for Canada’s future. They are uniquely based to change the NDP into Canada’s first social democratic party. It would be the kind of political party that the founders of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) were really contemplating when they wrote the ill-conceived and inflammatory Regina Manifesto.

The 1960 creation of the New Democratic Party (NDP) stepped away from some of the socialist rhetoric of the Regina Manifesto but still clung to the class-struggle as the union movement became a dominant force in the party. It was a major rekindling of the party but also created an on-going dichotomy between the socialists, unionists and progressives of the party.

In the subsequent 50 years of the New Democrats, some of the union support has been lost to the Liberals and the party has struggled with a more progressive stance and language. The party has been confusing the voters in some cases by seemingly running on the right of the Liberals. The fiscal conservatism promised by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair in the last federal election hurt the party more than it helped. It enabled Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to offer ‘Real Change’ and make the idea stick.

But the truth is that Liberal Trudeau has yet to define where he stands in the right-left spectrum of politics. We will gain a much better idea of what his political stance might be over the next couple of years. Left or right is hard to determine when making promises but much easier to discern when managing those promises.

What will be learned over the next couple years will largely determine the direction for Canadian politics. We know now that the NDP certainly has to plan for a clearer view of the future. There is also a very large number of Canadian Liberals who fall into the progressive pot. It is that pot that needs to be stirred.

The question in two years will be: Do the New Democrats form a new social democratic party and invite progressive Liberals to join or do the New Democrats join the Liberal Party and help change it into a social democratic party? We should know the answer to that well before the next federal election.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Bobbsey Baird is out; Is Bobbsey Kenney in?

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

This might be a last chance to write about the Bobbsey Twins of Canadian Conservatism. They are sure breaking up that old gang. Without the Hair to crack the whip over those sled dogs of his, they are scattering to the sounds of different drummers.

The first Bobbsey Twin John Baird has already left for the allure of anonymity in the private sector. And nobody cares how he spends his idle hours as he accepts the right directorships and consults for special billionaire friends. Would he have survived in his Ottawa area electoral district in the 2015 Liberal sweep? It is unlikely.

But the Bobbsey Twin long-considered heir apparent to Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney is still standing in his Calgary Midnapore seat after the October 19 devastation. Kenney is the Conservative Party’s expert on pandering to ethnic groups. (Ontario Conservative Patrick Brown paid close attention to Kenney’s advice on the 100,000 Indian Sub-Continent immigrants in Ontario to elect him provincial party leader.)

This ethnic expertise of Kenney was what the Conservatives were counting on in the election. He let them down. His problem was that in the cascading crumbling of the Conservative Party, Kenney was not only the main attack dog on the Islamic State terrorists. He was kept busy answering for Canada’s military, immigration and anything else the Prime Minister did not want to handle. It was only when Kenney was answering for Finance Minister Joe Oliver that the party realized how ridiculous it looked.

But the challenges ahead for the 47-year old bachelor are daunting. Kenney had much of his rigid Catholicism muted by orders of the prime minister but it is in his resume to haunt him. Maybe it will assure him support by the party’s right-wing extremists but will lose him the older, more understanding progressives that still linger in the Conservative Party, particularly in Ontario.

The conflict in Kenney’s position is that while progressives will not care too much about his attraction to women or lack there of, the questions will challenge his more extremist supporters. The guy might just be androgynous for all we know or care.

After all, Canada had something of that question with long-serving William Lyon Mackenzie-King. It was only after he died that we realized his most influential advisers were his long-dead mother and his dog.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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A return to the boredom.

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Tom Clark’s West Block show on Global went back to its half-hour format last Sunday. Tom was away and it was a return to boredom. If we really wanted to be bored that much, we could have gone to church. Just look at the line up for the show on Sunday:

The first guest was the long-serving Ralph Goodale MP from Regina. Goodale is supposed to be a Liberal but seems to always get elected by reassuring his constituents that he is more fiscally conservative than either his Conservative or New Democrat opponents. Goodale did a typical political run-around of all the questions asked of him and we were glad when the interviewer finally got a chance to say “Thank you.”

Next was Major-General (Retired) Lewis Mackenzie. Maybe the producers meant the interview with the general to be funny. He actually told that nice reporter Vassy Kapeolos that the only way the Liberals could bring in anywhere near 25,000 Syrian refugees in the next several months was by bringing in only widows with children. He actually said this category did not need security clearances.

That shows you that former soldiers neither make good immigration ministers nor financial advisers. These are not Filles des Roi we are importing to correct any boy-girl discrepancy. MacKenzie seemed to have no idea of the economic cost to the public of bringing just single parent families to our country.

To round out the children’s half hour, the next guest was Canada’s former Finance Minister Joe Oliver—who was seriously trounced last Monday in his Toronto riding. Of all the Conservatives defeated in this year’s election, Joe Oliver might have been the last to realize he did not have a job anymore.

There used to be a Progressive Conservative Party in Canada that had a heart. It cared about people. It understood the responsibilities of government. It understood that government was there to serve people. The Harper government never understood that. It thought government was there to serve an ideology. So did Joe Oliver.

Luckily Vassy Kapeolos was rescued in the last interview slot by Mark Kennedy of the Ottawa Citizen. Mark is a regular on Tom Clark’s show because he is a very smart observer of political Ottawa. He brought the viewers who stuck it out to the end up-to-date on the challenges ahead for the new government. He also thinks that the Conservative Party could use a good psychiatrist.

Hopefully, Tom Clark will be back soon.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Where have all the pipelines gone?

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Dan Gagnier of Justin Trudeau’s election team was the only person in the federal election campaign without the political smarts to stay away from pipeline questions. And the TransCanada people who asked Gagnier how to lobby a new government must have been impatiently stupid. There is plenty of time during the transition to the new government for questions such as that.

What is also stupid is the basic question of pipelines themselves. Canadian experience with pipelines for transmitting gas and crude oil long distances has been good. Sure, we have had some spills but gas and crude oil are known quantities and can be cleaned up by the pipeline companies.

What we have to remember is that today these companies are lying about the product, the destination, the safety and the clean-up problems of a spill. These new or retro-fitted pipelines across British Columbia, east across Canada or south across the United States are to carry diluted bitumen from the tar sands. And this stuff should not be shipped.

Those old gas and crude pipelines (with some new sections) are to be used to carry this bitumen mix at high temperatures (to keep it fluid) under higher pressures (to move more) to export points—to ship it to countries that do not give a damn about global warming.

What they do not tell you is that the refining of this bitumen into synthetic oil is the most polluting process of all. If the contents of the Kinder-Morgan twin pipelines alone were processed in B.C. the wind-swept pollution over the Rockies would cut a swath of destruction all the way to Manitoba. We would have a lot less wheat to sell and the City of Calgary would have an entirely new definition of a Chinook.

What the new government really has to do is accept the resignations of the entire National Energy Board, move the headquarters out of Calgary and choose replacements for the Board who care about our country and our environment. We must have fair and open review of these pipeline proposals—without the flagrant and insidious pandering to politicians by paid lobbyists.

Hopefully American President Obama will put an end to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline that exemplified the problem. We can also hope that the Americans also smarten up about the destructive nature of the diluted bitumen that Enbridge is shipping though the U.S. these days.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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A simple solution for Canada’s Senate.

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

During the honeymoon that our new Prime Minister Trudeau deserves, we should all try to be helpful. It is in this spirit of cooperation that Babel-on-the-Bay would like to extend a helping hand in resolving what to do about the Senate of Canada. And in as much as Justin has already told us what to do with suggestions that involve constitutional change, we will stay away from that pitfall.

As matters stand the Senate is a constitutional commitment that involves so many appointees from each province or territory and that the senators should represent their home province or territory by owning land there worth at least $4000. And that is the easy part. Where the difficulty arises is that senators are appointed by the Governor General in Council (meaning the Prime Minister) to serve until age 75.

We should change that. First of all we need to ask the current senators to resign en masse. If any are reluctant, we can probably bribe them. Since we know from the last senator to be bribed it is the senator who is charged not the briber. And if they accept the bribe, they would no longer be a senator and nobody would care.

We would then use the popular vote of the recent election to assign party standings in the senate. Those who think we should have proportional voting can have a proportionally elected Senate while we keep the first-past-the-post House of Commons. The only stipulation we need make to the new Senators is that, before they are appointed, they agree to resign at the calling of the next federal election.

It would be ideal if the different parties listed only their best and brightest to be senators as these people would have the job of reviewing all their legislation. If they only spent their time repeating what had already been said in the House, it would be a waste of our time and money.

Senators who did the job properly for a term would also have the best chance of a repeat performance after the subsequent federal election. This would give us some continuity in the Senate and the lists of potential appointees would be public to show whether the parties are taking it seriously.

The only problem that has been noted in the plan is getting rid of the present office holders in the Senate. There is some fairly serious deadwood in that house but you never know what will be left if you come up with the right bribes. And even if there are still some holdouts, just remember, they get older every year.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Go big or go home.

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

It hardly matters what level of politics you are contesting. “Go big or go home” are the watch words. The entire country witnessed the scenario through the recent federal campaign as the losers struggled with their old Bill Clinton-style “It’s the economy stupid” campaigns. They actually forced the Liberals to take a different tack. It was the tack that won the country. The best example before that though was John Tory’s campaign for mayor of Toronto last year. His SmartTrack transit plan was an excellent example. John Tory went big.

The really smart thing about it was that it was hardly perfect. It needs further assessment and lots of tweaking to make it work. What the quibblers do not realize is that no matter how much they might doubt the plan’s feasibility at least John Tory is trying to solve the problem. If anyone does not know there are serious gridlock problems in the city, they have never driven anywhere there.

The beauty of the plan is that by routing it on the Ontario Government’s GO right-of-way rail line, it is already part of the planned electrification of GO. Additional stations can be added at which the GO trains do not necessarily need to stop.

The real coup for Tory in the SmartTrack proposal is the extension to the Mississauga airport corporate centre. He can easily leave the problems and the funding for that portion to Metrolinx, Mississauga and the province while getting the credit. It looks like it will also be the saviour of the Union-Pearson Express that might find itself integrated into the plan as just another surface subway route.

One of the biggest surprises last year was when Timmy Hudak and his Ontario Conservatives took a really good plan to give beer sales to convenience stores and then scrapped it to offer to fire 100,000 civil servants. Going big is not a Conservative thing!

While Wynne was smart enough to make a deal with Quebec for some of that province’s hydro power, she has still not seen the light on the Windsor-Quebec City high-speed rail corridor. That is the ‘Go Big’ coup that can win the hearts and minds of Canada’s two major provinces. It can be the tie that binds them into the future. It is a joint venture that gives them a future.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Welcome to FPTP-Central.

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

It was never of our choosing. First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting was just something we were used to. We never thought we would be an advocate for it. It was more of a coincidence that travelling in Europe over the years, we were interested in how people voted and why they used different systems of voting. And who would have expected that fist-fights in the Japanese Diet would prove fascinating. What we have found is that it is very difficult to find a good discussion of the relative merits of various voting systems.

But Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau has ordained that he no longer wants to use FPTP to choose Canada’s Members of Parliament. Since he would obviously object to using Ouija Board selection, he is expected to want something like proportional or preferential voting. And there are many different versions of those voting systems to choose from around the world. There are also some voting systems from ancient societies that could be quite helpful to modern thinking.

No doubt some aspiring PhD candidates have written lengthy theses on the subject but none seem to survive exposure to direct sunlight. When asked to head up the “No” organization for central Ontario in the 2007 referendum on voting systems in Ontario, we found our only strong supporter was a rather hide-bound conservative. We can hardly complain though when we handily won the referendum by two to one.

What really annoys us are the silly lies spread by the advocates of preferential or proportional voting. It would seem from their web sites that a revised voting system can also solve the problem of halitosis. The only thing that proportional voting can usually solve is to preclude the possibility of a majority government. While we are not adverse to horse trading among the political parties, a true democracy requires that this trading be done in public.

But what these other systems mostly do is take the choice of who will be members of the national legislature away from the public and put them entirely in the hands of the political parties. While Stephen Harper tried very hard to be a party of one, he also showed us what was wrong with it. Sending drones to parliament to support one person’s ideology is not only a waste of money but it is demagoguery.

We do not particularly mind helping protect our democracy but we sure do hope we can get some help. It is your democracy that is being threatened.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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Canada comes over from the dark side.

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

It is a night and day comparison. Stephen Harper embodied the Darth Vader of Canadian politics. Liberal Justin Trudeau is bringing us into the light. He promised Canadians the change that was so badly needed and they followed him. And we can assure you that he is not Pierre Trudeau redux. Justin Trudeau is a very different person.

This realization came five years ago when we were arranging a dinner for the young Member of Parliament and Barrie Liberals. This writer and the wife both had a chance to just sit and chat with him. We came to the same and separate conclusions: Justin is more like his mother than his austere and aesthetic father.

Trudeau the Younger lacks his father’s intellectual curiosity. His thinking is Quebecois-based and not as worldly. He has an uncanny ability to turn himself on to dealing with a crowd. And in dealing with them, he seems indefatigable. It is as though he is drawing his energy from the hands he shakes, the selfies taken, the quick kisses and the adoration of the women. He is a ladies man.

The dark side’s Hair had no chance. The most serious mistake, the former prime minister made was to try to beggar the opposition by creating a 78-day election period. Like the times, he prorogued parliament, he used a trick to supposedly gain advantage. He lost. He had neither the youth nor the stamina to stay with Trudeau for the extended election time.

Instead of impoverishing the Liberals, the extended campaign period gave them the opportunity to extract even more money from their growing ranks of supporters. It has given rise to the suggestion that if Harper had left the election length alone, the Liberals would never have gained the momentum that took them over the top.

Sitting here in the sea of blue of central Ontario, it was hard to see the momentum growing. Who would have called for a clean sweep of the Atlantic? Who could see through the confusion in Quebec with the four parties vying so stridently for the attention of the voters? Our Toronto region certainly came through for the Liberals. The breakthroughs for the Liberals across the Prairies were isolated and urban. And thank goodness for our wonderful and beautiful British Columbia.

And Canada has come into the light. The trials of Trudeau the Younger have just begun. We just no longer have the Hair to kick around.


Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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