Archive for November, 2015

A tale of two finance ministers.

Monday, November 30th, 2015

It was the best of times–for the provincial government. It was the worst of times–for the federal government. A blogger ahead of his time from the 19th Century, Charles Dickens understood that conundrum. Dickens wrote best sellers as pamphlets and fed his readers a chapter at a time. Today, anything more complex than 140 characters in a twit seems to strain the attention span.

But finance ministers have special problems. While our new federal finance minister is busy bemoaning the size of the deficit left to him by the previous Conservative government, his provincial counterpart has a different song to sing. It seems that the (drum roll please) surprisingly good management of the provincial Liberals is the good news in Ontario.

We are told that Ontario will be below its deficit target for the coming year. Finance Minister Charles Sousa has announced that Ontario will beat the expected deficit level by over a billion dollars. It seems, Charles tells us, the sale of Hydro One shares is already fattening festive calves at the Queen’s Park money rooms.

While Charles is not ready to create a balanced budget until just before the next election, he is now more confident. And do not forget that he has more of the Golden Goose, known as Hydro One, to sell.

Meanwhile federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau is the new boy on the financial scene. Since incoming new governments always disagree with the figures provided by the defeated government, nobody was surprised when he “discovered” that the fiscal surplus promised by his predecessor was really a deficit. At a promised $1.4 billion, the surplus-come-deficit was only about one per cent of the federal budget. Morneau’s bad news was that it will really be about a $3 billion deficit.

This federal $3 billion does not factor in the Liberal’s promised deficit financing on infrastructure spending to get more Canadians working. Again, the Federal Liberals intend to run these until before the next federal election when they will also produce a balanced(?) budget. Morneau has four years in which to figure out how to do that.

Most knowledgeable financial experts gave Morneau a pass on his claim that his predecessor might have exaggerated. They thought he was only feeding the media a bit of B.S. on his claimed deficit. They did not treat Charles Sousa at Queen’s Park as kindly. They thought he was counting the same money too many times.

You have to be really old to remember the times when we used to take a finance minister’s claims as gospel.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Pay yourself first.

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

It is a rule that the rich have to follow. They are taught that you always pay yourself first. It is how they stay rich. Take the situation of Chief Executive Officer Paul Godfrey at Postmedia. The company loses hundreds of millions of dollars every year and the stock is in the toilet. If the company was any more leveraged, the fulcrum would be left behind.

But CEO Godfrey and his inner circle still get their bonuses. Paul took home his one and a half million or so this year from a company that he acquired out of bankruptcy with a very large chunk of American hedge fund money. His promise was to slash costs and salaries to profitability. He is still a long way from that objective.

The recent and highly-leveraged acquisition of the English-language assets of Sun Media has not produced his promised reduction in the fiscal bleeding. The leveraged buyout from Karl Péladeau’s Quebecor for just $316 million was a good deal until you realize that it added another $650 million to Postmedia’s already massive debt.

Maybe that is all you need in business today. Nobody denies that Paul Godfrey has chutzpah but with his added hubris, you would think he would look for better challenges. He might have lost his friend Stephen Harper in Ottawa despite his forcing all of his newspapers to endorse the Conservatives but he has embraced Barrie Ontario’s own Patrick Brown as though he were a long lost son. His next ambition could be to make that boy Premier of Ontario.

Mind you the question of making Patrick Brown palatable to Ontario voters might be far more of a challenge than even Paul Godfrey can handle. As you have noticed lately, the lad only speaks occasionally but he does have a decent hair cut, an expensive suit and the proper accessories. At least Patrick no longer looks like a sow’s ear.

But the concern is that Paul Godfrey’s house of cards at Postmedia is working on constantly diminishing returns. If Paul keeps paying himself and his henchmen while still paying the vigorish to the American hedge funds, he will ride that gravy train right into what Lord Connie Black recently referred to as his own end zone. And as other writers have noted, Paul is no wunderkind in the newspaper business. He is barely in the mainstream of Canadian politics. Maybe at 76 it is time for him to take his millions and retire to some warm place in the sun.

The newspaper business is no longer for people who love the smell of newsprint. Paul was always a manipulator and never an innovator. As a retiree, he could just carp about things like the rest of us.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

“Justin, Justin, Where have you been?”

Saturday, November 28th, 2015

“I’ve been to London to see the Queen.”

And that was it. Our fealty assured, Prime Minister Trudeau went on to Downing Street to meet the guy who really runs things in England. These meetings were scheduled ahead of the Malta meeting of the heads of the British Commonwealth of Nations. There is little time there for anything more than a pro forma ‘Hello’ in Malta. There are more important fish to fry in that venue.

The objective is to restore Canada as a leader in not only the Commonwealth but in world politics. Hobnobbing with the Queen in that meeting would be a waste of valuable face time with key United Nations contacts who are also members of the Commonwealth. It is also a good bounce pad to arrive fresh and relaxed at the Paris climate change conference.

And Trudeau is no royalist in any event. As a Quebecer, he is ambivalent to the Queen. On meeting her (he was a lot younger last time they met) he was probably thinking “Nice old lady—so this is today’s British Empire!”

Mind you, she complained mildly when answering the toast he was asked to make to her at a Commonwealth dinner that he was making her seem old. The time has long gone when the monarch could say “Off with his head.”

The facts are that there really has not been a British Empire since Prime Minister David Lloyd George left Whitehall after the First World War. What Winston Churchill had left for the Second World War was mainly bluster. It was the Americans, Canadians and allies who supplied and fed the Brits during that war and joined them in sacrificing their young on the battlefields.

What Prime Minister David Cameron knew when he met with Trudeau in London was that the Canadian had no interest in supporting more bombing of Iraq and Syria. He knew better than to ask Trudeau to keep Canadian planes there to support Old Blighty.

And Trudeau had a plan ready to impress the gathering of Commonwealth members by offering more money towards the fight against global warming. He could then go on to the Paris climate conference with a broad array of Commonwealth countries already in his corner. Justin Trudeau has done more for Canada’s foreign relations in the past month than Stephen Harper could do in nine years.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

No apology was necessary.

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Immigration Minister John McCallum sounded a bit testy with the news media the other day. They had probably forced him to give the same answer to the same question more than five times. McCallum has shown that weakness before. He is not long on patience.

This media approach gives the news editor for the television stations the lead the editor wants. There is a range of expressions from smiling to exasperation on the face of the interviewee. It provides a range to suit the desired bias.

What McCallum does not realize is that he is playing into the hands of the media. And, in the long term, it reflects on Justin Trudeau’s choice of immigration minister.

McCallum struck us as an odd choice from the time of his swearing in. As an economist, he has always been somewhat of right-of-centre politician. He was probably better suited to the role of Minister of National Defence in the Chrétien government but even in that job he ran afoul of the news media.

McCallum and Ralph Goodale from Regina are the hard-noses of the Trudeau cabinet. Goodale is probably right at home as public safety minister but would really have liked the finance portfolio. Goodale likely keeps getting elected in Saskatchewan by acting more right-wing than his Conservative opponents. Of the two, Goodale seems to handle the media better.

But someone needs to wise up McCallum. As immigration minister he is handling his government’s promises on Syrian refugees as best he can. To absolutely nobodies’ surprise, he had to say that the government would not have all 25,000 proposed immigrants in Canada to celebrate the New Year 2016. He bravely assured the media of some 10,000 celebrants but said the other 15,000 will be as much as two months late.

This was good news. McCallum needed to be smiling. Regrettably, he came across as being somewhat affronted that the news media wanted an explanation of what they obviously considered to be slip-shod planning. The logistics involved in this are staggering and instead of crowing about the government’s degree of success, he was defensive.

What John McCallum needs to realize is that he has a relatively cushy job to do and he should have fun at it. If you try to do the job with a pout, the media will find you out.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Two thumbs up for the Charbonneau show.

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

As Cole Porter put it in “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” to open his hit musical Kiss me Kate, there really is no business like show business. And there is nothing more insidious than the omertá of the Mafia and the corruption of politicians. Madame Justice France Charbonneau’s enquiry into construction in Quebec ran an extra two years and produced a libretto of more than 1600 pages. There will be the appropriate clucking of tongues, promises of definitive action and the report will be filed and forgotten.

What surprised the enquiry more than anything else was that the politicians were skimming more money from construction in Quebec than the Mafia. That poses a challenge to the Mafia bosses and their henchmen in the biker gangs. There could be more “examples to others” swimming with the fishes and the fecal matter in the St. Lawrence River.

The Superior Court Justice actually said that “This report tries to address the problems with concrete solutions.” That might mean there could be more recalcitrant contractors wearing concrete boots looking up from the bottom of the river.

What the report misses is the ingrained lassitude of Quebecers towards this stealing. There is something of a measure of pride in how efficiently the skimming is done. The analysis shows that the Mafia and bikers are getting about 2.5 per cent of contracts while the politicians are easily taking at least 3 per cent. Along with the middlemen engineers and civil servants, Quebec is being tithed more than 6 per cent of its construction expense. And that adds up to billions of dollars every year. It is paid through taxes.

But that is considered chicken feed to the better organized and better connected Calabrian Mafia in Ontario. Also known as the ‘Ndrangheta, these mobsters have become wealthy patrons of the arts and politics in Ontario and few in the know would dare make even casual allegations in light of their power and position of privilege.

In a life in politics, you keep tripping over these people. They are well-educated professionals, they have successful businesses, their memberships are impeccable and they marry well. Their golf handicaps are low and they winter only in the best parts of the Caribbean. They leave the pimping, strippers and strong-arm stuff to the biker gangs. They are a tight-knit family and they have come a long way from Calabria.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Would they also kill the first-born?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

It seems many liberals were outraged when somebody suggested that we only accept Syrian women with children as refugees. Now we find out that fathers are included. Maybe we should be concerned about the Pharaoh’s troops going out to kill the first-born? That is the kind of fear that has been exhibited across North America lately.

Irrational fear is what the Islamic State jihadists want. When you indulge in the fear they are trying to generate, you are helping their cause. You are a believer in their propaganda. You are supporting them.

The truth is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is an army of brigands, losers, cowards and blasphemers. We already know that they are not as good as their propaganda. They cannot come after you. They are nothing but thieves and thugs. They only murder defenceless people. They revolt the true believer in Islam. There is no jihadist Heaven for snivelling cowards such as these. They are scum.

If and when there might be a new Caliphate in Islam, it will not be created by hoodlums.

Our problem today is to help the hundreds of thousands of Syrians displaced by sectarian war in their homeland. This is not to deny the plight of others who have been displaced by violence and/or economic deprivation in the Middle East and Africa. Ours is a troubled world and we all need to have compassion and concern for the plight of many.

But Canada is showing leadership in meeting a world-wide problem. It is bringing a token number—albeit a substantive number—of Syrians from the camps in Syria’s neighbours where these people have taken refuge. They are not cowards. They have been protecting their families. They have been saving their children.

The task of bringing these people to Canada has been made more difficult because of the urgency. And it is not just a created urgency because of political promises. Every day that these people are kept in forced idleness in the camps is more time to destroy their will to live productive lives. They are not the ones who bought their way to the sea and across to Greece and the promise of Europe. They are not the ones challenging the English Channel and the charity and accommodation of Northern Europe.

The émigrés to Canada are the ones vetted by the United Nations and Canadian authorities. These are the ones who won the lottery of a flight to freedom in North America. They will make a contribution to our country, our culture and to our industry. We will welcome them.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Can the provinces keep the money?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

It seems that the point has been made about climate change: Industry can destroy the environment if they pay a tax on it. And that is why the provinces are so eager to cooperate with the Trudeau government. It is all determined by who gets the money. It makes you wonder how the federal government will get anything out of the provincial carbon tax bonanza?

It all started with British Columbia. Premier Christie Clark has acted something like a mother hen with her chicks. She insists the B.C. carbon tax is revenue neutral but the province operates the toll booths and sets the prices. We expect her province intends to keep the profits from the sin of pollution.

Premier Rachel Notley announced her Alberta solution to climate change with the enthusiasm of a second coming. It seems you can ship all the bitumen where you want as long as you pay the province when you go over the to-be-determined cap. The beauty of the plan is that both individual citizens and polluters get to pay for this and the individual taxpayer might get some money back when the province feels generous.

Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan is still stonewalling the federal government over Syrian refugees coming to Canada. We all assume this must be part of his strategy to win the federal Conservative leadership and so everyone is trying to ignore him. Anyway, we expect Saskatchewan to follow the Alberta lead.

All Manitoba does is a lot of talking about climate change but has not figured out how to tax it yet. Premier Greg Selinger of Manitoba will be at the conference to learn how.

Being supposed Liberals, Ontario and Quebec’s premiers are flexing their muscles and are ready to defend their highly profitable cap and trade tax plan. They have even got California tied into the loop to give them even more heft. Both provinces will make a killing on the taxes if the feds agree to them keeping the money.

And then there are the Atlantic provinces that are not causing very much climate change. Mind you they are always open to good tax plans.

You can just imagine this crowd of premiers standing behind Prime Minister Trudeau at the Paris climate conference. His RCM Police detail will be more concerned about the premiers picking the prime minister’s pockets than any serious security concerns.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry
Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to peter@lowry.me

Is America destroying the dream?

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

A reader asked recently why we were ignoring the current American political scene. It is not that we are not following what is going on. We just feel sad about it. It is a travesty caught up in the guise of democracy.

In our book My American Mother (written in 1992) the principle character gives a speech in 1920s Chicago where she explains that the concept of America is an ideal—a work in process. That ideal seemed to reach its zenith during the Franklin Roosevelt presidency. It appears to have been rolling back downhill ever since.

Maybe America has hit bottom with Republican candidate Donald Trump. Trump might not be the first American with more money than brains but he is the first to make Ross Perot look like a Democrat. And here we thought that President Ronald Reagan was the final triumph of Hollywood over intelligence.

What really chills us is the wilful absence of thinking by Americans in their closed-minded adherence to one political philosophy over another. Can that many Americans be that ignorant? What really bugs us is that we have one brother in Massachusetts who is a Democrat and another brother in Ohio who is a Republican. These are not stupid people. Both have serious university degrees. The Democrat is disappointed with Obama and the Republican reviles him. Neither has conceded the man the opportunity to lead.

Listening to the Democratic candidates for president next year, you have to wonder at the shallowness of the leadership gene pool in America. And the Republican race is more like a colony of cats on their way to somewhere but they have forgotten the objective.

Seeing the stupid wall in the south of that country makes you wonder if they are dumb enough to build one on the north. And only Florida would complain about the loss of all those Canadian snowbirds.

But what really turns our stomach is that more than half American state governors have said they do not want any Syrian refugees. Yes, they are mainly Republican. And no, governors have no say in the matter. Their stand is not only bigoted and ignorant but this commentator would like to know where the hell those governors’ ancestors came from?

Those ignorant governors need to read something Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883. It was the following:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario: Socially responsible or greedy?

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

Fear not fellow Ontarians, we will soon have some beer in some of our supermarkets. We are told that this is all being done to be socially responsible about booze. What it looks like is one huge cash grab.

Step one in the process of making this new(?) liberalized(?) event happen is to have a secret auction to allow 60 out of an estimated 1500 supermarkets (about 1 in 25) offer the government money to let them have a license to sell beer. The secrecy seems to be about how much the government is being given for this privilege?

Step two is the application by the auction winners (those who have paid up) being introduced to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). These are the people who are always coming up with new and confusing rules for Ontario’s few casinos. It seems they are now going to create rules for selling six-packs of beer in grocery stores. It seems that AGCO is going to issue the licenses to sell beer to these lucky grocery stores. It makes you wonder about the rules and whether you can get your money back if you do not like the rules? And does the sign saying “BEER” have to be smaller than the sign saying “groceries”?

What is wrong with this entire process is that the government does not want the public to know what is going on. Why the secrecy in licensing grocery stores to sell beer? And why can they only sell six-packs? You can get those at your LCBO store if you do not like Beer Stores that smell like stale beer recycling depots.

That is because you still have to take your empties to the Beer Store. That foreign-owned Beer Store operation still has the lock on that recycling operation.

The media tell us that by May of next year we could have more grocery stores (90 more) selling beer. So if you are eager to buy beer at your local grocery store you just need to be patient. By the time of the next provincial election there might be as many as 450 grocery stores selling beer. Why less than a third of the large grocery stores in Ontario will be allowed the privilege of selling six-packs of beer is supposed to be socially responsible.

Every year there will be more stores selling six-packs and more publicity for the generous government at Queen’s Park that is master minding this brilliant change in how we buy beer. And do not forget dear voter, this is all being done in a socially responsible way. And probably profitable too!

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Is the media the measure?

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Commentator Chantal Hébert worries that Justin Trudeau lacks the gravitas of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Thomas Walkom fears Trudeau is out of touch with the world leaders who have decided Russia’s Putin is a good guy after all. And we discussed Rosie DiManno yesterday who thinks Justin is juvenile.

And those people write for the more liberal Toronto Star. There are harsher things being said in publications that dislike our new Prime Minister. They dislike him because he is a liberal and maybe because of his family name.

Is the new government’s honeymoon over so soon? Is the media fuss over our new prime minister now passé? Did the events in Paris really overshadow Canada’s new broom in the halls of parliament?

Mind you, for Hébert to compare Jean Chrétien and Justin Trudeau is an attempt to compare across generations. When Chrétien took office he immediately started breaking his promises. Trudeau is keeping his. How can you compare that?

To use the name Chrétien and gravitas in the same sentence is not something that Canadians will readily understand. The little guy from Shawinigan and the son of the prime minister who brought Chrétien into prominence are not even in the same category. He might have replaced Brian Mulroney but Chrétien would have to admit it was far easier feat than defeating Stephen Harper.

Chrétien was but a gas pain in Canada’s digestive tract. Justin Trudeau is a sea change.

And that seems to be what our news media are missing. Listening to Peter Mansbridge and his pundit panel the other night, he kept asking if the honeymoon with Justin Trudeau was over and the answer seemed to be a qualified “No.”

For Canada’s Prime Minister to be lionized as a rock star by a group of Philipinos in Manilla might seem odd but it does say something. This is not just Pierre Trudeau’s kid. This is an idealised version of a modern Galahad. It is the image of leadership that you need to be young and a romantic to fathom. When the Harper Conservatives tried to tell Canadians that he was not ready, Justin simply ducked under the barriers.

Canada has a new international image that is going to pay off handsomely for our country. And as you might have heard many times before: Now is the time for you to push, pull or get the hell out of the way!

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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