Archive for December, 2015

As the British Empire fades into history.

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

Despite Her Majesty’s annual message of hope, stiff upper lip and all, and her references to the Christian Bible, we see no future for the British Empire. Elizabeth II has been sending her Christmas messages to the diminishing British Commonwealth for more than 60 years. It is still an anachronism and of little or no use to Canadians.

Can 2016 be the year the real dialogue begins? Or are the royals the batty relatives we have to keep locked in the closet away from the common folk? What do they contribute to Canada but considerable inertia?

And please do not give us that need for figurehead claptrap. The Roman Catholic Church gave us that guff 2000 years ago and is much more practiced at it.

And frankly, we would almost prefer to see someone like Santa Claus on Canada’s $20 bill and his elves on our coins.

Canada has to open up its mind to rebuilding the country’s constitution. We can hardly do endless renovations to a house that has no foundation. Do we even need a bicameral parliament? Maybe there is a role for an elected senate? Why not elect a president? Why not let the prime minister manage the parliament? Would we be foolish enough to try to elect a proportional parliament? Are all provinces equal?

Canada was created almost 150 years ago by a bunch of guys with beards and top hats. They looked damn uncomfortable in their wing collars and ties. They created a country beholden to the Brits and we dutifully hewed their wood and sent them furs. We more than paid off our debts to England in the fiasco with the Boers and then in two world wars.

We look south these days, try to understand Donald Trump and say “Thank God we aren’t American.”

In 2015, we threw off the yoke of insipid conservatism. We opened our country to refugees from dictatorship and jihadists. We are looking to the future with a renewed enthusiasm. We are remaining open to trade deals but ‘free trade’ comes at the price of hard work. You have to have something other people want to strike a deal for something you want from them. And you do not have resources to sell forever.

This all comes down to “Happy New Year Canada.” You live in exciting times.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Harper’s legacy left behind.

Wednesday, December 30th, 2015

In thinking about the legacy of Stephen Harper’s years in the Prime Minister’s Office, you need to consider the people he left behind. Of the 99 Conservatives elected to parliament in the rout of October 19, there were only a few who had the temerity to even contest the interim leadership and former Health Minister Rona Ambrose was nothing more than a short-term solution. A hard-right Alberta Libertarian, she would not be the choice of many Canadians for her role as Leader of the Opposition.

But it is the caucus behind her in the House of Commons that is really sad. Looking just at the two Conservatives MPs representing our home town of Barrie we are embarrassed. We have heard the one representing our part of Barrie referred to as “The Ape.” Watching him late in the campaign, when he figured he was likely to lose, he was needlessly and obviously angry. He and the other new Conservative MP were two little-noted, time-serving Barrie municipal councilors waiting for the call-up to the big leagues of Conservative politics.

They might have been fair to middling ward healers municipally but their potential to make any contribution to Canada in Ottawa is little to zip. They were elected because of the gerrymandering of Barrie. What happened was the Conservatives convinced the federal redistribution commission to split Barrie in two and add strong Conservative-voting rural areas to each half. In our north riding, the Conservative might have won by just 86 votes against a strong Liberal candidate but the new MP gets the same pay and perks as his buddy in south Barrie who won with a majority.

But there was no major league of politics waiting for them when they got to Ottawa. Mr. Harper had left the PMO. He did not need them. He did not need their votes. They have to figure out what to do for the next four years. And that will not be much. Their experience as a fireman and a banking trainee hardly prepares them to contribute anything but their votes in Ottawa.

Of course they are not failures at this game of politics. Not yet. They will get to think about it as the boredom sets in. Experience has been over the years that backbench MPs who are away from home a lot either find some arcane subject to follow in Ottawa or engage in extra-curricular affairs. There is also the example of their predecessor Patrick Brown who was MP for a smaller Barrie. He simply inundated the poor voters with cheap taxpayer-funded mailings for all the charities in town.

But the question is whether Steven Harper appreciates that a caucus of do-nothing Conservative MPs is his legacy?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

The measure of Mr. Mulcair.

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Like a motorist who has driven into a snow drift, New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair is standing at the side of the road hoping people will offer him a push. And, as he told Maclean’s Magazine recently, he is not going anywhere without a push. To get the push he needs, maybe Mulcair needs to hold up a sign saying he needs the push to get to a destination. Without a destination, why bother pushing him?

As leader of his party, Mulcair wasted the surge he inherited from Jack Layton. He spent his time in parliament showing off his prosecutorial skills against Stephen Harper. He wandered through one of the longest political campaigns in Canadian history confusing the voters.

Not even members of the New Democratic Party know where Tommy Mulcair is headed. He is intelligent. He is glib. Given some direction, he could even be useful. It could be that simple. Mind you we have to give him an easy road map.

What he really needs to do is realize that Canada is ready for a social democratic political party. The CCF and NDP are products of the 1930s. The union-dominated NDP of today serves union members, not the public. It is a hypocritical stance. Canada needs better labour laws more than it needs a union-based political party. We need rights for non-union workers, not to protect unions’ barriers to progress.

A union is a collective that creates barriers. Whether a collective of labourers or medical specialists the collective sets its membership against society. It seeks to protect its members and gain advantage for them. Unions would not be doing their job otherwise.

But is a society not better off to protect the individual rights? Is it not better in a society where nobody is left behind? A social democratic political party is the ideal mix of liberal individual rights and the left wing concern for the disadvantaged. It would be a society where we do not need gestures such as female equality in the Cabinet. Gender equality would be part of society.

Our advice to Thomas Mulcair is that he needs to think more about where the New Democratic Party is headed. His party’s membership could bring a strengthened and clearer direction to Canada’s Liberal Party. Combined they could address the pressing issues of our times.

True, the Liberal Party would lose some of its more right-wing membership. It is not that much but it has created barriers in the past to progress. A much stronger and more progressive social democratic party would promise a better future for all Canadians.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Looking Back: Alberta’s Orange Crush?

Monday, December 28th, 2015

It was the second most important political turnaround in Canada this past year. It was not so much that the Alberta New Democrats crushed anyone but the Conservatives of Alberta got their comeuppance after 44 years in power. The Conservative dynasty created by the late Peter Lougheed was in a train wreck.

There was no doubt but Jim Prentice, the supposedly wise and winning new Premier, was the cause of the Conservative cancelation. In a legislature with the official opposition even further to the right than the Conservatives, he brought the Wildrose Party Leader and eight of her colleagues over to the Conservative side. It might have worked if he had absorbed the entire Wildrose but all he did was anger the hive. A get-even Wildrose party proceeded to split the right-wing vote in the May election, guaranteeing the New Democrat win.

And to add insult to the loss, it was Wildrose that won the role of Opposition because of the vote split. Jim Prentice was hardly interested in continuing to lead a third-place party and quit politics.

But it was Prentice himself who had to take the blame. He actually made statements that inferred to Alberta voters that they were to blame for the problems. That was not acceptable. Prentice had to recognize that Alberta governments had been pandering to the companies extracting Alberta resources and they in turn were absorbing much of the costs normally paid for by the provincial taxpayers. At oil prices below $40 per barrel of crude, you can hardly make money out of the tar sands.

Alberta obviously needed better politicians to manage a troubled economy. It was also obvious that some of the provincial mud was also spattering Calgary’s favourite adopted son Stephen Harper. The surprise win by Rachel Notley’s New Democrats might have provided a short term lift to Thomas Mulcair’s federal party polling but it was recognized as an Alberta phenomenon.

Despite Jim Prentice’s failure to communicate with Albertans before they tossed his party, Prentice left them a serious mess. The day is now past that Alberta can be proud of not having a provincial sales tax. That day is coming. Notley has had to walk on egg shells with the deficits her party is building up for future generations of Albertans. So far, she has been golden.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

The Odd Couple of Canadian Politics in 2016.

Sunday, December 27th, 2015

There is something perversely funny about the coupling of two of Canada’s least likely politicians. This thought came to mind in wondering about the impact of this pair on Canadian politics in 2016. They are the two opposition leaders in Ontario and Quebec. They are politician Patrick Brown from Barrie, Ontario and neophyte politician, millionaire separatist Pierre-Karl Péladeau of Quebecor wealth.

Both delude themselves—which does little harm.

But both have the resources to delude the public—which can do irreparable harm.

And their targets are Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario and Premier Philippe Couillard of Quebec—both with majorities and at least three more years in their mandates. That gives Brown and Péladeau a wide window within which to scheme. And do not underestimate the ability of these men to scheme.

Brown is a person who lives, breathes and devotes himself to political manipulation. Péladeau simply buys his political advice. Both are from the extreme right of Canadian politics. Brown is from the religious right wing while Péladeau is from the monied and pampered right. He was having fun in Paris in the years before his father’s sudden death and he seemed to resent the need for him to come home and replace him at the head of the family business.

Brown had finally figured out that his lacklustre performance in Ottawa was not getting him anywhere. He had proved that he was more interested in playing hockey and running marathons than federal politics.

Brown’s hope is that Ontario politics is easier. He bought the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives with other people’s money. It was a simple matter of hiring organizers from the sub-continent who found enough South Asian immigrants to swamp the existing membership of the old Ontario PC Party. And nobody asked him who paid for all those memberships.

Péladeau had an easier time of it. The Parti Québécois was moribund after the smashing defeat of its government under Pauline Marois in 2014. In a nothing campaign, he spend about $400,000 of petty cash to win the leadership.

The only confusion Péladeau has is that his old union-busting techniques from business might not win for the PQ with the party’s reliance on support among Quebec unions. That is almost as confusing as a religious conservative heading up the Red Tory party of former Ontario Premier Bill Davis.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

A wrap for the Liberal’s wonderful year.

Saturday, December 26th, 2015

Watching Prime Minister Trudeau being interviewed on Global Television on Christmas was like adding spoonfuls of sugar to an already serious sugar high. It brought back to us the years when the Liberal Party’s brain trust among the advertising and public relations people in Toronto were in despair at trying to build a warmer, more personable image for Justin’s father. The austere father was overly protective of his family while his syrupy son has no compunction in bringing his kids on camera.

This reverie of a Trudeau-past was rudely interrupted by the wife—who adores Justin—with the comment: “This is really boring.” And that was it for the background of a rainy Vancouver, potted poinsettia plants and the bland comments of news anchor Dawna Friesen. There was a turkey with fixings to address and devour.

But the question was left unasked about the sunny ways of the offspring. Babel-on-the-Bay hardly picked the Trudeau Liberals to win the October election early in the game because of Liberal leanings. Justin’s beautiful family was certainly a plus but it took a time of intense voter frustration to turn the tables in 2015.

In another interview over Christmas, Justin said that he was originally thinking of running for political office when he was much older—when those who knew his father had gone to what ever reward there was left for them. He rushed things and some of us who knew his father are still hanging around. He does his best to ignore us. He did not even send the wife his Christmas card this year. And he promised her.

Maybe she should not have told him that she has the complete collection of Trudeau Christmas cards from his father’s era at Sussex Drive. They ran from Justin’s first year until Pierre took his walk in the snow and moved with his boys to Montreal.

But what all Canadians know is that while Justin Trudeau might be a brand new broom in parliament, he lacks the intellect of his famous father. He is going to make mistakes. He is going to have to apologize occasionally. He is going to need that sunny disposition and more to even survive two terms in the Prime Minister’s Office.

It is certainly something his predecessor never had. Harper was a hardened, self-centred pill. He cared for nobody. He was vain and opinionated.

Frankly Justin Trudeau is going to be a lot more fun.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Some Christmas notes.

Friday, December 25th, 2015

This is a compromise. Last year we wrote a poem for our readers about Stephen Harper but we no longer have him to kick around. And it would hardly do to have people get the wrong idea if we wrote poems for our new prime minister.

But the real reason for our current malaise is the falling off of readership. From the substantial readership at the end of the election campaign and the interesting peaks and valleys in November, people do not have much time for political commentaries in December. Babel-on-the-Bay is down to its hard core of regular readers. The only difference this year in December is that some hundreds of regular readers seem to have moved to Ottawa. We can guess who these people are and they feed on political subjects. We will try to keep you all entertained.

It is unlikely that you will hear much from Donald Trump in American politics after the Republican convention next summer. The seeds of his destruction are now starting to germinate. His vulgarity, his fascism, his outrageous and ignorant statements are all part of Trump’s house of cards and state by state you will see him rejected by Republican voters. It looks like this coming November Hilary Clinton might have little trouble beating Texas’ Ted Cruz for the American presidency.

Closer to home the situation in Ontario remains volatile. That disgusting Mr. Brown who bought the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives has yet to emerge from his cocoon without his farm-boy twang and with something more interesting to say to Ontario audiences. His opponent, Kathleen Wynne, is no angel either as she also manipulated the process to win the Liberal Party in Ontario leadership. While her opponents are still trying to hang the gas plant fiasco on her, she is busy making her own mistakes with Ontario voters’ money.

But most eyes next year will be on Ottawa and that will provide lots of fodder for commentaries. We will be looking at some of these opportunities over the next week.

We must admit that we are somewhat at a loss as what to do about municipal politics in Canada. We cannot stand the hypocrisy at this level of politics. And if you are under the impression that the municipal level is not just the junior-A league of politics, you have not been paying attention.

But we started out to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope for an economically vibrant Canada in the year 2016.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Shaw wants Wind in its sales.

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Shaw Communications is sailing into the dangerous waters of the big three telecommunications companies in Canada. It is acquiring Wind Mobile for a bargain price of just $1.6 billion. Shaw is joining Bell Canada, Rogers and Telus in what some refer to as the pillaging of Canadian consumers. In a country with the second highest mobile telephone rates in the world, there is lots of money for the taking.

Wind Mobile is supposedly the value brand in the cell-phone business and it draws its customer base from the more cost conscious consumers. That will give Shaw a chance to increase the profitability of the business without having to charge the rapacious rates of its competition.

Shaw can also compete with the big three by packaging its Internet, cable or satellite service with Wind Mobile service. There is a lot of growing to do as Wind’s position as a new kid is about three per cent of the Canadian market. Sales to-date have been in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. The base band widths have lots of room for growth but Shaw will have to upgrade the network to compete head to head with the big three. It will have rolled out a high-speed LTE network allowing Wind to provide streaming video and music to its mobile phones before the end of 2017.

What synergies, Shaw will gain for its television network are obviously still to be looked at. The more interesting conjecture is the potential on how Shaw can link its mobile services to its Canadian satellite services.

It is generally assumed that the Trudeau government, through the Canadian Radio-Television, Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), will approve the sale of Wind to Shaw as there has been a constant effort by governments to create more competition in the mobile market. More competition is, in theory, supposed to cause lower prices but this has never seemed to be the case in this market.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

The story behind the survey.

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

On average this household gets one or two surveys per week. That is more than the average household but we encourage it. We answer interactive voice response (IVR) calls because they are fun and we enjoy confusing them. We are more cautious with live callers and we listen carefully to the technique and the mix of questions. We are particularly interested in any bias we find or any trick questions. We are probably more truthful on Internet panels in which we participate. It has been a while since we have written survey questionnaires or trained interviewers.

But we wish we could have written the survey for a friend that came to our e-mail in-box in the last week. We sent him an e-mail after answering the questionnaire and suggested that he should just ask his family and friends what he was trying to find out. The problem was that he had used one of the new Internet do-it-yourself surveys and it not only lacked subtlety but it would hardly provide an impartial answer from the people being interviewed. He was trying to answer a question that needed to be answered by people who cared.

At the same time another survey was going on in a local city ward where there will be a by-election to replace a councillor who resigned. This was an IVR telephone survey to see what the local identification was for a potential candidate. Since these are just beauty contests anyway, this potential candidate wanted to see the identification he had in the ward. He has now said he will run. Mind you, the usual group of suspects and also-rans have already declared and he is not exactly joining a very sparkling array of talent.

And that was just two surveys that were a waste of time.

Another survey we were looking at recently was the one being pushed to the media by the Broadbent Institute. Being no fan of Ed Broadbent, nor he of yours truly, we tend to disparage anything from that institute as we both treat studies sponsored by the right wing Fraser Institute. The problem with the recent Broadbent Institute study and with many Fraser Institutes studies is the bias these people have already expressed before bringing out surveys to support their cause.

The first requirement for any believable survey is the impartiality of the questionnaire and the interviewers. The second is the sampling technique and understanding you get what you pay for. The third requirement is that you have to know the people interpreting the raw data are also impartial. And finally, you have to bear in mind that a survey is about what people thought—not what they are necessarily going to do.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Welcome to our Canada.

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

A recent e-mail from a regular reader in the Atlantic Provinces served as a reminder that Canada has not always been as welcoming as we are to the recent Syrian refugees. And when the minister of immigration said there will be more, we should realize that Canada needs ten times as many. Newcomers to Canada build our economy. They stimulate growth in housing. They create and fill new jobs. They bring industry and effort,

The current doldrums of the Canadian economy means we need new consumers. We need the pressure on the housing market. And what we desperately need is to rebuild our ability to manufacture for business and consumers. For too long we have been reaching for trading markets without the manufactured goods that help double our efforts at creating wealth.

It has been amazing to us over the past nine years that the Conservative theorists who preach the gospel of Wealth of Nations’ Adam Smith gave the back of their hand to Canada’s failing manufacturing sector. We watched everything from locomotive to food production head south. We watched helplessly as a misguided government tried to promote the export of the most expensive and most polluting synthetic crude oil in the world from tar sands.

It took the economic challenge of Saudi Arabia and its despotic rulers to bring our economy to its knees. The Saudi’s keep adding to their vast wealth at $36 per barrel of crude oil. Canada is simply ploughing money into the ground in trying to continue mining the tar sands at that low a price.

One of the challenges for our new government is to repair the long-term damage the previous government did to Canada’s reputation around the world. It has to start with our major trading partner—the United States of America. There have been signs or some turn-around already but there are also those who are reserving judgement until they see how our new government performs.

But it is going to take more than pouring money into infrastructure to pull the Canadian economy back to health. We are going to have to welcome more new Canadians. We are going to have to invest in ideas, invention and new technologies. We need to challenge.

We heard the cant of the right wing the other day when there was no action from the meeting of finance ministers to discuss pensions. What we heard from the naysayers was that we cannot afford it. What Canada needs to hear is: Here’s how we can do it.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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