Archive for December, 2015

“The last election under first-past-the-post.”

Monday, December 21st, 2015

That statement by our new prime minister is likely to be the one to haunt him for years to come. It is like many such statements in the heat of an election campaign—effusive, rhetorical, quotable and foolish. And to give the promise a reality would be a disservice to Canadians. First-past-the-post voting will serve us well for many years to come.

The problem is that Canada has made first-past-the-post work. The system keeps us involved in how we are governed. It works at all levels of government. It is the simplest, least complicated, easiest form of voting ever devised. And it brings us closer to government in that we directly elect the people who represent us.

To change such an easily understood and connected method of electing municipal, provincial and federal governments would be causing confusion when there is no need. There is no reason to believe that there is a groundswell, consensus or need for change. British Columbia and Ontario voters have indicated their lack of interest in alternatives. They have also established the precedent of holding a referendum on change.

What is even more disturbing than the federal examination of how we vote is the proposed unilateral change in Canada’s largest city. The suggestion is that the city forego its current beauty-contest form of selecting councillors to embrace a method of electing the least obnoxious of the candidates. In a form of government desperate for political direction, they are trying to change to ranked voting that would ensure that the person selected is at least the second or third choice of people voting for the losing candidates. It is called preferential voting and what you do is number your preference of the candidates.

Ranked voting such as this is supposed to make campaigns friendlier, more accurate and solve all the problems—other than the main problem of producing results.

But what most of the people railing against first-past-the-post want is proportional representation. They want a party getting 20 per cent of the vote to get 20 per cent of the seats in parliament. There are some simple ways of doing that. You can just vote for a party and the party will choose the members. You can also have a huge riding, multiple candidates and transferable voting—which takes a lot of explanation.

Frankly, first-past-the-post is getting a bum rap. When people understand how easy it is to use Internet voting, we can have run-off elections if you really want the majority choice. Why not fix first-past-the-post instead of dumping it?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Whoa, whoa Rosie.

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

The wife was upset about Rosie DiManno’s column the other morning. It is not that she has ever bothered to post a comment in the Toronto Star’s website about one of Rosie’s columns or anything else. She knows that her husband’s web site has refused unidentified comment in the years that Babel-on-the-Bay has existed. The wife simply could not understand why Rosie would spew so much bile on the subject.

In an era when we have much better filters to catch sexist and vulgar language, the Toronto Star seems to have given up and now refuses unidentified comment. That makes good sense to us. Why have people comment on your material if you cannot have an honest dialogue with them on the subject. Babel-on-the-Bay cannot respond to every comment but we do try to respond to positive, helpful readers,

One of the things we have noticed in the comments sections of various sites is that there seem to be a lot of conversations between regular contributors. They seem to almost be private clubs. And we do not care to join.

But we got in trouble for laughing at the wife’s comments on Rosie. Just because we zone Rosie out after her first two paragraphs, does not mean we are laughing at the wife for her ability to read all. (Mind you any Starch editorial study would show the wife to be in a small minority of Rosie’s readers.)

The few times we have mentioned Rosie DiManno in this web site, we have usually included a comment about her verbosity. She seems to think the Star should be paying her by the word. That system of paying writers disappeared a long time ago.

The trend today is for much shorter items. We never recommend twitting but if the story only needs 140 characters, do it! When we started this commentary ten years ago, we mixed thousand-word articles with very brief comments and gradually drifted to today’s approach of keeping the commentaries under 500 words. Not only is this a good size for readers to pick up on the fly but leaves it open to return to the subject when convenient.

When we started this site, it was designed to showcase our writing and editing skills. As it is we really enjoy discussing the political subjects we address and admit the writing skills have deteriorated a bit. If the economy keeps heading for the toilet, we will have to pull up our socks, write for today’s audience and sell our skills to the highest bidder. Dare we say: Move over Rosie.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

TransCanada’s new billions for Energy East.

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

What is another $4 billion when you are TransCanada Pipelines? This is not just a pipeline, these people want to complete but a bulldozer to get Alberta tar sands bitumen to the sea. And all they can come up with in announcing changes in the plans is more money and the same old miss-direction.

You would think when you had so much money to spend on a pipeline across the breadth of Canada you would spend a few dollars on better writers?

It seems the objections from Quebec about the safety of an export terminal in the St. Lawrence River have had an effect. This terminal is now scrapped and all the exports are to be through the export port promised to TransCanada by the Irving interests in Saint John, New Brunswick. It makes sense when you realize that foreign tankers can bring light crude to Saint John for processing at the Irving refineries and leave the Bay of Fundy loaded with tar sands’ bitumen. (The Irving’s have made it clear that they do not want to convert their refinery to the highly polluting processing of bitumen to synthetic crude oil.)

But many of the existing parts of this Energy East pipeline are old gas pipelines that have seen many years of service. The intent is to convert these old lines to higher pressure, heated lines that can push bitumen through the line at greater volumes. With the more corrosive nature of the bitumen slurry going through the pipes, it is more of a question when rather than if there will be a rupture.

A pipeline spill of bitumen slurry is far different problem than a crude oil spill. On land a bitumen spill will take time to get down to the water table—once there, the water is poisoned for humans and animals. In water a bitumen spill will float until the lighter slurry separates—allowing the bitumen to sink to the bottom. An example of this was the Kalamazoo, Michigan rupture of an Enbridge pipeline in July, 2010 that spilled over a million U.S. gallons of bitumen slurry that is still not completely cleaned up.

TransCanada’s writers keep on extolling the financial benefits of the changed pipeline and suggest that the pipeline will be carrying 1.1 million barrels per day of Alberta crude oil. The only problem is that the line is designed to carry bitumen slurry and that is not by any stretch crude oil. Nor can the writers explain what new jobs, this pipeline will create after the new sections as well as the new heating and pumping stations are looked after.

The Energy East pipeline might have been hit by inflation causing it to cost another $4 billion. It is still the same old, same old.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Is there a Ghost of Liberals Future?

Friday, December 18th, 2015

His late partner Jacob Marley promised Ebenezer Scrooge there would be three ghosts visiting him in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In relating this tale to the concerns of Liberals past, present and future, the greatest difficulty is to come up with a Ghost of Liberals Future. This might only be a ghost of challenge.

Many political pundits of the past summer had already written off Justin Trudeau and the Liberals before the election was called. They saw no future for a party that seemed to be neither of the political left nor right. They bought into the premise of the Conservative’s foolish attack ads that wrote off Trudeau as too young, too naïve.

And whether the ultimate win in October was by design or happenstance, it was none the less a remarkable turnaround for the third party to trounce the two frontrunners. It is by understanding where the votes originated that we can fathom what was accomplished.

Urban and young was a big part of the new base. In building an image of the Ghost of Liberals Future, she would be young, fit, educated, urbane and interested. It is her confidence in herself that is most noted. She picks her partners and a husband as it suits her. She exemplifies the emergence of the millennials.

And nobody in this election could sway her vote easily. She believes strongly in human rights. She wants the planet protected. She hates war and the angry trash of violent video games. She sees the beauty in nature and in the arts. And her greatest discovery is that there are men and women of all ages who agree and care as she does.

But different from Marley’s ghost, this Ghost of Liberals Future will not paint a bleak and luckless picture of the future with death and despair. This is a ghost that sees the good. Not in a naïve way but in a positive framework.

The ghost will see the future of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals as a work in progress. This new and untried collective has yet to show its cohesion and purpose. We have seen little of the potential interplay with parliament’s opposition parties. Maybe there will even be some background work in the potential merger of the Liberals and NDP into a new Social-Democratic coalition.

There will also need to be a better understanding of the potential for changing how our country is governed. The Senate of Canada is just an example of the problems in need of addressing. Canada should not have to wait for its two-hundredth year to come of age.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

It’s all small beer in Ontario.

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Liberals in Ontario got an e-mail yesterday from Finance Minister Charles Sousa raving about beer being here in 58 Ontario grocery stores. He even notes that it is in time for Christmas. (Now would not a six pack be a perfect gift for the Toronto Star carrier?)

But it sure is tough to figure out what all the silly fuss is about. We now have six packs of beer in one out of every 25 large grocery stores in Ontario. So what? When you check the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario rules of sale, you wonder what is left of the grocery stores’ profit?

And judging by the locations of these 58 stores that Charles so kindly sent us, they are few and far between. Can you imagine the repercussions when the Liberal MPPs in the Scarborough part of Toronto find there is no six-pack grocery store for them?

They should not worry. This fiasco will continue with some news on wines in the New Year. There will also be a few more stores licensed.

But they will only sell six packs of beer. And the prices are fixed across the province. Mind you, you can get Air Miles from Metro and Sobeys and PC Points from the Weston emporiums. Mind you, the Weston people have said that 50 per cent of their beer space will be devoted to craft beers. These craft beers are something of an acquired taste and the Weston’s will find the sales will be heaviest in the same-old, same-old Labatt Blue, Molson Canadian and Coors Light.

In time for the next provincial election in Ontario, we might have six packs and some wine available in as many as one-third of Ontario’s large grocery stores. Small stores need not apply.

Yet there is little being said about whiskey and gin. And not a whisper about brandies, sherries and ports—which can often be an important ingredient in recipes of good cooks. Nor has there been mention of those light summer coolers premixed with vodka or rum.

The problem might just be that we have just six-pack type politicians in Queen’s Park when there should be some Scotch or brandy sippers as well. You should ask your local politicians what their preferred beverage might be when the next election roles around. We need more boozers with broader tastes at Queen’s Park. Then we can get their promise to get this province past its temperance union standards.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

The Ghost of Liberals Present.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

When the second ghost confronted him, Ebenezer Scrooge was hardly convinced to mend his ways. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, it was the spirit of the under classes that was highlighted by this ghost. In the same way, the ghosts of Liberals present can assure Justin Trudeau that maybe if he does not need them now, they will be there for him in the future. No political roads stretch smooth forever.

He can count on a much higher level of partisan questioning in parliament in the New Year and Justin has put some parliamentary neophytes in some tough positions. Minister of Finance Bill Morneau has struck fast and hard but he has yet to really show how he will handle constant attacks from across the aisle. He can only pass the buck to the last administration for so long.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale might not be a neophyte but Justin will have to watch that Ralph does not get the bit in his teeth. When the news media write about Liberal arrogance, they probably use Goodale as their poster boy. Trudeau promised that the C-51 security bill will be fixed and it is not just the news media but concerned Liberals who are waiting to see the results of the needed changes. We would feel even more secure if the bill was scrapped and we started over.

A major concern at this time is the neophyte Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef. The minister has promised that there will be consultations but what worries us is that the status quo seems to have been discarded as an option. This was the same ridiculous position as faced the lottery winners in the Ontario attempt at changing how that province voted.

What happened in Ontario is that they ended up with a proposition that nobody really cared about one way or the other. It was just that they were asked to suggest some changes, so they did. What is obvious is that we are faced with people who lack broad experience with the Canadian understanding of our democracy driving this initiative. How we vote is neither a hypothetical question nor something you can change on a whim.

There are different types of consultation and you can hardly recommend a change without discussing the long term impacts of that change. Making airy, fairy claims for gender and ethnic equality in some new purity of parliament are sad promises that have never worked. For example, we are waiting patiently for the first time Justin Trudeau has to replace a cabinet member—will only the same gender need apply?

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

A six-pack and a toke for Premier Wynne.

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

The publicity opportunities for Ontario’s premier come thick and fast with Justin Trudeau in the prime minister’s office in Ottawa. The other day Premier Kathleen Wynne got in on the act out at Pearson Airport welcoming Syrian refugees to Canada. And now that we finally have beer in a few Ontario grocery stores, she wants to add marijuana to the mix.

Wynne wants to steer any federally approved marijuana sales to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). Can you just imagine the outrage from British Columbia Premier Christy Clark when the first LCBO store opens in Vancouver?

Alright, maybe Wynne only wants the LCBO involved in Ontario. And that leaves the feds with a problem. Not all provinces have a pickle up their hindquarters about the exclusivity of the province selling liquor. Some provinces are even quite liberal about how they sell booze.

But here you have Ontario’s premier telling the media to come and see her buy the first six-pack of beer from a Weston Empire’s Loblaw store in Toronto. That is designed to prove how liberal the Ontario government can be. Can you not just see the premier and her partner sucking back on President’s Choice beers and getting on a buzz from a toke while watching Toronto’s Leafs lose on Hockey Night in Rogers’ Land?

Mind you, it is just the times that change; not the quality of the actors. Ontario has had to put up with puritanical governments since it became a province in 1867 under the British North America Act of Westminster. If it had not been for the mineral wealth of Northern Ontario, there would still be farms in the premier’s North Toronto electoral district.

We have to assume that there is no alternative to the type of repressive and bad government, Ontario endures. And we are unlikely to see any of the spunk shown by Justin Trudeau and his team rubbing off in Ontario. In the recent federal election, the federal Liberals had nothing much to lose. They went a little overboard on some of their promises but their hearts seem to be in the right place.

While the premier and her partner could well pose for a poster of Ontario Gothic, it would only make an interesting counterpoint to the Trudeau’s pose for the cover of the U.S. magazine Vogue.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

On behalf of Liberals Past.

Monday, December 14th, 2015

It was great fun reading Chantal Hébert’s requiem for the Liberal Party generations left in the dust by Justin Trudeau’s team. In the Toronto Star the other day, she told of how the old-school-Liberal insiders are unknown to these new movers and shakers. We also need to remember that Chantal went to the Magdalen Islands back in August and reported that the Orange Wave was carrying on in Quebec.

It was a vivid reminder of Justin’s father who believed he had won the 1968 election single handed and had little need for us apparatchiks. Sure we were shunned for a while. We were all too young to vanish but many of us turned our attention to making a living. There were other causes for us in those years.

We were deeply concerned though during the October Crisis of 1970 when Trudeau used the draconian War Measures Act against the Front de Libération du Québec. We were aghast when Trudeau decided to campaign in 1972 on a slogan that “The Land is Strong.” Yet people like Senator Keith Davey and others rallied to help the party and we eked out a bare two-seat margin over the recovering Conservatives. And we all came to appreciate New Democrat David Lewis who sided with the Liberals to keep the Trudeau government in power for the next couple years.

But we are not just ghosts of Liberals Past. We have voices. We are not reluctant to use them. We were the ones who expressed anger at Justin Trudeau going back on his word and interfering in party nominations in Toronto. We waited impatiently for his brain-trust to realize the obvious solutions to many of the problems this campaign produced.

And with the Harper idiocy of extending the campaign beyond reason, we went through interminable frustration. When Dan Gagnier left Trudeau’s inner circle because of doing a little of his regular work on the side, it showed that his team had too much waste time on their hands.

Chantal tells us that dismissing the old guard will allow the Trudeau team to change the way we do politics in Canada. She notes that Justin has made it very clear that we will have reform of how we vote in this country. It will hardly be the first time a Trudeau has thought he has all the answers.

And this is just the ghost of Liberal politicians past speaking.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

The bathroom builder blunders on.

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

This news flash is courtesy the Toronto Star. Campion-Smith, Star Ottawa bureau chief, and Benzie, Star Queen’s Park bureau chief, have discovered that Conservative MP Tony Clement from Parry Sound—Muskoka electoral district is thinking of running for Stephen Harper’s old job. This is the same Tony Clement who made sure nobody was caught short while visiting the Huntsville area during the infamous G-7 summit in 2010.

With his qualifications in building public washrooms, Tony is positioning himself as a man of the people. He is also checking to make sure that Harper’s former minister of everything, Jason Kenney, is not in the running. The reporters reason that Kenney is more inclined to making an effort to unite the right in Alberta and bring that province back from the brink with the New Democrats.

With as much as two years of organizational work to do before the leadership convention, Clement is as likely as any of the other contenders to build the coalition of support that will be needed to win. In a contest between non-entities, Ontario’s Tony Clement might have a chance.

Nobody is particularly impressed with the field to-date. Kellie Leitch, the former labour minister, is also from Ontario but lacks Clement’s background in both provincial and federal politics. Lisa Raitt, the former Harper transport minister, has had more exposure than Leitch but still cannot match Clement’s experience.

People who are trying to bring Peter MacKay back into the political scene would probably do better with a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald. They seem to forget that Peter MacKay betrayed the old Progressive Conservative Party and handed it to Stephen Harper. Any and all kind memories of the old Red Tories were trampled into the ground during the Harper era.

If you are waiting for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to make his bid, you will have to wait until he is able to announce his candidacy in acceptable French. He is busy now with his French lessons.

And Tony Clement has much to answer for himself during the Harper years. As a Harper sycophant and as Treasury Board President, he decimated the Ottawa civil service while filling the gaps with contract workers.

While it was questionable if Clement really saved any money for Canadians, his cancelling of the long-form census was an excellent example of pandering to ignorance over logic. It was his expertise at building public toilets that assured him re-election in Parry Sound—Muskoka.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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

Referenda have stature not status.

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

A reader took a few minutes yesterday to remind Babel-on-the-Bay that referenda are not legally binding on governments in Canada. And neither, for that matter, are opinion polls.

But the point is that we live in a democracy and in a democracy where our representatives are chosen to rule for us, not to rule us. It is very wrong to ever suggest that the persons in government can just ‘get on with the job’ without considering the wishes of both the majority and the minorities who are their constituents. When our governments hold a plebiscite, it is on a question of wide-ranging and long-term impact. The result of a referendum is not legally binding but government ignores the result at its peril.

How we vote is that type of question. Anyone who has ever studied the various voting systems in use around the world realizes that there are very specific effects of the various systems on a democracy. What we might consider to be a simple and safe solution can potentially change our country forever.

In his frustration with our first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting, Justin Trudeau has made some very naïve promises about changing how we vote. And there are some people who would also be happier if he had picked someone with more political experience as minister for democratic institutions. It is going to take a very level-headed person to manage the zoo that is going to develop in a properly conducted and thorough examination of both the Senate of Canada and how to improve how Canadians vote.

The problem with the senate is one that really needs to be on the table when we finally reopen the constitution. Until then anything that can be done will be patchwork.

How Canadians vote is not a constitutional question. It deals with the custom inherited from the British Parliament of FPTP elections. When you have more than two people contending in the election, FPTP can create anomalies. Many people are displeased with the idea of only needing a plurality to win. It is only when you study alternative systems of voting that you realize they each have their own anomalies. Nobody is really happy with the expense of run-off elections or the problems with preferential voting (also known as a transferable vote) but there are potential solutions to that.

What we really need in considering these questions is people with open minds. You simply cannot consider solutions to the voting system until you have a clear idea of why you want to change it and what really are the options available. This is not as simple as people think.

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Copyright 2015 © Peter Lowry

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