Archive for February, 2016

Does a Pope trump a Trump?

Friday, February 19th, 2016

This must be the divine intervention that American Catholics have been praying for. It must be tough to be a Republican, though we have absolutely no sympathy for the current conundrum members of this benighted party face. It seems that they have been struggling with choosing between Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and an almost unending stream of losers. Now that Trump has taken on the Pope, members of the Grand Old Party are going to have to fish or cut bait.

Not being of any particular religion, we admit to have been paying somewhat more attention to the Holy See of late. It is the ongoing attempt of Pope Francis to drag the Roman Church kicking and screaming out of the middle ages that has caught our attention. While appreciating his efforts, this Pope has to realize that he is just one man against millions. He should note the current schism that has torn apart the Anglican Union and take heed.

Francis and Trump are interesting protagonists. The Pope came through the stifling and conservative environment of the College of Cardinals to the leadership of his church. Trump came through the open and liberal environment of America to become a billionaire and to act the buffoon.

The one thing you did not suspect was that the Pope would initiate the global sparring with Donald Trump. While no sensible citizen of the world would be comfortable with the chilling thought of Donald Trump at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation, it is not wise for an outsider to tell Americans what mistakes they might make. They seem to like finding out for themselves. They do it often enough.

In this case the Pope was commenting on people who want to build walls along borders instead of bridges. He did not consider people who wanted to build walls to be Christian. Since that is one of Trump’s signature solutions to neighbouring countries, he responded with some heat. He felt that the Pope had no right to question anyone’s faith. That is surprising considering how Trump talks about Muslims.

The Pope was talking about abortion with the media on his plane when the subject of Trump came naturally to the mind of a reporter. It is our humble opinion that the Pope showed great restraint in his response. Mr. Trump does not know what “restraint” means.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Is Ottawa thinking outside the box?

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

We should send an ‘Attaboy’ to the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa. It seems they are trying to stretch the thinking in the Finance Department to find new ways to fund high- technology start-ups. They are giving serious study to a report recommending ways to support Canada’s weakened high technology sector. The hope is to move some of Canada’s nascent high-tech companies into the giant job creation capabilities of the billion-dollar successes.

Of note is the fact that the report was commissioned by the previous Conservative government. It is to the Liberals’ credit that they are accepting and using the report. In all likelihood, it would still not have seen the light of day with the bottleneck of the previous Prime Minister’s Office.

The report was prepared by the Centre for Digital Entrepreneurship and Economic Performance. It is referred to as an economic think-tank.

The key to the thinking today in Ottawa is the statement Prime Minister Trudeau made in Davos, Switzerland in his first months in office. He put down Canada’s resource-based economy in favour of a more resourceful economy. That was a hard left turn from the attitude of the Harper regime that watched silently as high-tech companies constantly moved out of the country while all efforts went into an oil and gas based economy.

One of the concerns with the Trudeau government was that it might have relied entirely on construction projects to keep the economy moving. While construction can have a long-term payoff, it lacks the ability to generate new profits such as those from high-tech companies and their spin-offs.

One of the key recommendations in the report is to involve larger corporations in the support capabilities for high-tech start-ups. These corporations have capital sitting idle and incentives could assist them in moving the money into the economy where it could do some good in terms of job creation and helping the start-ups.

The report also called on the government to demand better accountability and transparency in incubators that are assisting start-ups. Without a technology base behind the operation, it could not assess the potential of the firms it was aiding.

We will assume that Justin Trudeau was also talking about Ottawa when he told the world forum in Davos that Canadians were resourceful. We will hear how resourceful at the occasion of the Liberal government’s first budget.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

An Honourable Member from Barrie.

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

In writing about the honourable members we elect to our legislatures and parliament yesterday, an image kept coming to mind of our new Member of Parliament for Barrie–Springwater—Oro-Medonte. It is not a positive image. The honourable gentleman who now represents the riding is an acolyte of Patrick Brown, the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party.

And nobody can draw the visceral hatred of a political foe as quickly and as vehemently as Patrick Brown MPP. The man is not widely loved in this his hometown. He spent nine years in the Harper Conservative government and did nothing for his country or city but vote Conservative. In the few times of a free vote being called by the Harper government, he voted against women’s rights.

But it is his stand-in Alex Nuttall, the new Member of Parliament, who assumed the cloak of Patrick Brown in Barrie—Springwater—Oro Medonte, The two Conservatives currently share the rural Springwater and Oro-Medonte townships in their federal and provincial ridings. In the next provincial election, they will have the same electoral district boundaries.

Brown is teaching Mr. Nuttall to be a ‘retail politician’ like himself. It is a position where you never have to explain yourself to voters. Nothing you do in the community is presented as political. It is all presented as serving the community, using community events, charity drives and family activities.

Frankly, Mr. Nuttall is more of a failure in politics than Mr. Brown. Throughout the overly-long federal election campaign, Mr. Nuttall appeared petulant, angry and was unwilling to debate his opponents. He was probably too much out of his depth. His responses in the few appearances, were he showed up, were waspish and included unnecessary attempts to smear an opponent.

In the recount after a very tight finish, you could see where Mr. Nuttall lost most of the Barrie polls. It was the overwhelming lack of knowledge of him in the rural parts of the riding that eked out a narrow Conservative win.

That is why Patrick Brown is back in town to take that boy in hand. It would never do to have the Liberals get smart and start building organizational strength in his riding over the next two years. Brown expects to have a safe seat ready for him in 2018 when he will want to spend his time trying to win the province.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Honourable Members All!

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

A reader brought up what he considers a serious weakness in first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting yesterday. It is the assumption that we elect “honourable members’ to our legislatures and the House of Commons and select the same for our Senate. The member we elect with at least a plurality is assumed capable of representing all voters in the electoral district despite their political leanings. The reader points out that Stephen Harper drove a stake through the heart of that idealistic concept over the past nine years.

The reader explains that the unfettered partisanship of the Harper regime robbed Canadians of the primary checks and balances needed in our parliamentary system. Political assistants and Members of Parliament going to jail over carrying this partisanship too far is hardly the answer.

What voters seem to be failing in is the ability to assess our political candidates in anything beyond which party leader they support. Our political parties, in turn, are failing badly in demanding high standards among the party’s candidates. They seem to prefer fealty to intelligence. They also fail in building their party membership, facilitating policy development, promoting the party’s philosophy and developing new election workers. And our MPs and MPPs fail us as they act like rude undisciplined children in our legislatures and parliament while all initiatives come from the Premier or Prime Minister’s Office.

On today’s Internet, we are seeing the emerging centralized party structures of the future built around a charismatic ‘Big Brother.’ The party is told how to think, how to tithe to the central fundraising that gives no accounting of its receipts and expenditures to the citizens, contributors or Elections Canada.

For lack of answers to these problems, Justin Trudeau’s brain trust told us that the answer is to change how we vote. What that has to do with the quality of party candidates has not been made clear. Maybe it is like the elitist committee to recommend elite candidates for Senate appointments. It will make no difference at all but it will give the politicians someone to blame when we get a bad apple.

Stephen Harper has no one else to blame than himself for Senator Mike Duffy. Mind you, Justin Trudeau will have no one else to blame but himself when he finds how difficult it is to get his government’s legislation through his ‘elite’ Senate.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

But what if FPTP isn’t broke?

Monday, February 15th, 2016

You almost hate to ask the question. What is wrong with the way Canadians vote? There seems to be an assumption by some people that first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is a failure. Does that mean you have to dump FPTP and take a flier on some other theoretically improved voting system? And why is it better?

The only people really dissatisfied with FPTP voting are the people who typically come third or fourth in the voting. This can be a very frustrating position, Despite being the choice of as much as 25 per cent of the voters, your party can end up with as few as ten per cent of the seats in parliament or a legislature. And the winning party can often win a majority of the seats with only 40 per cent of the popular vote.

Two of the simplest ways to correct that supposed inequity are a primary system that reduces the election to just two contestants per constituency or a run-off vote pitting the top two contestants against each other. And bear in mind that primaries or run-offs are very different from a preferential or transferable voting systems. In both the primary or run-off system, the voter has breathing time to consider the final outcome.

Another way to overcome the supposed inequity of FPTP is strategic voting. While many voters were disappointed in the seeming failure of strategic voting during the last federal election, it actually was working. It just works at a different level. There is a surprisingly large block of eligible voters in Canada who have no affiliation nor interest in politics. They are mainly young voters. Almost three million of these usually non-voters went to the polls last October. They mostly voted Liberal.

Those new voters were voting for the change that the Liberals under Trudeau were offering. There was no specific agenda item that caught their attention. It was the weariness with the Harper Conservatives and the failure of the New Democrats to ignite interest that let the Liberals win these new voters and gain the majority. And it is a unique feature of FPTP voting that took the Liberals from third party to a majority.

There is no harm done if study of FPTP voting and our democracy results in a better understanding. There could be harm done if the people involved in the study are committed to change. Canada might just have the best system of all: FPTP.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Justin marks a hundred days.

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

The wife wanted to send our prime minister a Valentine card. She is a fan. Maybe we both are in our different ways. She only wants him to lose the rock-star role and start to look more prime ministerial. She is right in that. It is time he got down to the real job and stopped acting like a playboy.

And he could learn much from an honest assessment of where he is at and how he got there.

First of all, that was not a particularly brilliant campaign that his people ran for him. Opportunities missed were many. Delays were common. The mistakes of his opponents afforded him opportunities. The extended length of the actual campaign was only Stephen Harper’s first error. Thomas Mulcair ceded Quebec to Trudeau when he could not sustain the Orange Wave.

It is critically important to remember that the Liberals did not win over the older voters. It was the millions of new voters, overwhelmingly supporting change, who made the difference. What people considered a brilliant social media campaign was nothing more than self-indulgence. The real work should have been put into building the computerized lists of workers and supporters.

(This Liberal somehow kept getting all the e-mails from Beaches-East York in Toronto—a hundred kilometres from our electoral district of Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte—which told us much about why the Liberals would win in Toronto and lose in Barrie.)

What the Liberals have done well in the first hundred days was to bring a steady flow of Syrian refugees to Canada without being overly concerned about the numbers. The gender parity of the new cabinet was a master stroke but is unlikely to be sustained over four years. Pulling out our F-18s was a necessary step but putting all our ground support with the Kurds could come back to bite us in the future. It might be a smart tactic but shows a lack of forward planning.

But promises such as putting the end to first-past-the-post voting are foolish. It is better to study a question first and then make promises.

And starting the day with tax cuts is just aping the Conservatives. The true definition of this administration will be in its financial strategies. They have yet to be fully defined.

We should send our Valentine’s wishes to our prime minister anyway. He deserves a fair chance. He got rid of Stephen Harper for us.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Incremental inclinations of the incompetents.

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

The banker has been heard from. The other day we noted that Ontario wine drinkers were waiting to hear about liberalizing wine sales in Ontario. We have been waiting for a long time for this and it seems that we will be waiting even longer. It is turning into a bravura performance of incrementalism. The question we ask is it necessary? Is the public frightened of change? Or are the political manipulators raising the price of liberalism?

It makes us curious. What is the price of bidding for a licence to sell beer in Ontario? What is the price of bidding for a licence to sell wine? Is the payment by cheque to the Ontario Treasurer or in cash in a plain envelope? Is Ontario still back in the 1920s or is this the 21st Century? All that we are told just raises more questions.

Why the delays? When you make up your mind to allow one grocery store to sell a product, is it not fair to allow all grocery stores to sell the product? Favouring one store over another smacks of corruption. It fails the smell test.

In 50 years of being involved in Ontario politics, this is the most blatantly stupid process we have ever heard of. Having politicians blaming it on a banker is downright embarrassing. And the people who should be the most embarrassed are the editors of the Toronto Star. You wonder what has happened to their claimed concern for their readers?

The other day in a “Toronto Star Exclusive,” reporter Martin Regg Cohn tells us of wine industry fears of liberalized sales. Does that mean Ontario wine producers do not think they can compete? Regg Cohn should ask more questions.

But if they cannot compete, why should 40 grocery stores only be allowed to sell Ontario wines? Why penalize the grocery stores to support Ontario wines? Just think, in another five years wine in grocery stores might have a level playing field?

It is when they blame all these machinations on a banker, you wonder how much they are paying him to take the blame?

What is running this booze circus is greed. The civil servants want to protect the province’s revenue stream of about $2 billion a year from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores. The politicians seem to want the ongoing publicity and to protect their revenue stream from the liquor, wine and beer interests and their unions. Only the public gets the dirty end of the stick.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Sometimes you do not want to be right.

Friday, February 12th, 2016

So, do you feel better after the Whitby-Oshawa provincial by-election? What do you expect when only 25 per cent of the voters would brave the cold to vote? Frankly, the results might have been the same on a warm spring day. Nothing changed.

The only good news for the day is that auto repair places sold more batteries and Tim Horton’s franchises in the electoral district sold more coffee. It was colder than expected.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has returned to Ottawa and he has his own problems.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has checked with her banker advisor and he had no advice for her. She will continue to be incremental in booze distribution reform. She will continue the ill-advised sale of Hydro-One. She will fail to reform Ontario’s outdated and easily corrupted political finance laws. She will continue to fail to give Ontario the leadership it needs to kick-start the province’s economy.

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath was among the missing. When the NDP falls to below 20 per cent of the popular vote in the heart of Ontario’s auto production country, it is time to reassess. It has been obvious since the last provincial election that Andrea has to go but, more important, what is the future for the NDP? That requires thought.

And then there is that disgusting Patrick Brown. As leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park, you hardly think of Brown as one of the Three Amigos. Brown, Horwath and Wynne are more of a triumvirate of disappointments. Ontario does not deserve them.

The situation in Ontario calls for revolt. The revolt needs to originate among the political parties. How anyone who respected the decency and concern of Progressive Conservative leaders such as Bill Davis can tolerate the deceit and chicanery of a manipulative little man such as Patrick Brown, is beyond us. Conservatives: Take back your party!

The Liberal Party of Ontario is well within its rights to order a new leadership convention. It should be an open convention and properly regulated. Every Liberal in the province should be entitled to vote without surprise new memberships bought by unknown interests.

The people with the toughest problem are Ontario’s New Democrats. Our attitude is that the real progressives in the NDP could accomplish more as activists in the Liberal Party than as fringe socialists. They need to think about it.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The perils of political predictions in by-elections

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

A friend called the other evening. He wanted to know who would win tonight’s provincial by-election in Christine Elliott’s former electoral district of Whitby-Oshawa. Once again we had to patiently explain that it is impossible to predict. The opinion polls that say the Conservatives have the best chance are useless. The big rally the other night with Prime Minister Trudeau supporting the provincial Liberal was excessive. And Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown spending his time trying to teach the PC candidate how to win is silly.

The key today is the number of troops each side can get motivated and working to get out the identified vote for their candidate. Included in the planning had better be batteries in their cars able to withstand -8 degrees Celsius for constant short-haul driving. (And, at that temperature, you can count on Ontario Motor League to be overloaded all day.)

The Liberals believe that their throngs of political staffers from Queen’s Park are a secret weapon. They are a secret alright. You will find most of them cooped at a local Tim’s for the day telling each other how important they are. (We used to refer to that type of help as a Children’s Crusade.)

In days gone by we would have worried about the potential strength of the local autoworkers for the New Democratic candidate. You will probably find more of those union people working for the Liberal than for the NDP.

But despite a likely turnout of around 30 per cent of voters, there are important lessons to be learned today. Anything less than a 40 per cent vote for the Conservative will be considered a negative for Leader Patrick Brown. Anything more than a 40 per cent vote for the Liberal will shore up Premier Kathleen Wynne’s position. Anything less than 20 per cent for the NDP will be blamed on NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

The real reason for the effort in Whitby-Oshawa today is to undermine the position of PC Leader Patrick Brown. The reason for the by-election is Christine Elliott’s distaste for her political party’s new leader. As well as being the widow of the late Conservative finance minister Jim Flaherty, Elliott is well regarded in the riding. A lot depends on how many Conservatives in the riding really understand why she resigned.

As leaders go, it would be hard to imagine Patrick Brown having the leadership skills to lead a vulture to road-kill. Conversely, he does know about winning.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

A road without remorse for Rona.

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

It was obligatory on Monday for the news media to check with Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose on Prime Minister Trudeau’s announcement of the change in Canada’s role in the partnership against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Rona gave them the obligatory Conservative position. “Shameful,” she said. The news media knew what she would say before she said it. You would think the media could save money by just prerecording a month of statements at a time.

But Rona seems to be enjoying her 15 minutes of fame as the Interim Leader of the Conservative Party. She is an Alberta Libertarian and she is as predictable as an annoyed skunk. She worships at the alter of St. Stephen the Harper—He who could do no wrong.

But St. Stephen is gone—waiting for his private sector reward. Rona has no mentor. She is on her own and on a slippery slope. Not even the last Bobbsey Twin, Calgary MP Jason Kenney, can help her as he wrestles with the questions of his own future.

Yet Rona was Stephen’s go-to girl when he needed someone to walk the walk and talk the talk for his Conservative government. She rode into the hot spots of Stephen’s Cabinet like a knight errant. She braved out an untenable position in Environment and sounded convincing in a mockery of Minister of Health.

As interim leader, she was interesting at first on the talk shows but it soon became apparent that she was not interested in the interviewer’s questions. She brought her own agenda and stuck to it. She made it difficult for the interviewer who tried to cut her off after over-staying her welcome. There are openings these days for more pleasant Conservative spokespeople who can address questions.

Rona is an experienced public relations person with a post-graduate degree in political science (from the University of Calgary, of course). She has over 11 years in parliament behind her and she does know how the place works. You would think she would take better advantage of the situation.

It was obvious on Monday that she resented the betrayal by Trudeau of the Harper position on bombing ISIL. She was judging by old surveys that bombing was supported and considered a safe option by most Canadians. Behind that lipstick smile is one determined politician.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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