Archive for March, 2016

Correcting corruption in Ontario.

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

It appears that the news media has detected a bad smell in the general area of Ontario’s seat of government at Queen’s Park. It is the smell of political corruption. We are told not to worry though as our Premier promises to fix it later this year.

Is that when she will have enough in the bank to get her through the next election?

And what is it she will fix? There is a lot that is wrong. Will she just lower the political donation limits to make life tougher for other parties? Will she stop allocating Cabinet colleagues fundraising quotas? Will she stop the obviously corrupt use of third-party advertising? Or will we get even deeper into what has gone wrong with Ontario politics?

With an open study, we might be able to do something about the way that Wynne manipulated the leadership race in her party to steal the position of premier. That would please the Conservatives who are disquieted over how the new Conservative leader stole his position.

What is surprising in this is that the political system in Ontario used to work fairly well. The costs of the political system were spread broadly across a healthy business sector and nobody was paying too much. The system only went south when the parties in power lost touch with the why they had got into power in the first place. They would get too complacent.

The only recent problem was when a tired McGuinty Liberal government was ready to be dumped in 2011, there was no logical replacement. Tim Hudak of the PCs and Andrea Horwath of the NDP had failed to connect with the voters. The situation did not improve much during the short minority Liberal government leading up to the 2014 general election.

Third-party advertising in 2014 made a substantial contribution to discrediting Conservative Leader Tim Hudak. He made sure of his loss when he made the desperation suggestion that he would fire 100,000 Ontario civil servants. After that election, he at least had the good grace to resign and a leadership contest was engaged. It is doubtful that his replacement is much of an upgrade.

But the measure of Premier Wynne will be the lengths she will go to fix the corrupt political practices in Ontario. One thing she could start with is to restore democracy to the Liberal Party of Ontario. Democracy in Ontario requires strong, democratic political parties.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The snob appeal of Brexit.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Babel-on-the-Bay has decided not to do any Morning Line handicapping on the question of Great Briton voting to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum (commonly referred to as Brexit). Unlike the Scottish referendum a couple years ago, we have no emotional ties to this argument. While there is no reason to think this vote will change anything, the foolish Brits seem to need the exercise as a way to clear the air, so to speak.

Quite frankly the entire exercise also seems to be a way for Brit Prime Minister David Cameron to play his usual games. What we are sure of is that no matter what side wins, it is the Brits who are going to pay the piper. This is a lose-lose proposition. It is already a stick in the eye to the French and Germans just for holding the referendum.

While Canadian expatriate Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, is doing his damnedest to stay out of it, there are so many economic questions that he is being dragged into the middle of the fray. What he obviously knows is that the Bank of England will be paying for this referendum either way. England has already annoyed the rest of Europe for its smug bigotry on the refugee file, the slurs against EU membership and their ongoing snobbish attitude towards fellow members of the European Union.

Any person who has gone through a divorce can tell you that it pays to keep some friends among your former family.

And it not as though there is any solace in thinking the Americans are your best friends for life. When you weight the economy of the European Union against that of Great Briton, who the hell would you choose?

And the Brits can hardly count on the Commonwealth. Canada is tied so tight to the Americans that Ottawa would have to call Washington to ask permission before offering anything to Great Briton. And the Aussies and New Zealanders are likely to have a jolly good laugh if the Brits ever asked them for anything. And have the Brits tried doing business with India lately?

The smart thing for the Brits to do is to cancel the damn referendum before they do any more damage.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Bernie Sanders occupies the Occupy revolt.

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

The good news for the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011 is that the revolution lives on. Watching the Occupy movement at the time was painful as the young and inexperienced organizers took their ideas nowhere. It was an ill-timed revolution without a plan. Only the now established anger at the one per cent for holding most of the money lived on.

But the American Senator from Vermont, 74-year old Bernie Sanders, obviously understood. He must have looked at those youngsters on Wall Street and said: There is my mob.

But without a younger understudy, Bernie Sanders efforts are also wasted. He is gathering an army that will need future leaders. It is a movement that America so desperately needs.

Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist but the reality is in his political career since becoming mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1981, he has proven himself a social democrat. He can wear that appellation proudly.

In Sanders presidential campaign, he has denounced the corrupt Super PACs of American politics and will only accept donations from individuals. It might leave him behind Hilary Clinton in delegates but it makes his supporters even stronger.

Bernie’s vociferous legions are already confronting the bread and circuses mobs of Donald Trump’s right wing and the battle could rage all the way to the November elections.

The only problem is that Hilary Clinton is still the front-runner for the Democratic Party nomination and Sanders’ problem will be to bring his followers on-side for Clinton. It will all be wasted if Clinton does not embrace some of the left-wing ideology of the Sanders campaign. She will be unbeatable in November if Sanders can get her on board.

Clinton already owns the stance on women’s rights. She needs to speak out on income and wealth inequality, free college tuition, a living wage for all and restoring democracy in the United States. The rest of Bernie’s pledges are all good but she needs to pick those that resonate best with American Democrats. And it is always best to be recognized for one or two things while the rest become a blur.

But Clinton knows all that. She will run a strong campaign for the presidency and she can guarantee the win by bringing along Bernie’s Occupy supporters. They will bring a fresh vibrancy to the campaign. And because the very idea of Trump’s America must be stopped.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Is Justin Trudeau’s senate legitimate?

Monday, March 28th, 2016

When a leading Liberal thinker such as Pierre Trudeau’s former Principal Secretary Thomas Axworthy challenges us on how to make the new independent(?) Senate of Canada legitimate, workable and effective, we need to pay attention. The only problem is that in a think piece for the Toronto Star on March 26, Tom writes that Justin Trudeau’s senate solution seems to be based on a fantasy.

Tom credits Helen Forsey (daughter of the late constitutional expert Senator Eugene Forsey) with writing of the ‘fantasy of the future’ in which people who have earned the respect of their fellow Canadians through their work for the common good, are appointed to the senate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already gone Helen Forsey one better. He has picked an elite committee to recommend elite candidates for the senate for him to choose. He must have figured that it takes an elite to know one. It reminds us of Benito Mussolini’s corporations that he appointed to make Italy’s trains run on time.

But what is legitimate about elitism in any form?

Tom answers his own question about whether this elitist senate is workable. In his article, he questions the organizational structure of this new body that is supposed to be without connection to political parties. He is concerned that the senate will have no choice but to to organize itself into quasi-provincial caucuses. While some might think that a house of the provinces could work, there needs to be a lot of thought about the inequality that this idea would foster.

And that leaves the critical question as to whether this elitist, ‘non-partisan’ senate can work on behalf of Canadians. The answer is probably not. When you ask people who have no experience in the process of creating legislation to study bills, you are asking for trouble.

And besides, Canada already has the Order of Canada as an honours system—such as it is. To also use the senate as an honours system is almost as silly as the political use of the Queen’s Jubilee Medal for political purposes under the last Conservative government.

As policy chair for Massey College, University of Toronto, we see that Tom will be hosting a conference at the college on April 25. The conference will be on the future of an independent senate. Hopefully the conference can help make sure it will be a short future.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Party conventions are always about money.

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

The first thing learned about political conventions is that it always has to be at a profit. The second is that if there is nothing contentious, create something. You always have to fill the hall.

And filling the hall does not seem to be a problem for any of the three political party conventions planned over the next couple months.

The May meeting of the Liberal Party of Canada in Winnipeg will be a love-in and by far the largest of the events. The party’s Liberalist has been worked hard and thoroughly to turn out the faithful. The Liberals are coming to celebrate their victory last October and to get their kudos. Just look at the registration costs and you can easily compute the profit that goes into the party bank account. And the attendees will get their money’s worth: just line up for your selfie with Justin on the left.

The New Democrat convention in Edmonton at the end of April is the low-budget political event but then it will also be the most intense. Party Leader Thomas Mulcair has been working the party for some time now to try to keep his job. While the NDP has made a tradition of not automatically dumping their failed leaders, they probably should with Tom Mulcair. He might think he deserves another chance in 2019 but the only excuse for the party to keep him is to keep the seat warm and plan for a better leader in 2024. The only problem is that not all the delegates are long range thinkers.

The most interesting of the three party conventions in the offing is the Conservative Party of Canada meeting in Vancouver at the same time as the Liberals are in Winnipeg. This apparatchik would most like to be a fly on the wall in those hospitality suites. The most important topics at this conference are ‘Who’ and ‘How.’

Those are interwoven subjects because you can hardly get one without the other. The legacy of Stephen Harper could be entirely in the hands of former Minister of everything Jason Kenney. Kenney is playing it low key and is waiting to see how the field of potential leadership candidates emerges.

But this will be the leadership kick-off for the Conservatives. Michael Chong MP from Ontario has already launched and working the smaller ‘C’ conservatives. If he is smart(?) Peter MacKay might stay home in Nova Scotia. There is a very broad opening between Kenney and Chong and nature hates a vacuum. There will be more.

Frankly, it is a great time to be a political commentator.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Impatient for democratic reform?

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

The federal Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef must have the easiest job in Ottawa. Sure, she is new to the job and has lots to learn but so far, she has had it easy. Even her announcement of the Senate of Canada appointment process was made easy. She made it last December along with Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc. It was LeBlanc who did the heavy lifting.

Not that the Senate solution was anything impressive. It was an elitist solution to appointing elites. It was a singularly unimpressive temporary solution. The Senate of Canada is an anachronism that exists only because of Canada’s constitutional constipation. If we had a real and hard-working Minister of Democratic Institutions, reform of the senate would be high on the docket list of important reforms.

Like many first and second generation Canadians, the Minister is probably reluctant to touch the monarchy file. This writer is a sixth generation Canadian and he has been fed up with the claptrap about the monarchy since being indoctrinated in Grade 3 of our Ontario school system. There is nothing more meaningless and embarrassing to Canadians than our foreign monarch and her dysfunctional family.

But even if we continue to have democratic institution ministers who are afraid of Canada’s silly monarchist supporters, we have got to do something about the governor general. This is elitist to the extreme to house and use some supposedly patrician Canadian who can only do as the prime minister tells him or her and carry on as though they are performing some important duty. We could hire an actor to do the job much cheaper.

Of course we are all waiting for the democratic Institutions minister’s big scene when she appoints a committee of the House of Commons to decide how Canadians will vote. Her role here is to make Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look good about keeping his promise. That is the promise that 2015 was the last time Canadians would use First-Past-The-Post voting to choose their Member of Parliament.

The minister’s problem is that the Conservatives will agree to nothing and the New Democrats want proportional voting. If the Liberal majority picks preferential voting (indicating your first, second and third choice to create a mock-majority) and no other party supports them, there would be no credibility to a change without a referendum. And good luck on that!

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

In Ontario there is the Brown Way.

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Last weekend Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown was in Barrie to stoke the local loyalties. He reminds us of the busker with the sticks and plates. This is the entertainer who can keep more and more plates spinning on sticks. And if he makes it look too easy, he just adds more sticks and plates.

The only difference is that Brown is the kind of guy who breaks the plates and does not care. His rich friends will get him more.

But Brown is also alienating people and that is not something that mere money can fix.

Take the recent race for his party’s presidency for example. He had to buy off the competition. Brown needs his old friend former MP Rick Dykstra in the party presidency to protect his back. How he bought off Jag Badwal, who also was also vying for the job, we will find out eventually.

The other obvious problem is the Ontario caucus. Brown has few friends in the group. These are people well versed in the situation at Queen’s Park and many resent the way Brown stole the leadership. Swamping the legitimate membership with immigrants from India and Pakistan was hardly doing the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario a favour. These instant members were brought out to vote and then they went home, never to be seen again.

But there are just too many other problems for Brown to handle. In most, he is ill-equipped to handle them. How he will get his caucus members to like him is a challenge of major proportions. He is hardly a likeable person.

His main problem is the news media. He cannot patronize the Queen’s Press Gallery the way he patronized what passes for news media in Barrie. The Ottawa Gallery had mostly ignored him when he was an MP but that is not possible for the Ontario Gallery. They tend to have their claws out for him.

But they like him in Barrie. The hard core Conservatives in Barrie fawn on him. His choice as Member of Parliament to replace him, Alex Nuttall, might be the biggest lapdog you have ever met. When Brown says jump, Nuttall is already in the air before asking ‘How high?’

The major question the media are raising about Brown is what his policy direction might be? There is a simple answer to that question: Whatever will help get him re-elected.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Don’t bet your pay cheque on this budget

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

To be honest, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, you did nothing wrong. Listening to your preamble on the budget the other day, you said that hope is possible. You talked about the years after the Second World War when the middle class emerged in Canada. We were strong. We were confident. And yet in the 1970s we found that the middle class were just like gerbils. We were running in a wheel to nowhere.

But now Bill and you and your colleague Justin tell us that the middle class is back and we can bet the pay cheque on it. We are just going to spend our way out of our problems.

But just a few questions if we may?

How do you bet the pay cheque if you do not have one? Neither you nor Justin are exactly middle class. You have never had to live from pay cheque to pay cheque. As one astute observer said in Ottawa yesterday, being middle class is a state of mind. People constantly fall out of both ends of that pipe. There are no safeguards

And by the way, you need to know up front that what you did for Canada’s Aboriginal peoples yesterday was admirable. It might have helped if the money was more specifically assigned but it looks like our First Nations could be winners.

But are you not the one who is really gambling? It looks very much like you are gambling on Canada’s ability to join the recovery. If oil is back over US$60 a barrel sooner than expected, will you have not won your bets?

Your budget reads like you gave the list of Liberal promises to the civil servants there in Finance and said see how much of this you can do and stay under a $30 billion deficit. You know how we can tell? There is absolutely no creativity in those figures. The budget is a bloody boring read.

You might have restored the Baby Bonus but you have really done nothing else for the middle class.

You might have raised the desperation level money for seniors with the Guaranteed Income Supplement but you have left most seniors mired in mediocre living because their savings for their retirement are producing nothing for them.

Your budget might have righted some wrongs but you built nothing for the future.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

But this is not about oil!

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Companies exploiting the Athabasca and Cold Lake oil sands and the pipeline public relations people must be proud of themselves. They have gullible business media writers, television script writers and others in the news business talking about oil. They have all found it easier to talk about oil rather than to explain bitumen.

Just last week Gordon Pape, a person who has made a career of giving advice on building wealth, wrote a column for the Toronto Star about pipelines that illustrates the problem. He was warning people of the economic consequences of saying no to any more pipelines. The only problem is that he illustrates his story with stalled pipelines that are designed to send diluted, heated bitumen through pipelines under high pressure.

And that is the problem. Canadians are being constantly lied to about pipelines. In Pape’s story he claims that Canadians have suddenly decided that economic stagnation is preferable to any project that might—and he puts emphasis on the word might—have a negative effect on the environment.

“Might” is a weak word. If you Google the words “Enbridge, Pipeline, Kalamazoo, Michigan,” you can read for yourself what happens when millions of litres of diluted bitumen are spilled into a river system. It is now more than five years and more than a billion (US) dollars spent to try to restore the area of the spill. It is the largest pipeline spill in American history and the clean-up can never be finished.

Pape speaks positively about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal for a pipeline to Kitimat, B.C. He says it is not officially dead yet but opposition from First Nations, the B.C. government and the federal Liberal’s pledge to outlaw tanker traffic in the ecologically sensitive region has effectively killed the project.

What Pape neglects to mention is that the proposed pipeline is actually twinned with a smaller diameter pipe that would feed light crude over the Rockies to Bruderheim, Alberta. At the Bruderheim terminal, the bitumen was to be mixed with the light crude, heated and sent back to Kitimat through the larger diameter pipe at high pressure.

Twinning the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Burnaby, B.C. was also a planned conversion to bitumen. And the 4,600 kilometres of the Energy East pipeline is again a proposal for diluted, high temperature, high pressure bitumen transit.

While Pape paints an optimistic picture for pipelines, he asks us if we want to shut down the prospects for future growth in this industry? What we should ask is when will the tar sands people find a method of converting bitumen to synthetic crude oil in Alberta without destroying the province’s environment?

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Did Le Pen expect rose petals?

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

What did Marine Le Pen president of France’s Front National Party expect? Canadians are hardly about to strew rose petals in her path when she decides to come here and tell us what we are doing wrong. We are open-minded people but we are not particularly interested in people who spread bigotry and fear.

Who does Le Pen think she is, Donald Trump?

Mind you, that seems to be the hard-right wing politician’s thing. Marine Le Pen is a problem for France in that role she rails against immigrants and Syrian refugees alike. She wants to keep France pure. She embarrasses the conservative and the left-wing alike in her own country. And it is why she is being shunned during her holiday in Canada.

No Canadian politician of any stripe is eager to be seen with Le Pen. Even Pierre-Karl Péladeau has denounced her and her political views. He has little choice. While he might have been impressed with the Front National during his years of living high in Paris on the Péladeau family fortune, he is now the leader of a mainly left-wing Parti Québécois. It would never do for him to be seen hob-knobbing with the likes of right-wing Le Pen.

The best we can do for Le Pen as a tourist is to point out some of the excellent restaurants she will find while visiting Quebec City and Montreal. We would also point out to her that some of the most interesting nightlife in Quebec City is in the western suburbs such as the Sainte-Foy area.

One of the Canada’s federal politicians who might have found a conversation with Marine Le Pen interesting is Canada’s Minister of Democratic Institutions. In the recent round of regional elections in France Le Pen’s Front National candidates did very well in the first round of voting. They reached as much as 42 per cent of the vote in some areas.

But France, with its two-round voting system, requires a majority to be elected. In the second round of voting, Le Pen’s candidates fell by the wayside as more mainstream candidates won the majority of votes. In some cases more left of centre candidates had stepped aside to ensure that the Le Pen candidates were defeated. And they were.

Minister Maryam Monsef in Ottawa should pay heed.

-30-

Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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