Archive for March, 2016

The death of journalism.

Monday, March 21st, 2016

We are told that journalism is dying. It was supposed to have chronicled centuries. Journalism, as we knew it, was born in the 19th Century, came to fruition in the 20th Century and is staging an ugly despairing death in the 21st Century. Canadians bear witness to this death on a daily basis and pay little heed.

But they will miss it when it is gone. Broadcast media can never replace true journalism. Print on a screen or paper is the medium that best enables the citizen to select and self-edit the content. It is the ability to select content that measures the journalist’s effort. The provocative headline and the arresting photograph help but it is the reverse pyramid of a reporter’s skill that draws you through the information. And it will be in our quest for information and for truth that we will mourn the passing of journalism.

And we have no trust in what seems to be replacing it. Newspapers of today are a lost cause. Fewer newspaper owners with narrowed biases are replacing the altruism of the journalist as newspaper publishing returns to the partisan politics of its origins. The newspapers that are left are in a race with bankruptcy as fewer advertising dollars are swept up by newer, more aggressive media.

Despite the hype, the Internet cannot save journalism. It is like a trunk sewer collecting and drawing the good, the bad, the flotsam and the bouquets along in the growing torrent. And you can hardly expect untested blogs to replace true journalism. The journalist needs time, expenses, sources and access to deliver what he or she and maybe you will recognize as the truth. And there are many truths to be told.

Each of us who uses the Internet as our soapbox challenges the truth. We are burdened with our biases too. We are but the blind discovering the elephant. We take our limited view and give an opinion. Only you can decide.

Broadcast has been providing a bridge for journalism but it is a weak and biased bridge as the news vehicles drive by the news in their rush to fill the next hour’s feeding cycle.

The era of the news magazine has been challenged with the immediacy of radio. And television creates magazine style news. We have lots of information today and never enough hard news.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Pay politicians what they are worth?

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

A friend made the suggestion the other day that we should pay politicians according to the contribution they make. While there was an immediate acceptance of the suggestion, we realized that there would have to be a minimum base to allow the individual something to live on. It is just that we have known too many politicians who would starve to death if they were paid based on their productivity.

And where does this concept have to start? If we began it with school board trustees, we would have to make them pay for the appointment. That is all it is. The role of a school trustee is that of an ego on a crusade. You should have to pay for it. Get on the board. Get your hobby horse looked after. Get off the board. Your bill from the community should be reasonable and please pay promptly.

City or town councillors are often the same. They get the bug to run because they are tired of complaining about a sidewalk or an inappropriately located stop sign. Once their wagon is running smoothly on their newly paved road, they get the urge to fix other’s little red wagon. What we should have is an alms box outside the councillor’s office door. It would never do to give the councillor an envelope with money in it but hopefully there would be enough in the alms box each week to feed and cloth the councillor’s family.

Mayors and reeves would be looked after by the business community. Their alms boxes would be larger and suitable for envelopes full of money. These boys and girls are not in the loonie or toonie class.

This approach would at least give pause to the city politician who sees an opening into federal or provincial politics. You can build up a nice return in your alms box but the higher levels of government present challenges.

First of all party politics can challenge the alms approach. You have to become adept at promising help but not delivering if it goes against party policy. The party bagmen and bagwomen get first dibs on targeted donors and the individual member has to live on the leavings.

And then there are often differences between the provincial and federal fundraising rules. In Ontario, for example, the Premier can sell direct contact to CEOs for $5000 a plate dinner while federal members have to live with more stringent rules.

But then federal contracts and business opportunities can far exceed provincial opportunities and there must be enough money in the business community to satisfy everyone. Mind you even the laziest parliamentarian should have enough left from expenses to be able to serve a decent brand of whisky.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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A guaranteed income for Canadian elites?

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

That was a firm step backward in time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday. He gave jobs to people who had no need for another job. He gave the title of senator to people who had no need for further titles. He made a mockery of much needed reform.

This is elitism at its worst. It is putting the onus of reviewing government legislation on people known for other accomplishments. While two of yesterday’s elitist appointees had some government experience with legislation, our prime minister expects the rest to suddenly turn their talents to reviewing and debating government legislation in a forum created for another era almost 150 years ago.

We might as well call it what it is. This is just simple cowardice. Justin Trudeau is afraid of the constitutional struggles of his father. He wants to leave sleeping dogs lie. He believes he can change how people vote in this country without constitutional change or referendum yet cannot conceive an approach to senate reform that does not necessarily challenge the constitution.

But the prime minister’s sunny days are going to become rainy days if he does not start paying attention to the problems our constitution creates. Only a foolish egotist believes that a constitution if we write it today can meet the needs of a country more than 100 years in the future. Constitutions do not need to be easy to change but they should never be impossible to change.

Canada exists today with an irrelevant foreign monarchy, an overly powerful prime minister, a moribund senate, a ceremonial governor general, and a collection of unequal and unbalanced provinces–with improperly allotted responsibilities. And the further problems these create could feed this one commentary with subjects for the next 50 years.

But the better short term solution to the senate was suggested quite some time ago by Babel-on-the-Bay. The senate has a political job to do. It therefore needs to be political. It needs people selected by their respective political parties according to the popular vote in each federal election. It would be proportional and unlikely to have a majority. It does not need a majority to do its job. It just needs people who care. There is no need for the senate to be a sinecure. It just needs some new blood after every federal election. And does that not make more sense?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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“There will be rioting in the streets.”

Friday, March 18th, 2016

It is terrible that Donald Trump cannot seem to find a better playbook for his campaign than that of the Weimar Republic of the 1930s. He is raising spectres that were thought to have died more than 60 years ago. He is causing comparisons with tactics that might have worked in the past but have no place in today’s North America. The man invokes fascism at every twist and turn in his campaign.

Fascism feeds on the anger, bigotry, frustration, ignorance and jingoism of the masses. It can be cruelly manipulated by the uncaring megalomaniac. And who is it that chose this Trump guy to even consider running for President of the United States of America?

Is this a person anyone would trust who threatens rioting at the Republican Convention in July? He is defiant of the democratic process. He has already decided that he is the winner. Yet he is the beloved of the losers, the bikers, the religious fanatics, the extremists. For he, Trump, thinks he is their leader.

Trump wants to be leader of the free world and yet there would be no freedom under him. He preaches the politics of exclusion, hate, distrust and destruction. He wants to build walls against people seeking asylum. He would tear down the world-renowned Statue of Liberty. He would tear up agreements between nations. He would be kept busy by his bigotry. He would foment new hatred and resentment against America around the world.

Trump promotes bigotry over understanding. He thinks violence should replace negotiation. He panders to extremism. He looks down on those who question him.

Any riot during the Cleveland GOP Convention will most likely be of his creation. The only problem is that there are many who will willingly pitch in against Trump’s losers and troublemakers. Democrat Bernie Sanders has shown Americans that there are legions of the American left that will stand up to fascism. Added to that are Cleveland’s own young and unemployed blacks who hate Trump and whose emotions in the heat of the summer will simmer just below the boiling point.

To further escalate matters, Cleveland’s police have ordered 2000 riot outfits to dress their people for the event. Will everyone bring their weapon of choice to see how effective these new suits might be? It could be an event of epic proportions—like a remake of Birth of a Nation.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Wandering in the wilderness with the NDP.

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

Leader Thomas Mulcair is hardly the only New Democrat with something to prove at the party’s Edmonton Convention April 9 to 10. Sure, he needs to justify his leadership but the real question is where Canada’s New Democratic Party is headed? It is obviously not the direction that Mulcair chose for the last federal election.

The party’s problem is that it has absolutely no idea where it should go. It has tried socialist leaders, unionist leaders, populist leaders and more recently opportunist leaders. And what success has been had? While there have been some briefly successful provincial leaders, there has been little encouragement federally—except for the brief surge that was called the Orange Wave.

The Orange Wave was not orchestrated by the NDP. It served to ensure a Conservative majority in the 2011 election. It was an opportunity for Stephen Harper to ward off the Liberal Party. If the Conservatives could not win in Quebec, Harper certainly did not want it to go to the Liberals. And it worked.

But losing Jack Layton was not the game plan. And why did Stephen Harper order an unprecedented state funeral for the Leader of the Opposition? He was trying to seal the fate of the now third-place Liberal Party.

The problem for the NDP was the “safe” choice of Thomas Mulcair to replace Layton. Mulcair’s experience was as a civil servant and as a cabinet minister with a right-of-centre Liberal government in Quebec. Why this background would prepare him to lead the federal NDP was not really clear to us observers.

While Mulcair made a name for himself as opposition leader in prosecuting the Harper Conservatives in the House of Commons, it was his failure in the 2015 election that surprised his party. The NDP were blind-sided when Mulcair took a position to the right of Trudeau’s Liberals. The Liberals were the risk takers, the social activists and the progressives and moved from a third place party to a majority government.

And where does that leave Mulcair and his New Democrats? Does the socialist caucus of the NDP take over? Does the party turn to someone such as MP Nathan Cullen from British Columbia and say “Show us a plan for the future of the party”?

There can be a role for the party as the conscience of parliament. There is also a role that it could play as the conscience of the Liberal Party. Either is important.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Time for a guaranteed income for Canadians.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

It is surprising how often the suggestion for a guaranteed annual income system for Canada comes up. While scoffed at by the political right wing, they need to realize how much money it would save.

Liberals and left of centre parties have long been advocates of this major change. An annual guarantee would eliminate the myriad safety net type programs that we have built to help individuals. You could start by taking Unemployment Insurance off the table once and for all and save the vast amounts it takes to collect, administer and dole out. It could also change the Canada Pension Plan in its present form, as well as eliminate the mix of programs to support the young, the ill, the infirm, the challenged, and the old in our society. And we do not need to do it just because it is the humane thing to do. A guaranteed income covers the gaps between programs and nobody falls down the cracks.

The very real pressure would be on society to produce the national income to sustain the program at optimum levels. The challenge to businesses both large and small would be to make work attractive and rewarding. Some people would be able to devote a lifetime to learning, to the arts and to what today are considered hobbies. Volunteerism would become a larger stratum of society as people choose to devote their time to helping others. And there is really no end to what people can do and the incentives would become more flexible to ensure balance and progress.

Much of the pressure would come off society as the guaranteed income program became more self regulating and adjustable to meet social needs. The role of government would become more future oriented to build infrastructure needed for emerging social needs.

One of the side benefits of a guaranteed annual income would be the ability of Canadians to return to the concept of self-reporting of their annual tax return. As things stand today, our tax system is so hopelessly mired in complex credits, exceptions, rulings, and interpretations that the idea of an individual doing their own income tax calculations is becoming a more remote possibility. Even the experts are plugging the basic numbers into expensive computer programs and hoping the calculations are close to right.

Parliamentarians from both House and Senate are today speaking out in favour of at least studying the concept of a guaranteed annual income. It is time that a forward thinking government paid attention.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Doing Ontario up Brown!

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

To this long-time political apparatchik, it was an interesting example of the art of remaking a politician. Ontario viewers of Global Television Sunday morning had an opportunity to see the training effort in action. It was almost a before and after—that might have been recorded hours apart. It was new Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown showing off his new tricks in one interview and losing them in the next.

He is obviously being trained currently in how to speak on television. The whiny adenoidal voice was gone in the first interview. It was on Tom Clark’s West Block show. You could see how up-tight he was during the introduction. He was frowning as he prepared himself to speak. He spoke in a lower voice. He was carefully scripted. It was hardly the Patrick Brown from Barrie that we know.

It did not even seem to be what Tom Clark expected. Brown was actually talking seriously about climate change. He was promoting a straight carbon tax as opposed to the Ontario government’s more complex cap and trade plan with Quebec and California. To Tom Clark’s obvious surprise, Brown was saying that federal Conservative candidates interested in the Conservative leadership contest next year need to get on board on addressing climate change.

But the same Patrick Brown did not fare as well on the Focus Ontario show with Toronto news anchor Alan Carter. Carter has an extensive background covering the Ontario Legislature and it was obvious that he had been briefed by some members of the Conservative caucus who despise their new leader. Carter asked the right questions to throw Brown off his game.

The whiny voice came back and the higher pitch returned, the answers where hesitant and disjointed, and Brown looked like he was checking for the nearest exit. It was obvious that he had not got to the speaking lessons about handling hostile questions.

His problem was that he was taken off his script of attacking the Ontario Liberals. The funniest line to anyone who had watched him in Ottawa over the years was the one when he said, “I’ve always cared about the environment.” He certainly kept that passion well hidden from his fellow parliamentarians. Obviously Tom Clark had never noticed him when he was in Ottawa as a back bench Conservative. He never did anything.

Carter also seemed sceptical about Brown getting religion over environmental issues.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Choosing a new leader for Canada’s Tories.

Monday, March 14th, 2016

The date has been set: May 27, 2017. That is when the Conservative Party of Canada chooses a replacement for former leader Stephen Harper and Acting Leader Rona Ambrose. Looking for an abbreviation to use on the calendar, we call it ConCon.

We have no idea where ConCon will be held or what form it will take but the far more serious question is where the Conservatives will find their party’s saviour? And even if you find this paragon, where will the candidate find the $5 million that the party is allowing candidates to spend? You can be sure that the winning candidate will need to spend most of that to run an effective national campaign.

And the bad news for political newcomers such as Kevin O’Leary is that you are not allowed to spend your own money. No Donald Trump need apply. With individual donation levels supposedly capped at $1500, it takes time to find enough people to contribute up to $5 million.

Political observer and commentator Chantal Hébert thinks that front runners such as Peter MacKay and Jason Kenney would leave little behind when they suck up the low-lying fruit of potential Conservative donations. Mind you there is no telling how deep those pockets are if some interesting newcomers emerge.

And frankly Peter MacKay and Jason Kenney are yesterday’s Conservatives and they have little more than name recognition going for them at this time. Peter MacKay is forever the guy who handed Reform’s Stephen Harper the Conservative Party. And Calgary’s Jason Kenney always leaves people with more questions than answers

But it is the spectre of Stephen Harper—the Hair—that will hang over Canadian conservatism for years to come. Harper’s cold and demanding style bruised too many Conservatives over the years. No smart candidate for the leadership will invoke his name in seeking to succeed him.

What the party needs most is not a new saviour but a new and realistic approach to Canadian politics. While Harper might have been successful for a while tapping into the demographics of greed and intolerance, he built up a resistance to his style that ultimately swept him from office.

It is most unlikely that the ultimate winner at ConCon in May 2017 is even one of the possible candidates currently being considered. The one thing most likely is that the 2019 federal election will be a recycling of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and then 2023 will be the next chance for Conservatives.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Waiting for Minister Monsef.

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Canadians have heard from the Conservatives and more recently the New Democrats about electoral reform. Voters are getting the impression that the Conservatives are vigorously opposed and the New Democrats very much in favour. Yet we seem to be hearing more from Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc about this government initiative than the minister responsible. The problem is that Elections Canada cannot handle any changes for the next election unless they are passed into law before May 2017. That is very little time to explore possible changes, frame a new law and have it passed by House and Senate.

Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef has said she will announce the committee of the House this month. If that committee expects to hear from Canadians about possible reforms, time is short.

And this is because of Justin Trudeau’s reckless promise during the last election that it will be the last one under First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) rules. With no real consideration of alternative systems of voting, Trudeau was sticking his head in a noose.

The Liberal Leader was obviously enamoured with the idea of preferential voting. That is a form of voting that gives a thin veneer of credibility to the concept of majority choice. It allows the voter to list candidate choices as 1, 2 or 3 etcetera until they have stated their preference in order for all. To count the vote you eliminate enough losers so that the first candidate with the most second, third or fourth choice selections to reach a majority of the votes is the winner.

What is disquieting for the opposition parties in parliament is this preferential system would have likely produced more than 250 seats in the 338-seat parliament for the ruling Liberals in the 2015 election. As it is, they won a 184-seat majority with 40 per cent of the vote under FPTP.

The New Democrats and other small parties have their hopes set on proportional representation whereby they would get roughly the same number of seats as their percentage of the popular vote. Under proportional representation, the New Democrats would have had the right to about 65 seats and have had the balance of power between the Liberals 130 or so seats and the Conservatives with about 95 seats. (These figures are approximate due to rounding and an unknown cut-off point for parties with a small number of votes.)

The New Democrats are so eager to see proportional representation in place that they are proposing an elitist citizens’ group—including “representation from historically under-represented groups”—to work along with the parliamentary committee. That would probably end up with the same mixed member proportional system proposed by the lottery winners who looked at voting systems in Ontario. The Ontario referendum defeated that proposal by about two to one. That would also be the likely opinion across Canada if anyone cares to check.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The Morning Line on Trump: 25 to 1.

Saturday, March 12th, 2016

We are not saying that it is impossible but it is quite unlikely that Donald Trump could make it all the way to the American White House. The odds of 25 to 1 are not only a long-shot bet but realistic. Mind you, the serious loser in this race is the Republican Party. And it can mean difficult times ahead for the GOP if Trump takes the party down with him.

But the truth is the party brought it on itself. The GOP created and fed that anger in its ranks and now it is paying the price. Once you get on that tiger, the biggest problem is figuring out how to get off.

What did the leadership of the GOP think was going to happen when Republican supporters saw nothing but controversy, confrontation and confusion in Congress during the Obama administration? The GOP had to accept its share of that anger. The leadership was part of the problem. It forgot to be part of the solution.

The leadership laughed when Donald Trump came to the door and said “Let me in.” The elite of the GOP never expected Trump to become the new doorman.

Trump became the toy boy of the angry, the Tea Party crazies, the losers, the screw-you right and the Holy Rollers. They had a guy who was telling it like it is, brutal and seemingly uncaring. He measured out his own brand of shock and awe. He is going to take his people to the promised land of America the Mighty. He is going to wall-out the wetbacks, block the Muslims and keep America safe for the Ku Klux Klan and the National Rifle Association.

And why should the GOP leadership care about what he is saying when they have been pandering to those same demographics for many years? They would be happy campers if they had not finally done the mathematics and realized that Trump and the GOP are marching to Armageddon together. Short of the South Rising Again, Trump is never likely to be President in anything other than his own mind.

The GOP leadership have no wish to contribute to this debacle and sent patrician Mitt Romney after Trump. Romney solemnly told the party the truth about Trump. The party ignored Romney. He had no effect.

It is now way past the time that wiser heads in both the Democratic and Republican parties get together and talk about measures to prevent this happening again. They have to come to the conclusion that having money to throw at election campaigns is not the answer to running a country. A corrupt system corrupts all the players.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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