Archive for March, 2016

It’s a slippery slope for Ontario Liberals.

Friday, March 11th, 2016

If it was just the arrogance of the Wynne Liberals, maybe we could be more forgiving. It is the piling on of confusion and corruption that makes them so different from the Trudeau Liberals in Ottawa. The Trudeau Liberals are progressives. The Wynne Wimps are regressive. Canadians have a fairly good handle on where Trudeau and Company in Ottawa want to go. There is just no telling where the Wynne Wimps are taking Ontario.

The Wynne crowd are certainly confusing the voters. They are ignoring the concerns of the electricity customer in selling off shares of Hydro One. That was an idea that the Harris Conservatives originated and dropped. Maybe they realized it would cause constant pressure to raise electricity rates to consumers.

We can understand the need to fix the pensions situation in Ontario and it makes sense to tie it all up with the structure needed for the Canada Pension Plan. It would be even better if Finance Minister Sousa and his friends did a better job of selling their plan. The decision to delay the start for a year to get it together with the federal government was seen as a weakness instead of a necessary improvement.

But the Wynne Wimps want to get all their publicity from their faltering half steps into beer and wine sales in grocery stores. All they have accomplished to-date is to look silly with their over-hyped and confused approach that pleases nobody.

And giving the credit to a former banker for these ideas seems to be convincing the public that they might as well dump Wynne and elect the banker.

Not that any current political leader in Ontario is worth anything. Both Wynne and the current Progressive Conservative leader won the leadership of their respective party with questionable tactics. Neither has shown any talent for leadership before or after.

And speaking of leadership, the Ontario New Democrats have a similar problem. If someone would just look interested in the job, the NDP immediately would dump their current leader.

With three ineffectual leaders set to square off in two years, the province is in trouble. Ontario has serious problems in education, employment, health care, highways and municipal needs. Those problems need solutions from real liberals.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

“Stoop and Scoop” on the White House lawn.

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

Canadians visiting the White House in Washington need to remember to never piss on the president’s rug and carry a plastic bag in your pocket for your errors in protocol on the White House lawn. While we most often criticize the Americans for their brashness in business and international relations, it is really Canadians who need the most help in getting things right. And we seem to forget our manners most frequently with our wayward American friends and neighbours.

It was never just President Richard Nixon that complained about Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Trudeau Senior could annoy friends and foes alike in his travels. President Lyndon Johnson had every reason to take Prime Minister Lester Pearson to the White House woodshed over his public speech in the United States about Vietnam. Despite the many contributions Canada made behind the scenes to the Vietnam War effort, Pearson’s public criticism of Johnson was simply bad manners.

And speaking of bad manners, Prime Minister Stephen Harper lowered the temperature of relations with the Obama administration considerably with his complaints to American business audiences about the delays in approving the Keystone XL pipeline. You could tell that President Obama enjoyed putting the cap on Keystone after Harper was defeated by Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

But we should not assume that everything is sweetness and light between Canada and the U.S.A. with the change of regime. Justin must have been taking a crash course in international relations since last October but he has a long way to go. With Obama in a lame-duck position with his last year in the White House, Trudeau would be best to settle for short-term objectives.

While both the American and Canadian news media will gush over the entire event in Washington as though it is the two leaders’ first date, it is not all that important. It will be a one-day of amnesty between the American news media and the administration and President Obama will feel grateful for that. For Justin and Sophie, it will be an event of confusing protocols, inane conversation, with inedible food on outrageously expensive dishes and with cutlery that the White House staff count carefully before and afterwards.

If Obama was really friendly with the two Canadians, he and the wife would take them out for some decent food afterwards. There really are some darn good restaurants in the Washington D.C. area.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The skinny on Bell Canada’s skinny basic.

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

Bell Canada has given the finger to the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). And while the finger is in the erect position it is also providing a free pseudo colonoscopy for those customers who want cheaper television service. The $25 skinny basic television package from Bell Canada is a travesty.

This ridiculous skinny basic offer offers Ontario households 26 channels—one of which is audio only and in French. To an English language household, you hardly expect that ten of the television channels being in French would be of paramount interest. There is no denying the importance of French but when less than 10 per cent of Ontario households speak French, there should be some common sense used.

What is particularly galling in this mix of channels is that the three major American television networks that have long been grandfathered into Canadian television services are missing. Since television antennas started to grow like weeds on southern Ontario roof tops back in the 1950s, we have had easy access to ABC, CBS and NBC. Maybe Bell has decided to be jingoistic now that the company owns CTV.

As typical Bell Canada customers, we called Rogers Cable to find out if that company is offering a better deal. Rogers at least recognizes that Canadians have an inalienable right to watch American television. By the time we had worked through the bluster of the cable sales person, we figured we could get a fairly decent offer of high speed Internet and a minimum TV package for less than $100 per month. That beats the current Bell offering that is costing us $125 per month and has been increasing regularly.

Mind you, it will be interesting to see how CRTC head Jean Pierre Blais handles this “screw you” from Bell Canada. If the Bell executives had thought this situation through to its logical conclusion they might realize that Blais is not the church mouse that they think he is. He has a responsibility through the government to Canadians to look after the interests of Canadian consumers. He makes a better friend than an enemy.

As for this household’s current predicament, we have been there before. We are going to have to pick our time to lower the boom on Bell. The last time we told Bell that we no longer wanted their service, equipment and rapacious pricing, the company harassed the household for the next two years to pay trumped up cancellation charges.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

From Wonderful Wednesdays to Freedom Fridays.

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Toronto Star reporter Susan Delacourt wrote a column recently on the changing work hours of our federal parliamentarians. It seems they are finally recognizing that spending any part of Friday in Ottawa is largely a waste of time. Many MPs used to be part of what was called the Tuesday to Thursday club and they are being proved right. Our MPs have a responsibility to their electoral districts as well as their duties in the House of Commons and on committees. The conscientious members who used to try to live up to these dual responsibilities despite being in Ottawa many weeks from Monday to Friday often burned themselves out meeting them.

Not all of them. For some MPs their time in Ottawa was also fun time while their spouse did the best they could keeping the household going back home. At one time back in the 1900s there were parliamentary cocktail parties for party MPs and staff hosted by a cabinet member each Wednesday. They were called Wonderful Wednesdays and if you could not make a hook-up there, you were not trying.

But there are now Freedom Fridays. An extra day at home will never save horny MPs from straying but it sure reduces the tensions for many. Not that Justin Trudeau is supposed to be some sort of a den mother. When he bounced two Liberal MPs from his caucus for what might have been inappropriate behaviour with two NDP MPs, we were unsure if it was the behaviour or the fact the ladies involved were New Democrats.

Back when Justin’s father was prime minister, Pierre Trudeau asked what could be done about a certain MP who was gaining notoriety in the gay bars in town. The advice was as long as it was men old enough for bars that were of interest it was nobody’s business.

The important objective of Freedom Fridays is the ongoing availability of an MP to deal with matters for their constituents. While the MP is authorized to have staff in their electoral districts to assist in serving voters’ needs, it is the MP who is expected to provide leadership in providing the service. Where MPs leave this work to staff, the staff tend to become highly partisan in their dealings with the public. This is not the objective.

The measure of a member of parliament should be a combination of the contribution made in the House of Commons and effectiveness in reporting back to their electoral district. It is very important to be a somebody in both places.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Positioning the Liberal Party.

Monday, March 7th, 2016

It is nothing unusual today when the Prime Minister sends you a note, calling you by your first name, and asking for your help. What is unusual is the e-mail is not a plea for money but asks you to send ideas to help fix the Liberal Party’s constitution. And after searching out and reading the party’s constitution, you can only agree. It needs fixing.

The party needs to start with the preamble. It is much too long and rambling. It needs to be reduced to less than 25 words.

It also needs to better define its role as a party. The party is the sum of the membership of all the party organizations in the electoral districts across Canada along with the parliamentary wing of elected members and senators, led by the party leader who is elected by the party as a whole. The party may also have affiliated associations in provinces and territories which should support and follow the principles of the Liberal Party of Canada.

And it is the party that must determine if an individual is qualified to run as a Liberal candidate. At the same time, it must be the electoral district that chooses from among the qualified candidates and there must be an appeal process if a candidate has not been approved within reasonable time.

Policy must become more of a continuing process of the party. On-going study groups, policy meetings and dialogue with the parliamentary wing need to become routine for the party. Members of the parliamentary wing should also be ready to travel to electoral districts not held by the party to provide party members with policy updates and reports on parliamentary activities.

The objective is to create an on-going presence of the party in every electoral district. Fund-raising, membership drives, policy discussion and fellowship are all basic to an active and successful party association. The stronger the electoral district associations across Canada, the better the party will do in turning out the Liberal vote in elections.

But it is essential to recognize that the lead entity is the party. Leaders and parliamentarians are like the blowing snows of Canadian winters. They pass. It is the party that must provide the continuity of principles, protect the rights of Canadians, the development of liberal policies and the constant strengthening of the party organization. It is the essential truth of liberalism that must be furthered.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The meanness in means tests.

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

Neither Finance Minister Charles Sousa nor Premier Wynne really understood what they were doing in the recent budget. They were offering half measures. They insulted both students and seniors. They tried to buy votes with lies. They thought they could buy support with half measures.

The most grievous insult was to our young. These are people with their lives ahead of them. And they were demeaned by politicians trying to buy their support but tying them to the apron-strings of parental control. They were putting the parents to a means test and that was only the first mistake. In using the parents in this way, the politicians were treating the students as though they were still young children.

Higher education might not be a right for all but the only fair way to decide who should have it is the student’s academic drive and potential. Whether the parents can or cannot afford to fund higher education should not be the deciding factor. Civil servants cannot be the arbiters between parents and their children when they do not agree on the same career objectives.

And speaking of objectives, seniors are wondering what the Ontario Liberals have in mind with an annual payment of $170 to be eligible for the Ontario Drug Benefit? Look folks, the operative word there is “benefit.” Why are you taking it back?

And with dispensing fees already ranging from less than $2 to over $11, why does the Ontario government decide to raise it a dollar to a supposed $7.11 per prescription? Even if it is only a difference of an average of maybe $300 a year for seniors, where does the government think the extra money will come from? You would think the time the premier and her finance minister spent in grocery stores promoting beer might have shown them the steep rise in grocery prices lately.

And a means test for seniors is just as mean as a means test to determine if their grandchildren can go to college.

Is there some magic to a senior couple having an income of more than $32,300 per year? Are you suddenly rich and can give more of your riches to the Ontario government? At a time in people’s lives when their savings and pensions are beset from rising prices and falling markets does the government think it can take more?

A word of advice to the Ontario government: Help our young people to get the education they need and want and leave our seniors a little gold to enjoy their golden years.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Ontario Conservatives look for leadership.

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

They can scrub him, fix his hair and dress him properly but it hardly adds to his ability to lead. Patrick Brown might hold the title of Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader but does not make him one. Leadership is more than winning the leadership job by signing up more people from the Sub-Continent than there are members of the Conservative Party. Leadership is more than political tricks.

A leader frames objectives for those he or she seeks to lead. A leader voices the challenges and rationale of success. A leader carries a flag of courage for all to see. A leader also accepts the challenges of non-believers. A leader seeks to take new ground. A leader contributes. And a leader draws followers into the fray.

In nine years of being a Member of Parliament, Patrick Brown led nobody anywhere. While in a position of trust, he did not earn trust. In a position of authority, he authored nothing. He hid behind local charities to keep his name prominent and contributed nothing substantive in Ottawa or in his community. In the very few free votes in the House of Commons, he consistently voted against women’s rights.

But Ottawa was an end game for him. He had run out of options there. There was nothing brilliant about using his connections in the Sub-Continent (paid for by Canadian taxpayers) to sign up more new immigrants from there than there were members of his provincial party. It was a tactic for someone who could not compete fairly.

And nobody was questioning the legality of his sign-ups. The party rules are that everyone must pay their own membership. It was common knowledge among people from the Sub-Continent that paying the $10 fee was optional. To some, the $10 was a small gift. To others, it was $10 from the family’s food bill. Only the organizers knew the true figures.

And the new leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives hardly cared. He was well funded and nobody questioned the accounting.

Brown bought the leadership but not all of Ontario’s Conservative caucus are willing followers. The MPP for Simcoe North who knew him best, Garfield Dunlop, quit to give Brown his seat. It also meant Garfield did not have to stay in his caucus. His key opponent for the leadership, Christine Elliott, never returned to Queen’s Park. You hardly blame her with all the squabbling that is going on there now.

It is now ten months since Patrick Brown took over the leadership of the Ontario Conservatives. What leadership?

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

PM’s Job: Making the tough calls.

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Sorry Prime Minister, the honeymoon is over. It is time to decide whom to please and whom you are going to piss off. And you can hardly please both the pipeline people who want to push tar sands’ bitumen to our ocean shores and those who care about our planet. Look at what sucking up to the pipeline people got Stephen Harper. His name is being scraped from the doors to history’s honours. He has become a nonentity overnight. You defeated him. Why would you now want to make the same mistakes?

Harper harpooned us with the European nations because of his anti-environmental stands. He was seemingly uncaring when he annoyed both President Obama of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia. He preferred making war to love. He ignored Canada’s provincial leaders and our First Nations. He showed that he cared nothing for our world’s fragile environment.

And Canadians saw you, Mr. Trudeau, were different. They gave you their trust. They raised you from a third party nobody to Prime Minister in one election. You have to be faithful to them.

But you can hardly keep the faith by standing up in Vancouver and saying to environmentalists “The choice between pipelines and wind turbines is a false one.” You cannot have it both ways.

And now the provinces are defying you to price carbon emission. The provinces are seeing profit in taxes in carbon pricing and Cap and Trade. They will fight for control as long as there is money involved. A week or six months from now, the provinces just want the money.

But the real fight is to curb carbon emissions in Canada and around the world. Canada must be a leader, not an equivocator. Leave the bitumen in the ground for a time when our planet is dying and the pollution will not matter. The energy will be needed to take our progeny to other worlds.

Mr. Trudeau, you took a large delegation to the Paris Conference shortly after you were elected Prime Minister. You talked the talk and walked the walk but just how much was rhetoric and how much was commitment? You and your ministers and the provincial leaders who joined you made a commitment to the world. Canadians expect you to live up to that commitment.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

We have heard from our MP.

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

It was cruel in a way. The uncaring Conservatives of Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte sent a boy to Ottawa. They threw him to the wolves. He was unprepared and unknowing. He was hardly ready for the task.

But he has been heard from. He has found his way to Ottawa from the backwaters of our electoral district. He has written. He has found work. He tells us in a taxpayer-paid mailing that “We need a referendum.”

It seems that the Conservative Caucus in our nation’s capitol has decided that the Liberals are wrong to suggest that there is no need for a referendum over the question of changing how Canadians vote for their members of parliament. The Conservatives are taking the stand that the only way is to allow the voters to decide. It sounds democratic.

And this Liberal agrees. It is because we do not really need to change how we vote.

The facts are that we have a method of electing MPs that, while obviously not perfect, is much better than any alternatives we have heard about. The only change we would suggest is that if no candidate has a majority of the votes, we have another vote between the top two contenders. A run-off election can ensure the winner is the choice of a majority of the riding constituents. That seems to be the only real problem with first-past-the-post voting. And it would hardly need a referendum to implement.

All that this solution requires is Internet voting. Internet voting is easy and inexpensive to implement. You can vote from work, home, your local library or convenient voting places. Some safeguards are needed but they are easy to include.

This is much preferred to the suggestion of preferential voting that asks voters to mark the candidates on the basis of first, second and third choice. This is a system that also attempts to seek a majority selection. The difference is that it does not allow voters to rethink their ballot choice. In effect, the losers become the choosers. When the selection comes down to the top two contestants, you need to have the opportunity to reconsider your choice. That is the democratic answer.

And after the recount we had in this riding when the Conservative was elected over much more able and suitable candidates, we can only agree that first-past-the-post needs fixing. If we only make sure the winner has a majority of the votes, there is no need for a referendum. If we make a material change to some form of proportional or preferential voting, then a referendum would be necessary.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

On political suicide.

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

It is not that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is not smart. Never having the opportunity to meet her and talk with her, it is not even fair to say she is politically stupid. It just seems that she comes at political questions from a very narrow perspective. And that could be because of limited political experience, bad advice or lack of judgement.

Politicos need broad political experience for success. Wynne’s North Toronto electoral district is about as bland and predictable as they come. It elects right-wing Conservatives and right-wing Liberals. It elects reactionaries. She got involved in politics of the area in reaction to Conservative Premier Michael Harris’ forced amalgamation of Metropolitan Toronto. It was one of the very few actions of the Harris government that made sense. The only mistake was that Toronto was never given a workable form of governance. It remained the ugly stepchild of the province.

Wynne has done little more than throw money at the City Of Toronto since becoming premier. She obviously has no concept of what the city needs. Even her advisors keep telling her to throw more money.

There is one thing for sure: Wynne gets bad advice. Kicking a quadriplegic and his wheelchair under the bus in Sudbury so you can appoint a former New Democrat for a by-election was a desperation move that was unnecessary. Nobody can figure out what Wynne and her advisers were trying to prove. It was the unnecessary kind of move such as her advisor David Peterson used to make in his brief stint as premier.

Wynne seems quite sanguine about her staff being investigated by the police for her errors in judgement.

But it is her reliance on former TD Bank chief Ed Clark that is hanging Wynne out to dry. Clark’s idea of selling off part of Hydro One is guaranteed to put pressure on electricity pricing across the province. His piecemeal approach to liberalizing beer and wine sales through grocery stores is a sad joke.

And now we have a “Liberal” budget to discuss. People have quickly seen her Cap and Trade environmental plan as nothing but a crude cash grab. The new plan for a seniors’ drug plan has most seniors outraged at the price increases. And the feeble attempt at a means test for university access will be a bureaucratic nightmare.

If Wynne had any real political experience, political smarts or political judgment, she would hardly be in the mess she is in today. It raises serious concerns about the next provincial election.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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