Archive for August, 2016

In the refuge of electoral reform.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

There appears to be no relief for the confused in the hearings of the special commons committee on electoral reform. It has been heavy going to just watch the recorded sessions and read transcripts of those sessions not televised. Even in the odd bit of wisdom among the chaff of the academic opinions so far, there are few solutions to the hollow promise of Prime Minister Trudeau that willy-nilly, we will change how Canada votes.

Not even the grandiose theories of the academics and special interest groups include information on how this promised change is going to happen. And the upcoming public hearings of the committee across the country are hardly going to give the committee any answers. (Did you know that the one entire day is to be allowed for citizens of Ontario to speak to the committee? While Quebec gets three days?)

In listening to academics and people with vested interests who want to see change, there is no clear understanding of the how or why of making it happen. The three countries that the committee is studying more closely (New Zealand, Scotland and Republic of Ireland) are each less than 20 per cent the population of Canada. They have different histories, far more homogeneous populations and very different electoral requirements.

Very few of the academics have even noted that Canada is a federation and there are major constitutional considerations that cannot be ignored. Prince Edward Island still has to have four members of parliament. We can hardly have an election in 2019 under new rules that could be taken to the Supreme Court to verify.

If Justin Trudeau’s Liberals really wanted reform in this country, how we vote would not be high on the list of things to change. We have a senate that is not only an embarrassment but it is 150 years out of date. We have an all-powerful prime minister whose office needs some checks and balances. We have a judiciary that are politicized. Our largest province now holds a third of the country’s population. We need to look at restructuring.

We can no longer apply band aids to all our constitutional problems. This is a country desperate for leadership into the future. It needs an elected constitutional conference with no constraints. It will then need the knowledgeable consent of the Canadian people

We cannot continue with the elitist patch-work solutions of Justin Trudeau. We hardly need to be appointing quasi-independent elitist senators. Nor to have elitist appointments to the Supreme Court! Canada must reach out to create the democracy that we promise newcomers. Elitist solutions are not the answer.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Strike while the lane is HOT.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

The Wynne government in Ontario leaves no stone unturned in its pursuit of taxpayers’ dollars. In a novel break from their usual attitude that they can always just do as they want, they actually asked our opinion the other day. It seems they took our picture recently while driving on the Queen Elizabeth Way past the Fourth-Line at Oakville. It got us a survey questionnaire.

If we knew they were going to take our picture on the highway, we would have washed the car. Who else but the provincial government could have so easily connected licence plates to addresses? Since we were stuck in heavy traffic on that highway for several hours, it was a memorable trip.

The survey itself was interesting in that it is seeking opinions on the upcoming lotteries to drive in the new HOT lanes. These are the same-old-same-old high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes but the idea is for the government to make money off them. The original idea was to encourage car pooling—thereby reducing the number of vehicles on the road and moving traffic faster.

But we have a hot flash for the folks at the fumble farm at Queen’s Park. On that day they took our picture, we were using both HOV and non-HOV lanes and none of them was moving very fast. On that trip, we averaged less that 50 kilometres per hour on the QEW. This is an eight-lane restricted access highway—with one lane on various stretches each way for HOV traffic.

And we could not help but notice that the HOV rules were not necessarily observed nor enforced.

The one thing we have observed about HOV lanes on Ontario highways is that when they work, you set your speed control at 120 kph and go. What you have to remember is that in a single lane, you only travel at the speed of the slowest vehicle. And slow drivers and back ups in the HOV lanes can cause frustration, road rage and accidents.

But in turning the HOV lanes into the more contentious HOT lanes, the Liberals in Ontario are just asking for trouble. While there is little respect for the system as it exists, you have to think of how people are going to feel if those with the money to spend whiz by them. Maybe some of the denizens at Queen’s Park who read these commentaries noted the other day when we quoted from George Orwell’s Animal Farm that some pigs might appear to be more equal than others.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Doing Dr. Goebbels proud.

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Sometimes when you see what the American Republican Party candidate for president is doing, you have to appreciate the origins. It also has to do with that old adage that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. What we saw the other day was a classic use of the big lie. This was a major tactic of communications used by Reich Minister of Propaganda Dr. Joseph Goebbels in 1933 to 1945 Germany.

The specific incident we are talking about was the very reasoned and calm discussion on a campaign platform the other day by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton of her opponent’s apparent promoting of bigotry.

The reputed answer to this by the Republican, that was recorded, was for him to scream that “She is the bigot!” What she had ever said that could be interpreted as bigotry was not disclosed.

But that does not matter when you are using Dr. Goebbels’ philosophy. He was an expert in the use of the media as it existed at that time. Today, the Republican candidate has the reach of the ubiquitous Internet that can spread his word like wildfire to his highly gullible followers. And that is where they follow him. These are not the readers of the New York Times or the Washington Post. Most college-educated voters across the States are hardly going to vote for him anyway.

Internet social media is the pulse of North America today. Dr. Goebbels would dearly love the electronic speed and reach of this media. Only he would turn it to anti-social media. There might be rules against cyber bullies but there are no effective rules about cyber liars. While some totalitarian regimes try to control the Internet, they are not all that successful.

The good news is that the Republican candidate is playing with toys that can also destroy him. He is already setting up the scenario that the election process is corrupt. It indicates that he has been made aware that he has no ground troops to help turn out his vote on November 8. And as his supporters are not the type who usually go to vote, he is trying to get them to the polls in the guise of monitors—hoping they think to vote while they are there. Since very few Americans really understand the Electoral College process that chooses their president, there is little question that there will be lots of confusion.

But does he think these losers who support him are going to rise up to put him where he belongs? Mind you there is a certain warmth in thinking about where he really belongs.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Mr. Harper, we hardly knew you.

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

As we read and listen to the various obligatory farewells to Canada’s former prime minister, there seems to be lots of hypocrisy going around. The Hair and his hairpiece have left the building in Ottawa and that is that. He was not liked while he was there and he left with no wisdom to share with us.

But he is for sale. Business can hire him. If you like his brand of solutions, he has advice to sell. Business can have him on their boards for a substantial fee. He is certainly not riding off into the sunset in poverty.

But Canadians have had enough of him. He never liked them. He was never there for them. He is an ideologue. He has never been motivated by anything other than dogma. He believes in a dog-eat-dog world of right-wing economics and that was all he was willing to share. He is an unfeeling, uncaring economist of the Milton Friedman School and he was hardly out to save anyone from anything more serious than government regulation.

He is a user. He is cold and calculating. He created and ran an imperial PMO (Prime Minister’s Office). He used back benchers as drones to carry out his wishes in parliament. There was no warmth wasted on his cabinet colleagues either. He flew out of Ottawa with his hairdresser at every chance he got to get away. He is an ugly tourist vaunting his supposed wealth and privilege on the world stage. He made an embarrassment of Canada’s foreign affairs.

He despises the news media. He put some who pandered to him in his sham senate only to find them accused of running rampant on perks and privileges.

He abused parliament. He had parliamentary secretaries make a farce of answering questions for him. He obfuscated with the best of them. He shut the place down when it headed towards censuring him. He manipulated the governors general to his bidding.

He left time bombs for the incoming government. He made the National Energy Board native to Calgary and extended its appointments. He ran out the clock on Supreme Court rulings. It will take years to bring serious improvement to Canada’s environmental problems.

The challenges he left to his successor in the Langevin Block can hardly be solved in a single session of Canada’s parliament.

All there is left to say at this time is: The King is dead. Long live the King.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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FPTP: What if it is not broken?

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

As the first witness before the special commons committee on electoral reform Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef gave the committee eight principles for their task. These principles might be conflicting in some ways but they are definitely in conflict with the path the committee is taking.

The first principle promoted by the minister is to promise that Canadians can be assured of the legitimacy of the outcome. It is a puzzle as to how the minister can make that assurance when she starts with the assumption that first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting creates distortions?

That seems to conflict with the government’s second principle of assuring Canadians that they can influence politics and that their vote can make a meaningful difference. Today, Canadians have direct contact and involvement in the political process and selection of their members of parliament. None of the proposals being made to the special committee of the house have offered more direct involvement.

The third principle is that changes must ensure the inclusive politics Canadians want. It would be interesting to have each of the individual MPs on the special committee explain why their campaign for election in 2015 might not have been inclusive?

The fourth principle is that changes should not make the voting overly complex. Is there a voting system simpler than FPTP?

The fifth principle is very important, it is that voting should be accessible and user-friendly. In a computer-savvy nation, there is no excuse for us to not move to Internet voting. The trust exists, the will is there, we should move.

The sixth principle is that the system we use has to reflect the relationship between citizens and their MPs. FPTP does that best.

The security and confidentiality of voting is the seventh principle. By using existing, linked computers across the country, we can meet that challenge.

The eighth principle challenges any voting reform to find common ground, pursue consensus and include all Canadians. And just what does changing how we vote have to do with those lofty ideas?

What we know now is that FPTP provides involvement to Canadians to the degree they wish to contribute. It provides a close involvement with those who wish to lead us. It contributes to strong and effective government. And when we want to change government, we do. The only thing we have been remiss on is moving to a longer period of voting and the use of the Internet to assist everyone to participate. That is the only vote reform needed.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Leaping nation building at a single bound.

Friday, August 26th, 2016

In analyzing where Canada’s New Democrats are headed, we took another look at the LEAP Manifesto. Frankly LEAP stumbles on the first hurdle. It reads like the Regina Manifesto without the socialist ranting. It fails us.

And where does this document get off treating Canada’s first peoples as some sort of pathetic wards of the state. They are not just people you use for pageantry. They are people just like us. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They are not stuck in some time warp that forbids them to evolve, grow and learn. They want opportunities, not handouts. They share this land with us. Preserving this land matters to all.

But New Democrats have barely just discovered concern for the environment. You can also read the same sort of words in most other party literature and web sites. What people look for today is action. We assume Premier Sharon Notley of Alberta has not signed onto the LEAP Manifesto. Is LEAP something you sign onto if it does not cost you personally?

What really surprises us on this more critical perusal of LEAP is the shallowness when it gets into the economics of a socialized society. Economics are the key to a society that looks after its people first. It is easy to think you can just tax industry but after you lose too much manufacturing to low wage, low tax ignorance, you look very silly starving to death. We are not a closed loop economy. We have to interact with the rest of the world.

A first principle with business is that it matters that you are a good citizen here as well as where you come from. If you want to do business in our country, you play by our rules. And we make the rules here. Free trade does not mean we cede any rights. Free trade has to be built on fair trade.

Our advantage in world trade must always be the fact of a well educated and healthy work force that is encouraged to innovate and create. Education, health care, dental care, medicines must be basic human rights as we move towards a better future.

And the resources to build that future are not a grab bag of financial changes but carefully planned and logical advance to the future that Canadians want. It takes leadership and consensus and planning and the will. Leaps will only get you so far. Canada has a journey to undertake.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Justin Trudeau has his Angels.

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau certainly has his angels. We are talking the kind of angels that Charlie had in the old television series about Charlie’s Angels. Those were flesh and blood actors who supposedly made a living solving problems. While the fictional problems often involved murder and mayhem, Justin Trudeau’s angels are just supposed to make him look good. After all, it is 2016!

While we might never know exactly why Justin’s friend MP Dominic LeBlanc wanted out of the House Leader’s role in the Commons, there was an angel ready to step in. Neophyte Minister Bardish Chagger is now House Leader as well as retaining her role as minister of small business and tourism.

While the tradition is to give the house leadership role to a highly experienced minister, Justin broke the chain on this one.

And frankly, we thought Chantal Hébert of the Toronto Star was being a bit sexist when she wrote that Ms. Chagger would not find the job much of a challenge. Hébert thinks that the major opposition parties are too involved in their leadership problems to make things difficult for the new Liberal leader of the government in the House of Commons .

They will though and it will probably involve three of Justin Trudeau’s angels. It will include Ms. Chagger, as well as Environment Minister Catherine Mckenna and Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef.

Without an acceptable work-around solution to the prime minister’s careless promise of ending first-past-the-post voting before the next election, both Monsef and Chagger are going to find themselves thrown to the wolves. There does not appear to be a way the special house committee can come to a compromise on change. And without MPs who loved the intricacies such as late parliamentarians Winnipeg’s Stanley Knowles or Windsor’s Herb Grey to help, there is little hope.

This is not to say that there are no solutions but the committee has to stop wasting time with academics trying to sell their own voting system model. It would be a novelty but they need to start looking at the problem from the voters’ point of view.

An even deeper concern are the problems facing Canada’s environment minister. After the splash she made at the environment meeting in Paris as Canada’s flag bearer for environmentalism, we have had only pictures and platitudes from McKenna. There are many who now expect her to speak up. Leaving carbon pricing as a revenue solution for the provinces is not one of her options. And there are too many liberals and environmentalists waiting for answers on tar sands exploitation and pipelines to carry that land-locked tar sands production to the oceans.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Mr. Brown is no chess champ and no leader.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

There is a big difference between a manipulator and a planner. Mr. Brown, the current leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, is a manipulator. He uses the system to his advantage. Maybe he does not play chess as that is a challenge that requires you to think ahead of your moves. Watching Patrick Brown in politics for the past nine years, it is our opinion that he is no long-term planner.

The recent fiasco at a Conservative Party training session was a good example of his inability to see ahead or lead. Having been involved in what the Liberal Party called Campaign Colleges for many years, we always had good crowds for our sessions on campaign tactics. (Using von Clausewitz’s On War as our text helped.)

But as much as some people thought they were going to hear about dirty tricks, the grim reality they discover is that winning in politics requires a lot of hard work. These are motivational events where you hope to meet and train the campaign managers, candidates and party organizers for years to come. Nothing can be left to chance or an individual’s ego. And the province-wide events require the party leader to close off by schmoozing the faithful.

Obviously at the recent Ontario Conservative Party event, Mr. Brown failed to do his job. There seem to be too many complaints by the participants. And for the price they paid to participate, they have a right to complain.

What we cannot compute is that after all the trouble people went to last year to get this guy Brown a Toronto hair style and some decent clothes, he has gone back to the nerdy look that we know so well.

But we also know that the party did not really choose Mr. Brown. He bought the party with South Asian immigrant memberships that swamped the party’s existing province-wide membership. Nobody in the party called him on the obvious breaking of the rules and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is stuck with him.

They now have a leader who is an unattractive small-town nerd, got his leadership lessons from former Prime Minister Harper and is only interested in how to manipulate the system. In the tradition of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says: “What, me worry?”


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Heat is on to change municipal voting.

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

It seems the Ontario government is turning loose lots of bewildered voters in the 2018 municipal elections. In legislation brought forward earlier this year, the government is allowing municipal election officials across the province to use ranked ballots to select local councillors and mayoralty candidates. While supposedly to ensure some legitimacy to those elected, it also opens the possibility of considerable confusion and corruption of the election process.

When Toronto council originally asked for the use of ranked voting, it was assumed that it would bring some balance to the de facto party politics in that city. It is the lack of effective party politics today that ties the city council in knots. This change would be more difficult to disrupt or manipulate in the larger city and would enable council to get more done.

In smaller cities in Ontario, it will make it much easier to cheat the system. The best protection for them is to remain with the simple and easy to understand first-past-the-post system.

In a ranked voting system, it is supposedly as simple as one-two-three. That is how many people will mark their ballots. They will assume that they are being a good citizen by marking council candidates as their first, second and third choice. The only problem is they might not know their second and third choices and one of them can win because of the voter giving the candidate a second or third choice vote.

Many people think this is, in effect, an instant run-off but it is not. A run-off election gives you time to rethink your vote and you are able to consider who of the remaining candidates would do a good job.

What is essential for voters to understand in ranked voting is that there is no requirement for them to mark a second or third choice if they do not know anything about those candidates.

The smart campaign manager in this type of voting situation considers the field of candidates and creates a scenario. According to where the candidate comes in this scenario, you can run a campaign flat out for first spot and encourage voters to only vote for one candidate. You might, alternatively, run a soft campaign encouraging everyone but your sure supporters to give your guy or gal their second vote and slipping in that way. There are many possibilities.

But smaller cities and towns are better off with the old tried and true first-past-the-post system. It is simple, you get the results quicker, it is difficult to cheat and you win by simply working harder and convincing more voters to vote for you.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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What’s up with Wynne?

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

It is certainly easy to forget about Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario Liberals during such a beautiful summer. They hardly do anything worthwhile the rest of the year but then they take the summer off and do less.

The only member of the Liberal cabinet who has been putting in some hours has been Health Minister Erik Hoskins. His desultory negotiations with Ontario’s doctors over the past two years finally produced some results. His offer was rejected by dissident doctors. As a doctor himself, he should have known that the deal he negotiated was with a moribund organization.

You would think Hoskins would have an inkling of what he was facing when the Ontario Conservative leader’s brain trust were working so openly with the dissident doctors. It left PC Leader Patrick Brown on the inside of what was going on and made him a hypocrite to call for the province to concede to using arbitration to settle the dispute.

You would also think that Hoskins, with his extensive experience, would do a better job of dealing with escalating health care costs in the province. And you would certainly expect him to realize that radiologists were going to take it personally if they were the ones being cut back to provide raises for other medical specialists.

Mind you the Wynne team are hardly going to let the current polls upset their idyllic summer. No matter how high a rating people give the Conservative and New Democratic leaders at this time, the main preference of Ontario voters is still “Don’t know” or “None of the above.” Nobody knows the Conservative leader and while he did nothing as a Conservative back bencher in nine years in Ottawa, he is achieving less in Ontario.

And that leaves Andrea Horwath of the New Democrats. Her own party made the mistake of not dumping her after she did such a bad job in the last provincial election. There is no confidence building there.

But polls such as the one published last week by Forum Research are meaningless until people start to pay attention to what is or is not going on at Queen’s Park. Two years from now when there is a provincial election in the offing, the chickens will come home to roost. What the voters will make of their choices is frightening to consider.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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