Archive for August, 2016

A federal failure of FPTP.

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

It has been noted occasionally that first-past-the-post voting is not perfect. You get failures in the system such as has happened to the voters in the federal electoral district of Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte. Our elected member of parliament is an embarrassment. We like to think of him as a failure in strategic voting.

Our MP is proof of gerrymandering defeating democracy. Instead of a Liberal representing the north half of Barrie, the rural voters of Springwater and Oro-Medonte gave us an embarrassment. He won by 86 votes in the recount—mainly because of the Conservative voters in the two townships who did not know him. Barrie voters had a chance to see him on city council. We considered him to be ineffective there.

On city council, we always complained that he would sit there and mumble. He has not changed.

Here is a guy who never seemed to hold a job for long in Barrie now enjoying at least four years of an MP’s annual salary of over $150,000 plus perks and expenses. You would think they would throw in some public speaking lessons. Not that we have to listen to much that he has to say but a friend and the writer were interested in an item on the agenda for his first town hall meeting since being elected last October.

When our friend attempted to suggest a change in the printed agenda, the answer was a blunt “No.” There seems to be no way this MP is interested in what his constituents have to say.

The meeting was in the rotunda of Barrie City Hall which has terrible acoustics and with about 40 people attending, you could only guess at what the MP was saying. And you could only clearly hear about a third of the speakers from the audience. Nobody had thought to use a sound system.

The MP tried to control the two-hour meeting without much success. The best part of the meeting was when he tried to explain his stand on electoral reform and decided it would take too long. He had only allocated 15 minutes for the subject. It was the most animated part of the meeting. Several in the audience had ill-considered opinions.

One chap even brought what looked like a grade six poster board project as a prop to explain his position. When noticing his board had all kinds of small plastic animals glued on it to represent the different party’s MPs, we asked him if some pigs were more equal than others? It turned out he had never read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Regrettably, he also did not seem to be well read on proportional representation.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Destroying the American dream.

Saturday, August 20th, 2016

There is serious concern about what the current presidential campaign is doing to the U,S.A.’s reputation and position around the world. What is serious is the impact on the image of the once most powerful country in the world. It is holding the country to ridicule. It is destroying the American dream for all.

After all, what is America to the rest of the world? It is an ideal. It is the largest and most successful democracy. It is wealth and power. It is innovation and assembly lines. It is a physically fit, healthy and well trained young military that can rain destruction on the seas from the air or on land.

America shares a dream of democracy and the good life in a world of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the abused. The current presidential campaign might amuse Canadians and raise eyebrows in the salons of Europe but what is it doing to the less sophisticated? This is a campaign built on bigotry, fear and ignorance.

What can people think of a campaign that blames the country, the systems, the structure for a candidate’s own failures. He says the system in America is corrupt. He blames the news media for his gaffs. They report him wrong he says. He constantly refers to his opponent as a liar and criminal with no proof or reason. He is afraid of her so he demeans her. He is a sham of a man.

Almost a quarter of the earth’s population is Muslim. And yet we are expected to tolerate a bigot’s constant railing against the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world. This is fostering a dangerous level of racial hatred.

And how do you think Mexicans feel about being constantly described as murderers and rapists? And what leaves observers aghast is that his followers think he will build some sort of wall. Frankly he could get pretty good advice from Berliners and Israelis that walls do not work. Even the ancient Britons and Chinese could not keep the Celts or Mongols where they thought they belonged.

The real problem with the Republican nominee for the presidency is that he might not be satisfied with the presidency. After all, he would be taking over that job from a black. He has been telling people how corrupt the election will be as his alibi for losing.

But will there be a meltdown when he loses to a woman?


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Elizabeth May, please step forward.

Friday, August 19th, 2016

It has always been our opinion that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is far smarter than anyone else in the Green Party. And she has certainly carried all those folks on her back for far too long. It is time now for Elizabeth to take on a real challenge. Surely it is obvious to her that Justin Trudeau needs help. Elizabeth needs to choke it up and join the Liberal Party of Canada.

It would probably surprise her to learn that there are many environmentally concerned liberals in the Liberal Party. Her environmental concerns would not be set aside.

But if Justin Trudeau wants to have a gender balanced cabinet, he needs more intelligent women. Ms. May would be great in the cabinet. She could do a far better job in justice, foreign affairs or democratic institutions. Instead, she has been wasting this very fine summer asking the only intelligent questions on the special house committee on electoral reform.

We are well aware that there is a quiet campaign on to bring Ms. May into the New Democratic Party to fill that leadership vacuum. We are dismayed at the prospect. Talk about a fish out of water. While she would certainly bring new depth and intelligence to the NDP, what are they going to do for her? Nothing. The only elected NDP government is in Alberta where the Premier is promoting pipelines for bitumen in the face of all environmentalist objections. The NDP has been floundering both federally and provincially for quite some time now. It is a party in need of rebranding and has no idea what that brand should be.

If the party decides to dump the old-fashioned socialists and strike out on a new social democratic future, it has potential. The only problem is the party will spend years in the wilderness establishing its new credentials. A worthy ambition maybe but Ms. May deserves more in the here and now. She is no spring chicken you know.

And frankly, Ms. May is barking up the wrong tree in hopes of getting the Greens more MPs through introducing some form of proportional representation. It is not going to happen in Canada.

Ms. May is a liberal. There is no point in denying it any longer. At this point in her life, her government needs her service to make them better at the job they are trying to do. And she must admit that most of the Liberal Party program is very much in sync with Elizabeth May’s.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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When all else fails, bluster.

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

It is so hard to stay away from the farcical race for the White House in the United States of America. It is a writer’s dream. You are being fed a delight of one-liners. The candidate reorganized his campaign again yesterday with the claim that “I have to be me.”

This guy is running a campaign that could have been scripted by Mack Sennett. For the kids, we should explain that Mack Sennett was a Canadian who helped create Hollywood in California. He gave Charlie Chaplin his start in silent movies and was best known for slapstick humour in series such as the Keystone Comedies.

But the GOP candidate has people both laughing and crying. And if you want to feel really sad, just think of him as President of the United States. This guy likes to think of Russian President-for-life Putin as his best friend forever. We should warn the Russian though that this guy changes his mind every other day.

The person we feel sorry for is Hillary Clinton. She will never get a chance to defeat her opponent. He is so busy defeating himself, she can never get a zinger in to denounce him. People are starting to think of her as a mouth breather. She just stands there with her mouth open in amazement.

If Americans have ever needed a serious third candidate for the presidency, the time is now. There are a lot of disheartened and disillusioned Republicans across the United States who are just going out to get drunk on November 8.

Could you imagine the Electoral College if there are hanging chads or other screw ups at the polls in November. They would have to withdraw the Second Amendment from Electors to eliminate the possibility of a shooting war between them.

There is an Internet video doing the rounds that is hilarious. It shows a group of GOP presidency supporters who think they are in a research focus group. They believe they are reviewing what are reputed to be possible TV ads for their candidate. They are absolutely outrageous proposals but the supporters stick to their guns and discuss them as though they are serious.

One of the men in the group does admit that some of the proposals are a bit off the wall but he believes this will be solved. He thinks that as President of the United States, his candidate will gather some intelligent people around him to tell him what to do. This supporter should be advised not to try to hold his breath waiting for that to happen.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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The bother of bloody bitumen.

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

It sure makes you wonder when two cities in Saskatchewan have to import clean water because of what the media consider a small spill of something they call ‘Heavy Oil’ but is really bitumen and a diluent. Citizens of North Battleford and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan have been finding out the difference between ‘Heavy Oil’ and bitumen for themselves

Would all this bafflegab be because of the National Energy Board starting hearings in the East on the Energy East pipeline? They are starting with the easy end at Saint John, New Brunswick. There will hardly be many there who worry about spills or other accidents when the shipping port planned for there will be loading foreign tankers with bitumen for third world refineries. Jobs also come first in New Brunswick.

The real resistance to the Energy East pipeline is in Quebec. Neither the first nations nor the provincial government are convinced that a heated, higher-pressure pipeline for bitumen would be a good idea. Maybe TransCanada Pipelines can buy off some of the first nations’ intervenors but the provincial government is much more expensive.

They already own the Calgary-based National Energy Board who are beholden to former Prime Minister Harper for their extended jobs. He obviously knew where his government was headed in last year’s election and he added to the board members’ tenure before his inevitable defeat. (You would think the members would resign but they seem to have a mission to approve pipelines.)

But it is the news media that have been suckered. Even the CBC’s Ombudsman is ignoring complaints from environmentalists about the CBC news readers calling bitumen heavy oil.

The real audience that needs to understand this cover-up by Premier Wall’s people in Saskatchewan is in the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa. Prime Minister Trudeau must have a serious crease across his backside from sitting on the tar sands/bitumen fence. The problem he has is that he will never be an environmental hero in any country if he is going to let the Kinder-Morgan pipeline be twinned or the Energy East pipeline be built. Approval in either case will be built on a tissue of lies.

But if you really want the truth about bitumen and pipelines, there are about 70,000 Canadians living along the North Saskatchewan River today ready to explain it all.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Dark side of proportional representation.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

It has been tiring over the years listening to people such as University of Toronto Professor Peter Russell selling proportional representation as the only voting system for Canada. The only good news about his ideas are that they are based on logical argument and not some of the outrageous claims made by organizations such as Fair Vote.

But on top of being enthused about proportional representation, Professor Russell is also a booster of citizens’ assemblies. A citizens’ assembly is chosen by lottery very much like the grand jury systems used in many American states. They operate under direction of a leader who can usually get them to do what the leader wants. It was citizens’ assemblies in British Columbia and Ontario that offered bastardized versions of proportional representation that voters in both provinces ultimately rejected.

But the real problem with proportional representation is the dark side that happens if this country jumps blindly into this type of voting. Most observers agree that it would be difficult to ever again to have a single political party win a majority government. More serious, we might never again have a national political party.

Canada is country of tensions and political diversity. After the First World War, these tensions produced the United Farmers’ movement which in turn gave impetus to the Progressives, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (later the New Democratic Party) and the Social Credit—with spin-offs to the Ralliement des créditistes du Canada and eventually the Parti Québécois and the Bloc Québécois. It reached a peak in 1993 when 14 political parties were registered to contest the federal election.

While the Liberals won a large majority at that time under our first-past-the-post system, they could only have formed a government under proportional representation in coalition with third-place Reform or the fifth-place Progressive Conservatives. (The official opposition Bloc Québécois with only 13.5 per cent of the seats under PR would not have been a logical coalition partner.)

That election was a grim forecast of what would happen if Canada moved to proportional representation. It might be fairer to the political parties but would it be fair to Canadians? The danger is that Canada can dissolve into a regime of regions. We have all seen what happens with regional parties and what can happen when Quebec looks only to Quebec and Alberta cares only for its own wants.

Canada is a country to be envied as long as we stand together. We are a country that is strengthened by unity. Let nothing divide us.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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How Canadians vote.

Monday, August 15th, 2016

There must be a better way to spend a hot summer than arguing about how we vote for our federal government in Canada. Reading the transcripts or watching recorded hearings of the commons special committee on electoral reform, it is hard to tell if anyone appearing before the committee really knows how Canadians vote and why. It just seems appropriate to understand that before sailing into the uncharted waters of new systems for voting.

What is important to understand is that Canadians rarely change their allegiance from one party to another party. Those who go eagerly to the polls are generally fixated on voting for the same-old, same-old. Those voters who really have no strong leanings are few.

And it is not a designated group of voters whose role it is to change allegiance and vote for a party different from that they last voted for. It does not work that way. Canadian voters are more like the vast tectonic plates that make up the outer shell of our planet. The shifts in these plates are slow and almost unnoticeable except by the finest scientific instruments. You would never note a shift unless it confuses your car’s global positioning system.

But in politics, a couple percentage points shift in allegiance from this party to that party can have far reaching effects. That is why you want to know where that new young vote is headed. And sometimes you get the trend of those who did not vote last time but will vote this time. Or those who make excuses for not voting this time. It is rarely a radical process.

And some people are sensitive to these shifts and some are not. Most pollsters are misled by their own preconceptions. It is as though they do not believe that some people would lie to them. And who do they think answers the household telephone in a home with children? Those automated calls with press one for the Conservative, two for the Liberal and so on are something of a joke. In the 2015 federal election, we watched Éric Grenier’s Poll Tracker for the CBC wander through scenarios for three different winning parties and all the time, we knew only the Liberals would be there for the end game.

But listening to the different academics give their sales pitches, it becomes obvious that none of them really has an overview of the problems facing the Canadian voter. The best example of this is everybody thinks we should get more people to vote. Which shows they do not understand. The only way that everyone can feel comfortable about voting is when they include a final option on the ballot allowing us to vote for: None of the above.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Bye Toronto Star, it’s been good to know you.

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

The writer has no inside knowledge about what is happening there but it was when reading the Toronto Star a few mornings ago that we got the feeling that there is little time left for it. It was not just the announcement of more firings and layoffs or the lack of weight to the complete paper. What it really lacks today is substance and depth.

And here we thought the National Post would be next to bite the dust. That paper has been desperate to just get its distribution to the point of having any meaning. Maybe it is the combination with the Sun newspapers that is keeping the doors open on Paul Godfrey’s American funded fool-hardiness.

Did you know that Joe Atkinson’s modest little Toronto Star newspaper was 124 this year? It still holds on to the circulation honours as Canada’s number one broadsheet newspaper. We are just not sure how long it can keep going.

We would sure miss Chantal Hèbert’s columns. She does a wonderful job bringing Quebec into perspective. A great political reporter such as Bob Hepburn seems to be down to one column a week. We are hoping Martin Regg Cohn is just on a well-earned vacation.

You would think they could do with fewer of those high-priced names on the paper’s board. They hardly seem to be doing a good job of bringing the paper into the 21st century. Our household dropped the less than adequate Sunday print edition and tried the electronic version but that also seems a loser.

But the real concern is in finding sources to replace the news-gathering resources of the Toronto Star that are trustworthy. As much as we appreciate the Ottawa insights of the Ottawa Citizen, the Godfrey biases hang over that newspaper like barrage balloons.

And you can hardly trust anything from the Internet. As much as the Huffington Post works hard, its roots are in a conservative blog. It would probably be justice if this bewildered, beggared blogger returned to where he started his career–embracing the corporate tentacles of the Globe and Mail.

If you are a news junkie, you have come to despise the self promotion, repetition and self-deception of today’s television news programming. You ignore the torn off news clips on radio, rewritten (maybe) from the news wire. Local papers are nothing but wraps for advertising flyers. And the major print media are dying from a death of a thousand cuts. We will all soon be as ignorant as all those followers of the Republican Party candidate in the United States.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Who owns this party anyway?

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

It has always seemed a Canute-like task of denying the tides to defend the Liberal Party. There just seem to be too many of the elements aligned against us. A party leader can work at destroying his or her party on whims and the rest of us are left with the pieces on which to ponder.

Recently we had to go to some lengths to cancel a credit card to get the Liberal Party’s attention. Boy, they noticed that! When a party underling finally called and asked politely for a new credit card number, there was no point in venting on him.

It was an arrangement that we had with the Liberal Party for years. It was a small debit each month of money that was split equally between the national party office and the local Liberal electoral district association. It was not much but it included an automatic renewal of our membership each year in the Liberal Party.

But our dear leader put an end to that foolishness. He changed the constitution of the party. Not only can you be a Liberal Party member for free but the membership fee has been abolished. He did not think the party needed all those ten dollars. Nor will it get ours any longer.

It might be a bit picky of us to point out that he just might have been the first political party leader in Canadian history to openly interfere in the internal constitution of his or her party. This sort of mundane housekeeping is supposed to rise from the grass roots, not be dictated from on-high.

Our Prime Minister can run around without his shirt if he wants but he should realize he is no expert on political parties. You do not only need money from party members but you need their commitment. It is essential that supporters of any endeavour, political or otherwise, also have a sense of ownership. Why does he think people in the party make the commitment to canvass just one more block of homes, bring another family out to vote or to come to that party rally? It is because this is their party. Take it away from them at your peril.

People sometimes think this writer a little over-critical of Justin Trudeau. If we did not care, we might be much more critical. It is just that he must not be getting good advice or he is not listening to the good advice he does get. The only bad screw-up in his first year seems to be that poorly-written assisted suicide bill. We will just keep hoping for the best in the coming months.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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Making sense on vote reform.

Friday, August 12th, 2016

It was a delight the other day to sit and read a presentation to the special house of commons committee on electoral reform that made sense. The committee has been struggling along, wasting a perfectly fine summer, listening to mainly academics who have been touting a variety of proportional voting systems ad nausea. While reading transcripts or watching the various recordings in no particular order, there was finally a presentation that made sense. It was by Professor Emeritus R. Kenneth Carty of the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Carty not only had done the research but has devoted years to working in real life situations where his expertise and knowledge counted. He also has the experience to tell the committee members that there is “no perfect or even best electoral system.”

He was a witness to the experiences of five Canadian provinces that sought to change their electoral systems. Each of the provinces chose a different system. None of the five systems were implemented.

The professor also made the point to the parliamentarians that nobody can really predict what the results will ultimately be of any change in our system. He did allow though that a change might end the possibility of majority governments such as Canadians have experienced over the years.

He added the very important caveat that not all our provinces were of equal population or of similar interests. He suggested that the parliamentarians be mindful of federal realities of our country in seeking to change how we vote.

There was more to his presentation but it was his conclusion that struck us as the seminal point. He was concerned that a change of how we vote could destroy our national identity. He was the first academic we have ever heard of in Canada who really understands the importance of our national political parties and what they contribute to our country.

It was Professor Carty’s opinion that if there was a real need for change in how we vote, we would have to take our chances and come up with a new system. The danger is that we would have to find a new and different way to link our nation from sea to sea.

Canada is a nation that was bound together by the vision of its political leaders such as Sir John A. Macdonald, George Brown, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and others. These leaders have given Canada substance and direction when needed. We might be less than effusive in how we recognize them but Canada stands proud today in their honour.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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