Archive for September, 2016

What does electoral reform solve?

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

With one of the least experienced ministers in the government responsible for democratic institutions, you sometimes wonder what this special committee on electoral reform is supposed to solve. It seems to be a distraction. If there was a list prepared of the 100 most serious problems facing Canada’s democracy, it is likely that how we elect our MPs would not make the cut.

Any list of our democratic concerns has to start in the Prime Minister’s Office (the omnipotent PMO). It was Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who welded together the PMO and the Privy Council Office at the hip with the help of his friend, then his Principle Secretary, Marc Lalonde to control every aspect of the Government of Canada. Pierre Trudeau had worked in the Privy Council Office as a young lawyer and he saw the potential power of the combination.

But what Pierre Trudeau used, Stephen Harper abused. And it seems Justin Trudeau is following in Harper’s footsteps instead of his father’s. In the elder Trudeau’s years in power, the system of senior regional Liberal ministers ran the patronage system dispensed across the government. Harper might have listened to people such as the late Jim Flaherty and MP Maxime Bernier but he maintained control of all patronage through the PMO.

It will not be until parliament itself gains control of all appointments that our MPs can start to earn their salaries. We have to have balanced committees of parliament vetting these thousands of appointments for agencies, boards, commissions and the judiciary on behalf of the people of Canada.

It is also critical to our democracy that we free the drones. There will be fewer useless MPs elected when we free them from always having to vote on their party’s command. MPs should be required to vote for their party only on the key votes. If they cannot vote for their party’s throne speech or its budget, then the government could fall but for all other House votes they should be able to vote on behalf of their constituents. (And that would change the attitudes of a lot of voters about voting for the party or the person.)

And we can hardly think of Canada as an authentic democracy with our still appointed Senate and a governor-general who is neither elected nor equipped with the staff to do the job. Ceremonial trappings of the past do not a democracy make!

Sunny days might be the watch words but there are still too many questions about where Justin Trudeau is headed.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

A rocky road for Trudeau.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

Into every life a little rain must fall. And there might not be many sunny days this fall for the Trudeau government. After almost a year in office, it is time for some tough decisions. You can hardly please all of the people all of the time. And most of these decisions are landing with a thud on the Prime Minister’s desk.

The most serious of these is the demand for a decision on the twinning of the American-owned Kinder-Morgan pipeline over the Rockies to Burnaby, B.C. Despite our Quisling news media referring to it as an oil pipeline, it is not. It is a high-pressure dual pipeline for diluted bitumen from the tar sands. Mr. Trudeau is being pushed by Canadian business, the People’s Republic of China, the Alberta and B.C. governments and the lagging Canadian economy to get this pipeline flowing.

Some of those same pressures are behind the Energy East pipeline to Saint John, New Brunswick. At least with that decision, Trudeau can delay by making the National Energy Board more of an impartial regulator. It should have happened when he took office.

By December, Mr. Trudeau’s office will have received the report from the special commons committee on electoral reform. The committee is expected to recommend a modified form of proportional representation that will be opposed by the Conservatives MPs unless there is a referendum.

But even more serious are the financial decisions that will require negotiations with the provinces. The first of these is the sharing of Medicare costs. It will not be as simple as having a selfie with the Prime Minister and being sent home with less than your province wants.

This might be a give and take situation if the federal government can control carbon pricing as it really should. What it gives out in Medicare solutions, it might just take back in carbon pricing. Those should be interesting negotiations. To make the negotiations more interesting, Quebec will be expecting the Trudeau government to come up with another billion to help out Quebec-based Bombardier.

One of the more interesting traps for Justin Trudeau is the planning for refugee settlement in the coming year. Any major increases in those figures are going to be welcomed by factions within the Conservative Party as they head for their 2017 leadership convention. While MP Kellie Leitch might have bungled her opener on the ‘Canadian Values’ agenda, there are going to be more attempts by Conservative leadership hopefuls to work that street.

The prime minister might enjoy his rock-star status with the citizens of the countries he visits but like Mr. Harper, he has to remember that politics start at home.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

 

The Division of Ignorance.

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

If you are black, is that license to call people racist because they are white? It seems the editors of the Toronto Star have stopped thinking when they accept op-eds from writers who just want to create racial strife. Desmond Cole, a regular contributor to the Toronto Star said in a September 15 op-ed article that “Suspicion of all immigrants who are not white, or not members of the former British Empire, is a Canadian value.”

Mr. Cole insults all Canadians who happen to be white and the Toronto Star should be embarrassed. Cole uses a speech by Sir John A. Macdonald as support for his thesis and says the fact that it was 150 years ago is irrelevant.

And it is obvious that Mr. Cole has no idea of the wide differences today between British and Canadian values. Canada has grown in many ways over the past 150 years. As mentioned recently in one of our commentaries, our Canadian values are constantly changing—we hope for the better.

Of course people such as MP Kelly Leitch do not help just because she might think bigotry plays well with some of her voters. Leitch has been severely criticized within her own political party for her proposals and her chances of winning her party’s leadership have fallen from slim to zero.

But the comments of writers such as Mr. Cole and the disruptive antics of an organization such as Black Lives Matter do not help matters either. They can cause embarrassment for the black community.

Nor are Mr. Cole’s opinions on Canada’s treatment of its indigenous peoples germane. When he takes the time to see how attitudes have changed across Canada over the years and the extensive efforts of Canadians to atone for past mistakes, maybe then he can comment. To suggest that Canadians practice a forgetfulness of past indignities is not only wrong but displays an ignorance that is hard to take.

Another grievous error in Mr. Cole’s comments is his scurrilous attack on the North-West Mounted Police, its successor Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the spin-off Canadian Border Services Agency. Nobody believes that these forces are paragons but they certainly do not deserve to be described as being “steeped in centuries of racism, colonialism and white supremacy.”

It seems to this writer that Mr. Cole welcomes divisive comments by politicians as a way to keep his own cultural war going.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The School Mistress’ Lesson.

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

This lady does not beat around the bush about to-day’s lesson. She is from an organization called Leadnow.ca and she and her organization think that our present voting system is broken. That seems to be a common theme among the do-gooders who come out to talk about electoral reform across Canada.

But fear not folks, you can also have a say at public meetings being held by your local Member of Parliament or at meetings of the Special Commons Committee on Electoral Reform. Between September 19 and October 7, the committee hopes to hold 15 meetings in cities across Canada. (The trip to Iqalit, Nunavut is tentative.)

The committee has been much more relaxed listening to academics and other supposed experts in Ottawa this past summer. The school mistress type presentation from Leadnow.ca was one of these ‘experts.’ Like many other opinionated witnesses, she started by stating that her organization’s members think “it is absolutely vital that Canada replace our broken first-past-the-post voting system with some form of proportional representation.”

She further claims that our present system “does not allow people to adequately and fairly express their preferences.” She thinks that under FPTP the people who do not vote for the winner have wasted their votes. Any thinking politician could tell her that no vote is ever wasted as the results of one election can be the basis for the hopes of a coming election.

What FPTP has really given Canada for the this nearly 150 years of being a nation is the stability that makes it one of the best governed countries in the world. Our system encourages national political parties that form around policies and political ideologies that offer a broad choice to the voters.

These national political parties are mainly ‘big tent’ parties that argue policy ahead of elections and build their platforms under the party’s big tent approach. The school teacher presentation claims that Canadians would want more opinions in parliament. She sees it as more fair. She wants all voices to be heard in parliament. We could get that by reforming parliament rather than how we vote.

She also wants a more inclusive parliament. While we can never be totally satisfied with the diversity that is already there, we would have to have hundreds more MPs to accommodate all. And nobody wants to spend the money that would cost.

Proportional representation would see a proliferation of narrow interest and regionally based parties. It would also cause more parliaments without majorities and Canadians would only find out after elections which direction the coalition parliaments want to take.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Can you fight fire with fire?

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Got an interesting complaint from a frequent reader: he disagrees with our Morning Line assessment of the Republican candidate in the coming Presidential election in the United States. He thinks the odds should be even between the two candidates. His reasoning is that Hillary Clinton has failed to answer Mr. Trump’s claims about her. Frankly, it would be interesting to hear just how the reader thinks she can answer them?

It is a classic political conundrum. How do you deal with a negative? How do you explain that you never have beaten your wife?

The Republican candidate is like a kid in a candy store who is already on a sugar high. He thinks he can get away with anything. The more outrageous the claim, the louder his clack cheer him on.

The problem is that Trump is not a politician. He has none of the constraints of a politician. He also has no idea of what the job is like to be President. And he is quite unlikely to get the job the way he is going about it. He has enraged Hispanics, demeaned blacks, denigrated women, denounced Muslims and insulted veterans. And his campaign team is furiously trying to use social media on the Internet to try to backstop the damage.

Hillary Clinton in the meanwhile—who is very much a politician—is faced with what to do about it. Her problem is that she cannot answer some of the outrageous things he says about her, as that would give his claims credibility.

What she finally tried recently was to suggest that a portion of Mr. Trump’s supporters might be ultraists. Only she called a spade a spade and the bigots ‘bigots’ and a politician cannot do that. Even though Trump pitches most of his campaign to the bigots among us, a politician never attacks another’s supporters. It is based on the faint hope that the idiots might change their minds and vote for her.

It was obvious at the time of that speech that she might not have been feeling too good and she gave it to those Trump supporters (and bigots) with both barrels. And she was roundly criticized for it.

The best advice for Hillary Clinton is to let her very capable back-up team of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama deal with Trump’s foolishness. Her role is to look and act presidential. She has to solidify her base vote and pace herself carefully so as not to make herself sick again. Americans like to vote for a healthy President.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

 

The binding of the nation.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

If it was Sir John A. Macdonald that brought Canada together with the railroads, it has been our national political parties that have kept Canada together since. And it is our national parties that have given Canada stable government for almost 150 years. So why has a special parliamentary committee spent the summer looking at ways of eliminating the need for national parties?

And why is the Liberal Party of Canada spearheading this direction? With the support of the New Democrats and the Green Party MPs, the Liberal MPs are looking hard at various forms of proportional representation (PR). It is the same way the Liberals duped the Conservatives in the flag debate more than 50 years ago–by looking like you are going in one direction and then reversing on the final vote.

But why head in a direction that could destroy your party’s national character? Maybe the answer to that is in the changes that Justin Trudeau has already pressed on the Liberal Party of Canada. The first change was to allow participation in the party to people who just indicated an interest. These joiners became part of the core of the Liberal Party’s funding base in the extra long election campaign in 2015.

And since then Justin Trudeau’s inner circle has rewritten the Liberal Party of Canada’s constitution. Approved by the party at its May Convention in Winnipeg on the urging of the Prime Minister, the new constitution is a shallow document that puts all the power in the hands of a few elite around the leader. It denies electoral districts the right to choose their candidates and leaves them with no direct say in party policy or constitutional matters. To be a Liberal today is to be an obedient faucet that can be turned on to provide funds to be used at the leader’s direction.

What it adds up to is that liberals across Canada will have no say on proportional representation when it is proposed by the all-party committee in December. The demand by the Conservatives that there be a referendum before any change will be met by a promise of a referendum during the 2022 election to confirm the proportional method or to go back to first-past-the-post. The subsequent legislation will be passed with or without Conservative agreement by the Liberals, NDP and the one Green Party MP.

It is sad to be the bearer of bad news but that is what it looks like folks. We can only hope that the country is not destroyed in the process.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

The Blame of Brother Brown.

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

There is a big difference between taking the blame for something than to accept responsibility. And it appears that the Ontario news media are not letting Progressive Conservative Provincial Leader Patrick Brown hide behind that difference.

It all has to do with that letter that helped the Tories win the by-election in Scarborough—Rouge River at the beginning of the month. The letter was in  both English and Chinese, signed by Mr. Brown and delivered on the last weekend to as many as 13,000 households. The letter promised that if the Conservatives were elected to a majority in 2018, they would cancel the Liberal government’s updated sex education guide.

It all seems to be about at what age you should call a penis, a penis. Some of the objections to the new sex curriculum among newcomers is that children should not be taught this too young. Mind you, they can learn lots of other names for a penis at play time.

Which brings us back to that putz, Patrick Brown and the difference between blame and responsibility. At first, he denied knowledge of the letter. The only problem was that his signature was used on it. The one thing that is made absolutely clear in any party leader’s office is that while there is a machine available to put the leader’s signature on documents, it is a trust that cannot be violated. Only the leader can be responsible.

But Patrick Brown says he did not see the letter. Was he in a cloistered monastery without Internet at the time? Party President Rick Dykstra saw the letter. Why has he not resigned? By-election co-campaign manager Doug Ford had obviously seen the letter. What is Brown going to do about that? Certainly some people in the leader’s office need to be fired. They should line up the sacrificial lambs.

Obviously Mr. Brown is skating on the blame game. He is accepting the blame for the incident—since it is too late to call back the letters. He is just not taking responsibility.

All this incident really proves is that Mr. Brown is not a responsible person. He can take the blame and fight on—and fight as dirty as he likes. This is his type of politics. This writer might accuse the ruling Liberals at Queen’s Park of stupidity but they at least try to keep it civil. Watching Mr. Brown from his electoral district here in Barrie for the past nine years has been like watching the process of rot.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Trump should go pee in a cup.

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

So the Republican candidate for the presidency thinks his opponent is looking a little peaked these days. Is he concerned that she might be a little too old to become President? Or is he being solicitous of her supposed feminine frailty? Does he consider his diagnosis to be better than her doctor’s prescription of anti-biotics and some rest?

It seems more likely that he is stringing himself up to be his own piñata.

Among his constant attacks on Hillary Clinton is that she seems to him to be exhausted and that she sleeps too much. Since it is unlikely that he gets invitations for sleep-overs at the Clintons, he should pull back on the outrageous claims and stick to being more forthright about his own health.

And when you consider that the Republican is two years older than the Democrat, he should be aware that the life expectancy of men in the United States is 76 years. Women in the U.S. make it to an average of 81. Being rich would give them both a couple more years but he has to remember she has seven more years just for being younger and a woman.

But we should really take a hard look at the Republican candidate. This guy has been ripe for a massive coronary for the past quarter century. He is a hard driving businessman, in a high-stress line of work. He has been screwing other people out of their money ever since he got his daddy’s money. He is either being sued or suing and he is packing too much excess fat around the waistline. The way he talks about it, it seems he has no idea how much he is worth. And just because the IRS does not believe him is no reason not to release his accountant’s opinions.

Before Trump tells any more lies about Hillary Clinton’s health, he should think about his own condition. It is the very thought of the Republican candidate and how badly he is suited to the role that is constipating millions of Americans. Hell, he even has people north of the border in shock. And in Mexico, they are just mad.

Trump is a walking, talking, advertisement for portable defibrillators.

But what enquiring minds really want to know is what is keeping him going at his current pace. A Presidential campaign in the U.S.ofA. is no stroll in the park. Clinton will get over her current malaise: Trump will still be Trump. And he is a hands-on type of guy. Nobody runs his campaign but him. He has to be involved in every decision, every expense, every change in plans. Nobody tells Trump.

Please pee in a cup Donald, we all want to know what a 70-year old is on.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

As the Canadian ethos evolves.

Monday, September 12th, 2016

It is a waste of time to do opinion polls on what Canadian values might be. For, as sure as you are what those values might be, they will be different tomorrow. And it is the constant flow of immigrants over the years that has contributed, challenged, confirmed and questioned our values.

Growing up in Toronto after the Second World War, the city was a constantly changing and exciting place as the world came to be part of our future. We learned of our world first hand from those whose hearts were still tied to past loyalties. We cheerfully shared our new world with their children.

And the tensions between our friends and their old-world parents were sometimes hard to witness. It could often take more than one generation to become more welcoming of the openness of this Canadian scene.

But some of the changes these newcomers brought were welcomed by us supposedly stuffy Torontonians. Newcomers were puzzled at the Sunday closures with no sports and playgrounds for children. They helped us open Toronto from being a city of churches. They helped end much of the salacious censorship. This new openness ended bathhouse raids and welcomed Gay Pride.

And we discovered the foods of the world. We remember when George’s Restaurant at Dundas and Sherbourne introduced the mix of jazz and pizza to us Torontonians. Spadina and Dundas was the first choice for either pastrami on rye or new hot Szechwan dishes from China. Today you can hardly think of a food specialty from anywhere in the world you cannot get in the city.

At the same time, we always felt sorry for the Canadians in the rural and small town belts across Ontario. They were hardly bothered by the concerns of us city mice. They just never benefitted as much either. Nor did they realize the benefits far outweighed the concerns.

This is why a Conservative such as MP Kellie Leitch in Simcoe-Grey can fearlessly challenge newcomers to Canada on their acceptance of Canadian values. She can play on the bigotry in her rural electoral district because of ignorance of what immigrants bring to this country.

And when a foolish public opinion poll asks Canadians if newcomers should be screened for “anti-Canadian values” you would expect more than half of them to say ‘yes.’ They cannot figure out why we should encourage immigrants who do not want to come here.

You have to remember that Canada is a dream to refugees around the world. It offers opportunity and freedom. It is only after they arrive that they realize that there are trade-offs to those freedoms. It makes newcomers susceptible to manipulation by people who might not have their best interests at heart. It can cause ill will. It takes people of goodwill to resolve those issues.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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

Rob Ford could have trumped Trump.

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

Canadians have to stop worrying about politics going so far downhill in the United States. Before we cluck over the Republican candidate for the American presidency, we should remember the late Rob Ford. If Ford had been an American and with billions instead of just his father’s millions, he could have given Trump a hell of a run for that Republican nomination. The big difference between them is that Ford would have known what he was dealing with in the Republican Party.

Sure Ford might have smoked a little recreational crack cocaine but he was guaranteed to give better answers to reporters’ questions. Ford probably felt the same as Trump does about the news media but he knew how to use them. Ford was even popular with the late night shows in the U.S.

But Trump has gone too far in expressing his distain for American news media. Between the state-run electoral systems and the news media, he is not sure which is going to really do him in. He says the news media is biased against him and the election is rigged for his opponent. He talks like he is going to lead the next American Revolution when he loses. And that is scary.

Rob Ford understood the voting systems in Canada. He knew how to identify and get out his vote. Trump will be lucky if the registered Republicans in the United States even bother to vote for him. He has been turning off more thinking Republicans every day. They have no idea what his plans are or where he wants to lead the country.

Could you imagine, Trump calling on the National Rifle Association to rise up and support him if he loses the election? Maybe he can also call on his friend Vlad Putin to send troops? Rob Ford was never a sore loser.

The real difference between Ford and Trump is that Ford made use of the system in existence. He was deeply into the Conservative Party, federally and provincially. His father laid the groundwork for his sons in the party and they were aware of the benefits it could provide in they wanted to stay in municipal field or move on to take advantage of provincial or federal opportunities.

Donald Trump came into the Republican race in the United States as an outlier because in a broad field of candidates there was nobody emerging from the pack. Nobody thought he could buy the nomination. He not only bought it but he ran the convention.

More on this another time.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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