Archive for January, 2017

The fix in foreign affairs.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

When Stéphane Dion was so unceremoniously dumped from foreign affairs by Prime Minister Trudeau, all most people could say was they hoped it worked. How would you feel if you were the new foreign affairs minister and the PM kept casting about for the advice needed to handle the situation in Washington? And how does anyone keep tabs on that fast-changing scene?

And it hardly matters a damn if our new Minister Chrystia Freeland knows all about Washington. If she does not understand Donald Trump, she is just going to be one more example of road-kill on the Beltway. Nor does it help if she has the keys to Foggy Bottom. (Foggy Bottom is an older area of the District of Columbia where the Department of State is located.) The bad news is that anyone of any importance at State Freeland might have known is gone. They were not fired. The department leadership listened to Trump, studied Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State and quit en masse.

And there is little hope for Freeland’s second line of defense, her media contacts. Those of her contacts still in the profession are busy digging their foxholes around the White House as Trump and his alternative facts people check their Ouija boards for the news facts of the day.

Frankly there is more reason for concern about our day to day relations in Washington with Trudeau appointee David MacNaughton heading up our embassy. After the pitiful performance MacNaughton turned in during the 2015 election campaign, his political pay-off should have been a poorly located shoe-shine stand on Sparks Street in Ottawa.

And if Trudeau is waiting anxiously for an invitation to meet Trump, frankly he should be busy that day. Trump has already shown his hand. With the Mexican president already having told Trump to get stuffed, Trump wants to make allies of those nice Canadians. What he also expects is a quid pro quo for approving the damn Keystone XL pipeline. Obviously, we need to convince the fool that it is more to his benefit than ours. He probably moved on it prematurely because he wants to keep Trudeau and Mexican President Peña Nieto from ganging up on him. He has probably been told by now that renegotiation of NAFTA would take from two to three years and would probably not benefit the U.S.

And Freeland could never pull a stunt with Trump such as she pulled in the deal with the European Union. She would be playing right into his hands. If she walked out on him, she would find herself declared persona non grata.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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May comes; May goes.

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Did you see that lovely picture of British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump holding hands outside the West Wing? It was all the lady came to Washington to get. And it was all she wanted.

You really do not think anything substantive was agreed to, did you? It was entirely a public relations gesture for both parties. Trump had just been told to get stuffed by the president of Mexico. He needed some other country to reassure him that he really was the boss man in Washington. This guy is going to need constant reassurance.

May’s objective was to build some standing back home in Westminster. She is in nothing but trouble with the Brexit file in the Commons. If she cannot win a vote for her handling of the file, her entire house of cards collapses. Without getting the Brexit vote through the Commons, she can lose everything—not the least, her job.

But this lady is determined to hold on to her position. She is also much smarter than the late Baroness Thatcher. May’s handling of Trump was masterful. She played that misogynistic bastard like a Steinway. She eased him through the diplomatic rough spots until he was eating out of her hand. No doubt she hurried to her digs afterwards for a good bath.

But it is still a gamble for her to use the Trump in the way she did. The United Kingdom can hardly replace the billions of Euros in trade with Europe with some few U.S. dollars of growth some new trade with America might provide. And England would need a new Marshall Plan to pull it out of penury if the United Kingdom loses Scotland and Northern Ireland to the European Union. Imagine England and a dyspeptic Wales trying to survive as a quaint tourist attraction across the Channel from a thriving E. U.

May’s major problem is that her opposition will ask ‘so what’ if President Trump liked her? Will he remember her tomorrow when someone else catches his eye? The visit was nothing more than an exercise in optics. It worked, but for how long?

What Theresa May did not realize is that while she made Trump’s Best Friend Forever list, he has the attention span and loyalty of a sexually active 16-year old.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Orwell Observed.

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

There must be a dearth of honest work for lawyers these days. It seems more and more of them are devoting billable hours to being published. It must be part of their contract to get their firm noticed and to attract real lawyering work. One such example of this phenomenon is the recent op-ed in the Toronto Star by former Ontario premier as well as former interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada Bob Rae.

It seems Bob is also a reader and his op-ed provides an interesting discourse on the similarities between Donald Trump’s rather sketchily defined plans for America and the dystopian views of the British author who wrote under the pen name: George Orwell. Bob might as well make the observation that U.S. President Donald Trump has characteristics of the leader referred to as ‘Big Brother’ in Orwell’s book 1984.

While it is not our intention to spoil a good read for anybody, the entire point of the book seems to be to explain how those of us in the middle class of a rebellious or left-of-centre political bent can also come to love Big Brother.

Bob’s intent though is to show how President Trump—as Big Brother—knows what his people want and is providing for their desires. It has always been our opinion that Orwell purposely never defined Big Brother as the vagueness of his character could attract a greater cross section of the populace. The more flexible the politicians’ policies the bigger their success.

The trouble with Trump is that there is the strong possibility he is promising things that even the President of the United States cannot deliver. There is even a growing awareness that building that wall for Mexico is impractical. Big Brother would never be called to account for such an error.

What Bob finds disturbing though is the “dark, grim nature” of Trump’s view of America expressed in his inauguration address. Like Big Brother, he is the only person who can fight off this “carnage.” He is convinced that only he can save the nation because only he knows what the people want.

Bob finds it fascinating how many in business and politics are willing to placate Trump’s protectionist policies. He thinks that too many business people are trying to accommodate Trump’s views without realizing the ultimate harm they will cause.

What Bob Rae does not seem to realize is that Trump is hardly the first American President seeking to create a world dominated by America’s self interest. He is just the first to handle it so blatantly and badly.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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We needed to hug Trump’s ‘Deplorables.’

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

In the heat of last fall’s U.S. election, Hillary Clinton foolishly claimed that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables.” These were the obvious Trump supporters who were vocally responding to his speeches that pandered to racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or Islamophobic mind sets. Instead of offering our hand to these people, we scorned them. And we strengthened their determination to vote.

But what was more serious was that by ridiculing these disreputable supporters we quieted the Republican voters who did not want to be identified with the deplorables. We made many of them hide their vote. We were getting all kinds of signals that there was a below-the-surface vote for Trump but it was not volunteering any information. There was actually a school of thought that said these people were turned off by the Trump campaign and less likely to vote.

It is a shame that we have to place the blame on Hillary Clinton. We respected her as a strong and resilient politico but she failed to read the voters in that election. She failed to understand the appeal of her main Democrat opponent Bernie Sanders. Sanders saw the problem that Clinton was ignoring. He saw the demand for change. Clinton had to co-opt Sanders, not ignore him. She ignored the Sanders supporters until it was too late.

Hillary’s major error was in failing to surgically remove a slice of Republican supporters and bring them over to her side. Thinking she was secure with her dominance among women, blacks and Latinos, she left the Republicans alone. She left them no alternative but to vote for Trump.

And she let Trump get away with the big lie of “corrupt Hillary.” To not understand your opponent’s strategy is the most serious mistake a politico can make. The Clinton campaign team had to turn that lie back on Trump. It had to circle back on him. If the lie was black, the response had to be white. It is something like tagging it back to him as “Corrupt Hillary; Bankrupt Donald.” It is the same with his slogan “Make American Great Again: And Greater with Clinton.” By giving the response the same weight as what he is saying, you are taking its uniqueness away from him.

The most serious failure in the Democrat’s campaign was the failure to capitalize on the most obvious opportunity. Mr. Trump was so clearly running against the Republican Party, all that needed to be done was widen the cracks. Just think about the difference in the outcome if the bad guys had been the Republican Party instead of Donald Trump.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The proud pomposity of the Toronto Star.

Friday, January 27th, 2017

There are few things funnier than a Toronto Star editorial that lambastes the Ontario government for all the wrong reasons. And nothing deflates the pomposity better than getting their facts wrong. We are looking at the Star editorial demanding an end to the proposed increases in community college presidents’ salaries. What would really help here would be if the Star could just contain its mock outrage.

First of all, the Star should check and it is quite possible that our community college presidents have had their salaries frozen since 2010. That would be seven years, not five. And what is pertinent is how their jobs have been changing throughout that period.

What also strikes us as we look at this situation is that not all community colleges are equal. The Toronto-centred interests of the Toronto Star are well understood but the Toronto-centred focus of the Ontario government is an absolute disgrace.

The critical lack of a university base in central Ontario, for example, has put a serious onus on Georgian College to work with multiple universities to bring degree courses to its wide-flung geography. Nobody would have believed you if you had said that was part of the job 20-years ago.

What we know today—and what Minister Deb Matthews knows—is that Ontario’s community colleges are terribly underfunded and not all can count on international students to fill the gap. Major adjustments have to be made in funding based on the need to look after our Ontario students. If the disparities continue, the province will have to pay some of the presidents three times the salary just to take the job.

In recruiting these people, they need to understand that a big part of the job today is revenue generation. You cannot do what needs to be done if you are not out beating the bushes for money. You have to negotiate every day with your communities, universities, industries and expanded international opportunities. And then you have to get back to the office to keep the home fires burning. People who can do that do not come cheap.

This is not a nine-to-five job and any college president who does not agree should be immediately fired. Nobody should be getting a free ride here—especially Minister Deb Matthews.

But all this being said, our college presidents are generally doing a great job. They deserve an increase of some sort after so many years of penny-pinching governments. Maybe they will get decent raises over the next few years but nobody is so dumb as to expect the figures the Toronto Star is talking about. We should wait until the boards act. We should leave our muskets over the mantel until we have something real to shoot at.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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As the world wearies of Trump.

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

This is a bad sign. A world becoming wearied of President Trump already? It signifies an acceptance of something abnormal and dangerous. When the king seats his fool on the throne, is the fool now king?

And if you accept the largess of the fool while the fool sits on the throne, are you not the greater fool?

When a Trump triumphant fouls the fabric of common sense, silences science, pardons polluters and panders to the providers of pipelines, is he not the fool?

But are those of us concerned about our environment being gamed? There are many steps to go before this Keystone XL pipeline is put into its bed of earth. In the two years of delay given to us by President Obama, other routes have been utilized. And is there really a need for a glut of tar sands bitumen reaching the Texas Gulf ports when the pipeline is finished?

And who are the real fools when Prime Minister Trudeau and Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley cheer approval of President Trump’s executive order to bring the pipeline back on the construction schedule? Are there really jobs to be saved north of the U.S. border? Or is it just more destruction of the Alberta landscape as settling ponds overgrow the environment.

An Associated Press photographer was allowed into the Oval Office to photograph the President with his signed executive order. It was interesting to see the increased bagginess under the eyes, the unkempt white hair, the growing flaccidness of his 70-year old face and the hardness of Mr. Trump’s expression. This is a man pushing himself as though the devil is about to foreclose on their pact.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Myths of Ontario’s cap-and-trade system.

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

An associate professor at McGill wrote an interesting op-ed last week in the Toronto Star seeking to answer the four major myths about the Ontario-Quebec cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gasses. The only problem with Christopher Ragan’s column is that most of the myths he attempts to debunk are answered with arguments for a straight carbon tax.

The first myth and the easiest to debunk is that it will raise hydro rates. That is wrong because Ontario has phased out its coal-fired generation plants and has only a small percentage of gas-fired plants for back-up. Professor Ragan’s bias is showing though when he refers to the Ontario subsidies for its small percentage of renewable energy sources as “massive.”

The second myth and the most crucial is that business will want to move to jurisdictions without taxes on greenhouse gas emissions. Yet he tells us that his Ecofiscal Commission has studied this question and he finds that less than two per cent of the Ontario’s gross domestic product is at risk of this.

The third myth he mentions is that the provincial government can undermine its cap-and-trade system by the distribution of free passes for some of their carbon emissions. While this is not the case in a straight carbon tax, it illustrates the major weakness of cap-and-trade in that these “get-out-of-jail-free” passes can be handed out behind the scenes without public knowledge.

The fourth myth applies to both cap-and-trade and a carbon tax—that carbon pricing might not work. Ragan uses the old argument from Wealth of Nations guru Adam Smith that “a large collection of small responses to price movements is what makes our market economy work.”

Ragan insists that there is ample evidence from around the world that carbon pricing works. He says though that we should not expect results right away and it will likely only happen as carbon costs rise.

But Ragan leaves us with no clear understanding of where he stands on the differences between cap-and-trade and carbon taxes. We have a right to expect more from academics.

The Ontario-Quebec cap-and-trade system that they have linked with California is the least understood system. It is carried on between industry and politicians and the public is largely left out. Some vague taxes showing up at our gas station on January 1 was a bad idea and the governments involved have done little to clarify the situation.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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In debate with a demagogue.

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

The signs around the White House should read: Danger, Demagogue in power. And yes, there is no denying that President Donald Trump is a classical demagogue. Rational debate is now passé. It is a time of alternative facts. Facts as only President Trump perceives them.

And Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet are meeting in Calgary debating how to debate a demagogue. What a waste of time and money! Does Ambassador McNaughton know how to debate with demagogues? Not likely, would be our guess. Why fly him to Calgary if he sheds no light on the problem? Or why entertain President Trump’s son-in-law? What are his ambassadorial credentials?

Justin Trudeau and his cabinet colleagues would be further along consulting with a child psychologist. One who knows something about aberrational behaviour would make the most sense. Donald Trump has to be considered a spoiled, selfish, truculent little boy. How do you debate a new North American Free Trade Agreement with a child?

First of all, you have to make sure that everything is on an even footing. You have to climb into his playpen with him, assure him that you are there to play and prepared to discuss things at his level of comprehension.

You also have to be prepared to counter his alternative facts. Sometimes the easiest way is to use alternative facts yourself. If he thinks his facts are real, then why should you not be entitled to counter them—not with argument or logic but through your alternative facts. And alternative facts are so easy to create!

At some point in this child’s play, he will tire and you can let his experts and your experts sit down and work out a new deal. That is the time when both sides get to say what they really do not like about the present agreement. One thing Mr. Trump might understand is if you insist that the courts be kept out of problem solving. He has been sued so many times in his business career that he would be sensitive to the subject. An independent panel of business people from all countries would be an idea that would appeal to him. It might just be the answer to the problems we have had with NAFTA such as the softwood lumber arguments.

But whatever we do, we should use caution. He is still the kid next door and we are expected to play nice with him.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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When a leader betrays a Canadian legacy.

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

There was a time back in the Pearson-Trudeau era when tensions ran through English-French relations at the usual flash points in Montreal and Ottawa. And those of us not fully bilingual were the bruised. It is sad to tell of the disappointments suffered from those you had supported so fiercely.

That is why so many Canadians were understandably annoyed with Justin Trudeau last week in his Quebec town-hall meetings. For the Prime Minister to refuse to answer an English language question (about language rights) in English to an Anglophone questioner was both ignorant and ridiculous. If his late father had been witness to that immature lack of judgement, he would have wanted to spank him.

Justin Trudeau used the thin and fallacious argument that as they were in Quebec, he should answer in French. Somebody got to him afterwards and it needs to be reported that he did apologize later but the damage was done.

Insulting people over their limitations in one or another of our official languages can be very foolish. Many of us have spend a great deal of time and money over the years to try to improve our fluency. This is not always an easy task when you do not have an ear for languages. Back when this writer was building a new Quebec division of the Canadian Multiple Sclerosis Society, it was necessary to give a series of talks to people across Quebec. It took a great deal of discipline and practice to learn to give those talks in French. It was very gratifying in some ways that in the question period afterwards that people assumed a competence in the language that really did not exist.

But it is also why we laugh, in turn, at millionaire Kevin O’Leary who seems to think he is God’s gift to the Conservative Party. This guy, who was born in Quebec, more than 60 years ago, attended Quebec colleges and Royal Military College Saint-Jean where he could have become bilingual—and did not. It is just so unlikely that he could become bilingual at this stage of his life that it is laughable.

The last federal Conservative leader in Canada who did not speak French was John George Diefenbaker. While a conservative populist, as O’Leary considers himself, Diefenbaker respected Canada’s official languages. O’Leary has obviously never cared.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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On Bastille Day in America.

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

Watching the self-indulgent speech by President Donald Trump at his inauguration, it was as though he believed that his promises to the people of America were unique in world history. He was wrong. The same speech could have been made as the Bastille fell in Paris in 1789.

But the difference was that the continuing turmoil of the French Revolution eventually did bring about change. Trump, today, is promising change that he cannot deliver. We all agree that he can be expected to deliver turmoil but his choices of cabinet appointees are all promising the status quo.

With his usual exaggeration and bombast, Donald Trump told that cold damp crowd on the National Mall that “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”  And his sans-culottes supporters voiced their approval.

While the sans-culottes (literally: without pants) supporters of revolutionary leader Robespierre in France in the 1790s were assumed to be lower class, they were found to include the middle-class French who rebelled against the French landowners. In the earlier American Revolutionary War, the rebels were led by the landowners who were rebelling against the absentee English lawmakers. With billionaire Trump at the helm, we can only assume that the Americans without pants have finally realized it’s the landowners and their politicians who have caused their problems.

But beyond his dark forecasts of an America beset with drugs, its borders unprotected, its factories stilled and rusting, its schools losing out to gangs, its armies depleted, we are no less clear on what Trump really will do during his term in the White House. Dragging America into the darkness of trade protectionism, sabre rattling and some imagined dictatorship of a police state will hardly make America great again.

Trump’s supporters now have their hero in the White House. Neither he nor they have a clue as to what he is going to do next.

The government of Robespierre ruled in Paris for a year during France’s Reign of Terror. Robespierre died at the guillotine as so many that he had sent there. President Trump is now busy signing away the legacy of his predecessor. His first order of business is vindictive. He is beginning the process of disillusioning his sans-culottes followers.

The challenge is to the gamblers among us. Within six months the calls for his head will drown out the mindless slogans. Within a year, the road to impeachment will be paved. Will Trump last 18 months?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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