Archive for February, 2017

Ralph Goodale: The Great Obfuscator.

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

One of the secrets of individual longevity in politics in Saskatchewan is that nobody in the province can tell a Conservative from a Liberal. This came to mind last weekend watching Global Television’s program The West Block. The new program host, Vassy Kapelos, asked Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale a couple questions and virtually turned the program over to him.

With more than 40 years in both federal and provincial politics, veteran Ralph Goodale is never at a loss for something to say. In fact, he is about the most boring politician in Canada.

What Vassy got was vintage Goodale. A question to him is an opportunity to take off on a flight of fancy. The only appreciation you can attain from the experience of listening is that you are thankful when he finishes. At one point Vassy looked like she was falling asleep. And he never really answered one of her questions.

When Prime Minister Trudeau first appointed Goodale, John McCallum and Stéphane Dion as the greybeard triumvirate of his cabinet, you could assume that the newbies in the cabinet would gain from the experience but have few chances to speak.

John McCallum will be forever known as the Canadian Minister of National Defence who was not aware of the role of Canada in the Dieppe Raid during the Second World War. To be fair though, he earned approbation for the fine job he did as Immigration Minister in the early Justin Trudeau cabinet on the Syrian refugee file. He might have crossed swords with Trudeau though when he urged restraint on higher numbers of refugees in the following year.

But for whatever reason, Minister McCallum has gone on to his reward as Ambassador to China.

It was not as easy to dump Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion. A cerebral friend of the environment, Dion might not have been the most willing of the cabinet to go along with Trudeau’s decision to approve the Kinder-Morgan pipeline expansion in B.C. Dion might have seen the various environmental trade-offs by Trudeau as betrayal.

Dion created an interesting problem for Trudeau when he at first turned up his nose at taking the ambassadorial role offered in Europe. Yet, who could resist the challenge of being ambassador to both Germany and the European Union simultaneously? Mind you, the German elections coming up later this year could end the German dominance of the EU and that would make the job more difficult.

And this is why Ralph Goodale’s role in cabinet has become more important. As the last guru and greybeard, right-wing influence and obfuscator, we will likely be seeing more of Goodale than we really want to.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Repeating Ontario’s Train Wreck.

Monday, February 27th, 2017

You sometimes wonder about politicians who get in trouble and keep going back to the guru’s who helped get them into trouble in the first place. It is like having a train wreck and continuing to send locomotives down that same track, hoping one of the locomotives will make it. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has even gone back to the same locomotive driver. You would think that her friend Ed Clark, the former banker, had already proved that he is no train driver.

Look what Clark did for the Ontario Liberal’s before: His solution to providing capital funds was to tell them to sell off the majority of Hydro One, Ontario’s electricity distribution system. Hydro One had been created by Premier Mike Harris prior to his intent to sell it off—but wiser heads prevailed at the time. Clark’s argument was that privatising would sharpen up Hydro One’s efficiencies and improve profits for the shareholders. Instead it has given Ontario electricity users an additional target for their anger.

Clark might have let his bias against crown corporations cloud his thinking. It can be a very false assumption to think all crown corporations are less well run than their private sector counterparts.

But then Clark also came up with the scheme to use a form of water torture to introduce beer, wine and cider into Ontario grocery stores—a few at a time. This must have been the stupidest, most anal plan anyone could come up with. It seemed to be designed to annoy, confuse and frustrate the consumer who might want to pick up a six-pack while shopping or maybe include a decent bottle of wine to go with dinner. It is not working and the grocery stores involved have looked stupider than the politicians.

What is really annoying about this is the elitist attitude that it reflects. The politicians and their chosen consultants are patronizing Ontario consumers while looking after their corporate friends at George Weston Ltd.

Maybe Ed Clark has never been in a corner convenience store—maybe his chauffeur goes in for him? He probably does not understand why people would like to walk to the corner convenience store for a six-pack.

And maybe that is what is wrong in this province. We need politicians who can understand why a citizen might enjoy walking to the corner convenience store for a six-pack.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Trumping the News Media.

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

The other day one of our American relatives asked: “Why are you writing so much about Trump?”

The simple answer is that President Donald Trump is an ongoing saga of the worst of things that can happen in politics. There are also the greatly increased readership statistics when writing about the political failures of Donald Trump. Canadians are equally fascinated by the subject. And if Trump were not so scary, he would be funny.

Take the ongoing battle with the news media. It is a battle we desperately want him to lose. In fact, he has to lose. In his vanity, he is attempting to destroy the very core of democracy in the United States of America: a free and independent news media.

Admittedly there are huge numbers of Americans who have deserted the traditional print and broadcast media but they are finding no solace in the Internet-based social media. Not everyone identifies with the chaos and confusion social media spreads. To perpetrate that chaos through the malicious condemning of respected news media has to be questioned and combatted by those who want to preserve democracy.

The best example of this disturbing approach during the 2016 election was the “Corrupt Hillary” line that Trump fed his followers. It took a destructive and the still unforgiven besmirching of the reputation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to keep that lie alive through the campaign. Thankfully, it is still harder to sell a lie than to stand by the truth.

Now Donald Trump has turned his attention to the news media. It is over what he calls, “Fake News.” He does not take kindly to criticism. He prefers adoration; it sooths his ego. At a recent White House news conference, Trump devoted time to telling Cable News Network (CNN, owned by Time Warner) why the reporter could not ask a question. As you can imagine, Time Warner can take that kind of criticism directly to the bank. It is worth a good deal in free publicity.

But the problem with that is Trump’s base of supporters want to believe him. They will go along with him that these news media are not telling them the truth about their hero.

But the key question for Trump supporters is why would CNN, the New York Times, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Guardian and the Daily Mail want to produce “Fake News” when what is going on in the White House is much worse?

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Is that Mainstreet or Elm Street?

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Having started out as a young man writing scripts for telephone co-incidental research, we are not about to easily buy into Interactive Voice Response (IVR) polling. This is mentioned in that some recent political polls in Alberta and B.C. have the politicos excited. The polls were done with IVR by Mainstreet Research. What we have always assumed about this technique of political research is that quality of call is replaced with quantity of calls.

But people used to lie to live interviewers and why would they not lie to a recording? And why would children and teenagers not have some phone fun with a recording? It was a long time ago that researchers found that the entire United States could be based on sampling just 480 people. Increasing that figure has not improved accuracy in polling. It is just an opportunity to annoy more people in their homes.

Before you malign all pollsters though, you should bear in mind that even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. And knowing Quito Maggi, CEO of Mainstreet, we should mention we once made a ten-dollar side bet on an election on which we were working. He lost, he paid and it felt good.

But this commentary is about Quito’s IVR research out west. The Mainstreet news is that the Wildrose Party would win an election tomorrow. As there is no writ for an election in Alberta tomorrow, you can relax. The interpretation of this survey is that if whomever is leader of the right in Alberta at the next election—if there is only one right-wing party—will have a slam-dunk.

But since there are two right-wing parties in Alberta, we should wait until the Conservatives pick their new leader and see how he does at trying to strong-arm the Wildrose to join his party. And by the way, the electoral districts will be redistributed before the next election. Best that Albertan’s wait before celebrating any victories.

It might also be best to wait until the election in British Columbia as well. The Mainstreet polling shows the ruling Liberals and the provincial New Democrats are almost tied and the Green Party is the wild card. What it obviously means is that the anti-pipeline voters will be out in force and the fence Premier Christy Clark is trying to ride in the coming election is going to get more and more uncomfortable. Quito Maggi is quoted as saying that what they know is they do not know enough.

But Quito might have other concerns. Mainstreet Research is reported to now be part of American Bellwether Technologies. He might not know that a bellwether can also be a castrated ram who leads his herd of sheep. Good luck, Quito!

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Nobody gives a damn about English.

Friday, February 24th, 2017

It is only when you note the time and money devoted to preserving the French language in different parts of the world, that you start to wonder. Is the English language so pervasive that nobody worries about it? Only the dictionary publishers seem to have a vested interest so they can produce new editions periodically.

But why do we get the feeling that the English language is going downhill in a bucket and nobody cares? If you wander around the United States for too long, you will be convinced that the Americans are separating it into about six distinct languages, with hundreds of regional dialects thrown in. While in Canada, the late Don Harron, turned listening to rural Ontario accents into a comedic career as the raconteur and writer character of Charlie Farquarson.

Getting on topic here is tough. What started this rant was our complaint last week about Canada’s parliament not knowing the difference between a phobia and bigotry. The difference is simple: a phobia needs help and bigotry needs a spanking. A phobia is a morbid fear while bigotry is usually just based on ignorance.

It was very difficult to watch our federal politicians arguing over the wording of a simple motion (having no more authority than a ‘Like to Have’) rather than dealing with the real problem. And by the way folks, there is little you can do about bigots until what they are communicating passes from freedom of speech into a hate crime.

But there was no argument in the Ontario Legislature. The Liberals there put the same motion as their federal counterparts before that house and the two opposition parties got immediately in line to pass it. This was almost a welcome relief after the rancorous debates earlier in the Legislature over electricity distributors’ cut-offs and pricing. All we usually hear from Queen’s Park is about electricity costs and that nobody seems to have a clue about what to do about it.

At least with this motion, the New Democrats jumped to agree to the Islamophobia motion as they had nothing else to do. Patrick Brown of the Ontario Conservatives supported the motion with his usual hypocrisy. When it costs nothing to look good, he is in favour of it. He is unlikely to know whether the wording is correct.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Does President Trump have an agenda?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

It is hard to get your mind around this one. There was an opinion piece in a major Canadian newspaper by a political science professor who posited that President Donald Trump and his henchman Steve Bannon have a plan to split the world with Vladimir Putin. You would have a hard time imagining this plot. It is fanciful and requires far more co-ordination than a building project. And it deals with people who like to go their own way.

Frankly, “Making America Great Again” is stretching Trump’s showmanship to the limit. He has no idea how to do that either. For him to play in world politics with someone like Putin would be like sending him out to pinch hit in a World Series game without a bat.

And to give Steve Bannon some of the credit for this supposed plot is even sillier. Bannon is a self-centred egotist who rivals Trump in that category. He is the only Tea Party advocate we have ever heard of who has nastier things said about him by Republicans than Democrats. He is despised on both sides.

But Bannon would be the last person to plot with Putin. Hell, Bannon would have had a hard time negotiating with Adolph Hitler. They both might be anti-Semites but as a Harvard MBA, Bannon would consider fascism passé.

What is really surprising is how long the Trump-Bannon relationship has survived. Neither one of them expected Trump to win the presidency and that might be the bond. Bannon brings Trump good luck?

But the professor’s theory is that Trump’s America will help dismantle the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and encourage the break-up of the European Union. This would give Putin free reign in Eastern Europe and he could finish re-assembling the USSR to its former glory.

What is wrong with this silly scenario is that there is no logic to helping Putin rebuild if there is no balancing assembly going on in the West. Yet here is Trump insisting on a stupid wall to beggar Mexico instead of helping industrialize the country as an ally.

And the really dumb part of the entire scheme is the part about damaging the NATO alliance. Those countries are the best customers for the U.S. military-industrial complex and provide hundreds of thousands of high-wage jobs for Americans. Trump is telling America’s allies to spend more not less.

But one of the fun parts of teaching political science is that reality is something else.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Of politicians and sleeping dogs.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

It is hard to believe that anyone would want former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to be brought out of retirement—even just to sing an Irish ballad! And for those of us who have always considered Mulroney the epitome of sleaze in Canadian politics, he should be right at home in the loving arms of his good friend Donald Trump.

Brian Mulroney has been constantly surprised throughout his life at how much he could achieve. The achievements were helped by a somewhat serious lack of scruples. From that time, in the early 1980s when he brought down his ‘friend’ Joe Clark, Mulroney built his dreams on the backs of those he climbed over to get to the top. When he finally read the portends and got out before the election debacle of 1993, he was the most reviled prime minister in Canadian history.

It is not that Brian Mulroney is not a pleasant person. If you are of any importance at all, he will cozy up to you. All he wants to know is what you can do for him. He was close pals with U.S. President Ronald Regan but nobody knows just how far Regan was lost to Alzheimer’s at the time.

He has been buddies with Donald Trump for the past 25 years. The Donald likes being buddy-buddy with a former prime minister and Brian seems to be most at home with billionaires. God forbid that he does not have his gated community in Florida to get away from those rotten Canadian winters.

Maybe it is Brian who told his friend Donald that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) needs some tweaking. After all, Brian gave away the store when his people negotiated the original deal. Canada has been bleeding away manufacturing jobs ever since.

But it is Mulroney’s contacts with the senior Republicans and their minions in Washington that has brought him out of retirement. These people are all reassuring the Canadians that President Trump will be Canada’s friend.

Mind you, come the day that Trump wakes with a belly-ache, all bets are off. He will strike out at the first thing he sees among the ‘fake’ news of the nation’s television networks.

And Brian Mulroney will be sleeping in at his Florida retreat. Can you not see the sign: do not disturb!

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Is the political middle just one?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Nobody seems to be able to nail down this middle ground in politics. It is like the middle class that Justin Trudeau chased in the last federal election. Did Trudeau even suspect that they would add up to almost 40 per cent of the voters?  And were they all centre-right voters or was there a mix of centre-left voters included?

But somewhere in Canada, there must be that one person who stands squarely in the middle of the political spectrum. Whomever this person might be, could it be another person next week?

And what does this political centre represent? Does it fight to maintain a fully funded Medicare or does it allow the encroachment of for-profit medicine for those who’s money allows them the right to jump the queue? Does this centre encompass environmental standards along with pipelines for tar sand’s bitumen? And how does a centrist government so blindly accept the European trade agreement that was negotiated by a right-wing government?

But does a right of centre government pay out tax money in the form of a child tax benefit? Is this not the same as we used to call a Baby Bonus? And why in the last election did the left-of-centre New Democrats insist on having balanced budgets? Why do these left, right and centrist parties not stay in place to help the voter make a decision?

Yet the truth is that a large part of the Liberal vote in the last federal election came from both the left and right. There was a clear desire across the political spectrum to end the Conservative Party of Canada oligarchy under Stephen Harper. It had run its term. It was tired and needed renewal. It was becoming too mean-spirited and defeated itself.

And we still have no idea whether Canadians expect the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau to rule from the right or the left. As long as the government keeps that ambiguity going, it might keep enough support from both sides to stay in power.

But how far is this government from the ideal of a centrist government? Is it protecting our individual rights and freedoms? Is it addressing the problems connected to our old and creaky constitution or is it wallpapering them? Are its elitist appointments to the Senate and the higher courts just tired solutions of an elitist right? We have chosen a leader but do we know where the hell he is going?

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Watch out, the bigots are out.

Monday, February 20th, 2017

The problem for the pundits today is the presence of bigots in the Conservative Party. They are not the majority. They are barely a faction. They exist. They hurt the cause. They are something of a wild card.

But some of the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership will cater to this faction. It hardly helps though when some Liberal MPs do not know the difference between bigotry and a deep-seated psychological disorder. Bigotry and Islamophobia might produce some of the same consequences but a motion in the House of Commons is not likely to help cure a phobia. A motion such as the one proposed should serve to put bigots on notice.

It is just that making this subject a matter of debate in the House is going to bring out the bigots who relish the argument. They want the exposure. They want the heated arguments. They are delighted to hear of the 50,000 (sic) communications claimed to be received by a Muslim M.P. It gives the bigots amongst us support.

A few years ago, we saw a predominantly Muslim area (Thorncliffe Park) in Toronto organized to protest against a revised sex education curriculum for schools. It was a clear indication of the power of Ontario Conservatives to organize and use that community for its political purposes. It was a warning.

That foolish ‘hijab’ debate in the last federal election was another example of political use of bigotry. Thomas Mulcair thought he could use the subject to help hold Quebec seats. He had already lost most of those seats, so he paid the price for the error in Ontario. Yet the argument helped the Conservatives hold some of their Quebec City area seats.

It was also in that election that M.P. Kellie Leitch got her start at a ‘barbaric cultural practices’ tip line. Along with then Conservative M.P. Chris Alexander, this announcement was roundly criticized as pandering to bigotry.

And yet, here are both those spokespeople for their party, running for its leadership.  Chris Alexander had the disadvantage of losing his seat in the last election and that puts a serious crimp in his campaign. Not that Kellie Leitch is expected to do much better. Her strength will be concentrated in her first-choice ballots. She will be second choice of only a few.

But that is also what makes the federal Conservative race so hard to dope out. Conservative Party voters can indicate their preference in order. If many go past a third or fourth choice is up to them. It is what makes this race one that will be decided by the losers.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

That political instinct.

Sunday, February 19th, 2017

One of the key measurements of budding politicians is their political instinct. You measure this in how these people interact with voters, fellow politicians, the news media and with the apparatchiks who work with them. At the same time, it would be an asset if they are articulate, charming, intelligent, personable, rich and have an attractive (and supportive) spouse and children. These are all nice-to-haves.

But without that political instinct, you are likely to be wasting your time. Sure, you can try to overcome the lack of political instinct. Look at Donald Trump. The man ran on ego instead of instinct and look where it has got him—probably the most reviled President in American history.

But for the guy or gal looking at a school board seat or a council opening as a first step into politics, ego and money are no panacea. Hard work and determination can make up for some limitations but it is political instinct that tells you the right thing to say at the voters’ doors. And be careful with how you choose to separate yourself from the also-rans.

Standing out from the crowd is your first challenge. If you run in the middle of the pack, you will end up there. You have to be lead dog. You cannot be too rich, too aggressive, too political, too sure or too smart. You have to fit the role for which you are running. And you can be assured that a post-graduate degree in education is not what gets you elected to a school board.

You have to be representative of the people you want to represent. And you have to keep them regularly informed of what you are doing on their behalf. It is your political instinct that you have to rely on to as to what is the right amount and frequency of communication.

And be careful of jumping too fast when further opportunity arises. Voters like success stories but they also resent being used. Use caution.

And since this has turned into advice for newbie politicos, you should always remember that politics is very much a team effort. You can hardly fit all the roles that a campaign team needs but you can put those strengths together over time. And even if you write great speeches, that is an area where good back-up can reduce stress. By building the team you need over time, you could be surprised at the possibilities it can open to you. If you build a strong team and remain loyal to them, you will find they becoming increasingly loyal to you.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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