Archive for May, 2017

“Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

That hackneyed expression is used to describe politicians who stupidly work to defeat themselves. A good example today is the desperation we are seeing at Queen’s Park as the Liberal’s Premier Kathleen Wynne continues to destroy the Liberal legacy in Ontario. She has so many irons in so many fires that the voters are completely confused.

Good government for Ontario does not seem to be Ms. Wynne’s operating theory. Instead, she dabbles. She is a reactionary dabbler. You show her a problem and she will question what is the smallest effort needed to say she is doing something about it.

Today she is mired in the argument as to whether we or our children should pay for the expense of government incompetence at managing electric power for this province. And before Patrick Brown smirks at this statement, it should be noted that all flavours of politicians are equally inept.

It was to Ms. Wynne’s credit though that she saw through the hypocrisy of the other parties and made a move to introduce beer and better wines in grocery stores. She destroyed herself and her party by turning the introduction into a form of water torture. It will be years before we will just assume that any large grocery store will have a booze section. And there is not a single damn grocery store in Barrie carrying beer or wine yet. That is not only obvious and petty just because it is where that schmuck Conservative leader Patrick Brown is running next year.

Mind you, the beer and wine fiasco is nowhere near the colossal stupidity of suggesting that the first high-speed trains in Ontario should be from Toronto’s Union Station to cabinet colleague Deb Matthews’ electoral district in London, Ontario. How dumb do you think the voters are in this province?

And even as late as yesterday, Wynne announced that it will take her government two more years to get the minimum wage up to $15 per hour. Our kids have action dolls that provide more action than Premier Wynne.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Everyone’s an expert on High-Speed Rail.

Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

You can hardly blame an old friend such as David Collenette. His career has been in service to the Liberal Party. He was executive director of the Ontario party in 1974 when he was asked to be the federal candidate in York East when the earlier nominee had to resign. We were pleased when David won. He was a hard-working backbencher and went on to serve in the cabinets of three prime ministers.

It was his service as federal minister of transport in the Chrétien cabinet that gives him credibility in addressing the question of high-speed rail (HSR) for Ontario. David’s report to Premier Wynne is the basis of her proposed HSR from London to Toronto. She has asked David to continue his assistance in shepherding the environmental review of the plan.

But it seems that resistance is already building and the chances of Ontario ever having HSR is quickly being mired in political controversy. Premier Wynne might have brought this on herself for her constant timidity and half-measures in getting anything to happen.

The Toronto Star has certainly drawn up its drawers and decided that this is a controversial issue. The paper has so far invited business professors, business ‘experts and its own columnists to have at the plan. While they do not appear to drool spittle as they mostly condemn the plan as do the PostMedia writers, they are not sparing the hyperbole. Ms. Wynne is really in need of friends here.

If only her plan, as it stands, was not so damn political, we would be sympathetic. Canadians are going to have to rescue this situation with a very different strategy. We need to go back 150 years and take note of how Sir John A. Macdonald pulled this country together. It might have taken a lot of rhetoric, a lot of whisky and a lot of skulduggery but we got railways that ran from sea to sea.

On top of that, at the turn of the 20th Century, southern Ontario was a world leader in inter-city electric railcars. Why government-owned GO Transit did not go electric immediately as the commuter rail lines were connected over the years, we have no idea. The change at this stage gets more expensive every day.

But the real need for the first 250 kph trains in Canada is on the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal loop. That will likely take smarter politicians in Ottawa, Quebec City and Toronto than are there today.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

The Infrastructure Bank Conundrum.

Monday, May 29th, 2017

It has been surprising just how many writers are interpreting the Liberal Government’s Infrastructure Bank as a prop for public-private partnerships (P3). It has also not helped that the government included the legislation in the larger budget bill and that finance minister Bill Morneau has been slow to defend his proposal.  When you are seeding it with $35 billion of taxpayers’ money, this is not a corner store operation.

While taxpayers can expect that some of the propositions brought to the bank will be P3-type projects, we have to remember that the political partner in these projects takes the heat for the public value and the private partner takes the heat for the business case. The Infrastructure Bank takes the heat if neither of the partners nor the public are satisfied with the result.

There have certainly been some bad P3 projects in the past. It has been mostly caused by uncaring government’s selling out the public share at fire-sale prices. In Ontario you need only look as far as Toll-highway 407 and Toronto’s SkyDome to see what poor government control of P3 assets can cost.

We can hardly expect someone such as Bill Morneau, with his background, to be a very progressive finance minister. He has been to all the right schools in Canada as well as the dutiful stint at the London School of Economics and he is obviously neoliberal in his thinking.

And he will make sure that Justin Trudeau appoints all the same sort to control his Infrastructure Bank. You can hardly expect them to be dreamers or progressives. The only pressure on them will be to get the money working for us. You can be sure that like all Canadian bankers, they will act as skinflints and curmudgeons. Unlike their private sector banking brothers, they will have to address Canadian-only projects—of benefit to Canadians. That will be the novelty that will pay off for us.

Canadians can expect that the new Infrastructure Bank can attract four to five times its seed funds in foreign and domestic money in the first couple years. That $140 billion to $175 billion is going to make a huge difference in catching up our infrastructure deficit and getting us moving stronger into the future. So get off Bill’s back and help him build this bank for our future.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

The parade of the Conservative losers.

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

A political movement died out near the Toronto airport yesterday. It was the once powerful Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. The new Conservative Party of Canada, heir to the Reform Party, struggles on. It was a time of bad television and bad politics as the surviving party chose a new leader. By a margin of less than two per cent, in complex voting, the social conservatives beat out the libertarians for the leadership.

The convention hall had seen better times. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp tried desperately to make a television event of a fiasco. The presentation of the ballots was stretched past credibility for a computerized count. Political pundits were perplexed and pollsters were puzzled.

As a television personality, Kevin O’Leary again proved that he has no knowledge of politics to pass on to future generations. His choice for leader, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, led in voting until the final count. The perpetually smiling Andrew Scheer MP is the new leader of the Conservative Party, heir to the lost legacy of Stephen Harper.

Bernier and Scheer were Babel-on-the-Bay Morning Line’s fourth and fifth likely possibilities as leader—which is not bad considering the complexity of the strange voting method and the field of 13. Lisa Raitt and Michael Chong would have been far better choices politically but they could not produce as many new party members as the social conservative candidates. Michael Chong was the only candidate for leader who could have given Justin Trudeau a hard race in 2019. He was the only candidate who actually thought about where the party is headed.

Instead, the Conservatives now have Andrew Scheer to lead them. At least he has more of his own hair than Stephen Harper.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Trump’s travels as ‘The Ugly American.’

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump has been out of the country this week. Life in Washington has been more peaceful. While Congress is despairing, trying to make sense of his budget, they have sent Trump to the Middle East and Europe on a pilgrimage to find his true religion and meaning.

What Trump is really doing is a reprise of Eugene Burdick and William Lederer’s 1958 novel The Ugly American. His first visit to the House of Saud was the classic example of the American tourist; flattered to be fed American foods, spoken to in American English and sleeping on an American style bed.

Trump was either unwilling to understand or unaware of the Saudi’s duplicity in funding Islamic extremists and where those American arms are ending up in Mid-East wars. Like Trump, the Saud family have too much money for anyone’s good.

Having learned nothing of the religion of the Prophet Muhammad, he was off to Jerusalem. Here at least, he was taken to the ancient Western Wall of the Second Temple. He appeared to have no prayer to leave in the wall.

Air Force One barely had time for an oil change before heading on to its next stop in Rome for the President to visit Pope Francis. It would have been interesting to know what the President and his wife were having a difference about. When leaving their multi-million dollar plane on the tarmac in Rome you saw Trump reaching to hold her hand and she batted it away. Being Catholic, maybe she wanted to appear more virginal for the audience with His Holiness.

The First Lady and her (Jewish) step-daughter Ivanka wore mantillas as head coverings out of respect for the Pope. As in Trump’s visits with the two other hosts, there was no insight into what was said during their meetings.

It was a pushy Trump who headed on to Brussels to meet with his peers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He lectured them instead of listening. He complained they were reluctant to pay their way. Is this the organization that told its members to keep their remarks of Twitter size? They seem aware that Trump has the attention span of a nine-year old.

But it was in a palatial Sicilian hotel overlooking the Mediterranean, that Trump really left the largest pile. As just one of the four new leaders of the G-7, Trump was the untrained elephant in the room. He criticized the Germans, reiterated his denial of climate change, insulted his hosts and probably told a horrified chef to burn his steak.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

We can blame Cousin Oliver.

Friday, May 26th, 2017

It is all Oliver Mowat’s fault. The myopic Father of Confederation had a mainly rural and agrarian Ontario to oversee in the early years of confederation. His picture hangs over our desk today, not as a distant relation but in the form of a preserved and framed, full front-page of a Saturday Globe published in 1893.  The lead story recognizes Sir Oliver’s then 21-year tenure as Ontario’s premier.

But Ontario is a very different place today than the Province of Upper Canada that came into the Canadian confederation 150 years ago this July 1. Cousin Oliver would probably have something snarky to say about the picture of his one-time colleague Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald on the same wall. The two of them had very different views of confederation. Our preference is the country as foreseen by Sir John.

Yet, it was Sir Oliver who won those early battles taken to London that defined this country. He saw Canada as an outrider to the British ship of state. He saw us as a supplier of raw materials to English industry. He wanted strong provinces that could dictate to a national government of convenience. The British adjudicators of the time agreed with Sir Oliver.

But Sir John had his revenge. He built the national links of steel that drew Canada into one. His Canada was from sea to sea.

Give Oliver the credit he deserves in building Ontario into the powerhouse of confederation. It was his short-sightedness that left us with a constricting constitution that is so unsuited to the needs of our modern Canada.

Who knew in 1867 that Canada would outgrow the concept of the Commonwealth? Who knew in those early years of confederation that Canada could become a production powerhouse to help change the course of European and World Wars?

Let’s give Oliver the credit he deserves. He was a wily politician. He took George Brown and Edward Blake’s early Liberals and led them for 24 years as Premier of Ontario. He put together a voting coalition that included Catholics and working class voters. It was said about him that he was supported strongly by both the liquor interests and the prohibitionists. Cousin Oliver was a Liberal.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

With thanks to Rona Ambrose.

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Rona Ambrose M.P. is cleaning out her desk. With a new leader to be chosen this weekend, Ms. Ambrose is packing it in and going home to Alberta. It is a smart move for her at the right time.

And Canadians owe her special thanks for the job she did as interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. She took on a dispirited and unruly caucus in Ottawa after the last election. Rona created some order and made sure the job of official opposition was fulfilled. She did it well. She did it with style. She had us almost forgetting the arrogance of Stephen Harper.

Rona Ambrose brought humanity and decency to the job. She did it by giving no quarter to the Liberal government. She was tough when she needed to be tough. She was understanding when she needed to be understanding. She was not there to obstruct but to give thoughtful opposition.

It hardly helped that Rona had to do the job while the Conservative Party was running a 14-ring circus of a leadership contest across the country. That was tough competition for public attention. And the race was opening new and sometimes unintended pathways to impoverished policies.

The confusion caused by the structured voting method chosen by the party, left Rona and the caucus with no idea as to who will wear the leadership ring next week. She will have no ownership of the outcome.

But Rona Ambrose will be missed. Somehow, we sense with her that once a politician, always a politician. Maybe this new amalgamated Conservative party in Alberta will need her. Maybe the Prime Minister has a worthy appointment in mind. Rona Ambrose is an outstanding Canadian.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

The infrastructure bank argument.

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

As a general rule, it seems useless to respond to e-mails from readers that are longer than the original commentary. It also seems useless to try to correct someone’s misconceptions on the subject. Besides, if federal finance minister Bill Morneau is not interested in better explaining his new infrastructure bank to Canadians, why should others feel responsible?

The recent Babel-on-the-Bay commentary on the infrastructure bank drew such a long and obviously annoyed comment from a Nova Scotia reader that it needs an answer.

First, the reader seems to have confused infrastructure funding with public-private partnerships. While an infrastructure bank might decide to support a P-3 project, it handles it as a business case. The deal has to produce a revenue stream that can repay the bank’s investment.

Canada is a particularly attractive place for safe and secure investment today and the infrastructure bank would just be one more investment opportunity. It will attract both Canadian and foreign investment.

The infrastructure bank will be no “give away.” The larger the funds the bank gathers from investors, the larger the projects it will be able to fund for Canada. There might be people who think we should only spend money that we have and not use debt financing but you can also make a very strong case for what infrastructure can earn.

It is definitely not “running up our credit cards.” It has taken more than 40 years for Ontario to get started on inter-city high-speed trains. The availability of funds from the infrastructure bank might just break through some of the political inertia in this country.

It might have been in the heat of the moment that the reader suggested that your writer was not very bright to be promoting something that he considered to just be a give-away to the private sector. Having been chair of the federal government’s very thorough study of the potential for public-private partnerships back in the middle of the 1980s, this writer does know a bit about the subject.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Why progressive elites are losing.

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

The disappointment progressives have felt with the New Democratic Party over the last couple decades has been something we have argued about but maybe not understood as well as we should. Maybe Robin V. Sears of the NDP put his finger on it the other day when complaining in print about the ease with which Donald Trump took much of the angry underclass away from the Democrats in the American’s 2016 presidential campaign. Donald Trump caught all of us progressive pundits with our pants down.

In Canada, we were still wondering why it was that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair blew away a sizeable lead towards winning the 2015 federal election. He could not even hold on to the seats in his own province brought to his party by former NDP leader Jack Layton.

But when the biggest policy argument of the NDP convention that fired Mulcair was the shallowness of the LEAP Manifesto, we should have twigged to what was wrong. This is a party that is out of touch with the people about whom it is supposed to care. It is a party dominated by unions that hardly know how to serve their own members.

What academics explain as the anger of the white working class is supposedly caused by the job losses to automation and the corporate ability to move production to lowest-wage jurisdictions. Add to that the realization that all politicians lie to them and that nobody can solve global warming and you can see how the frustration is building.

When stressed, voters turn to extremes. In America, we saw the accident of Trump. In Europe, we saw Brexit and the close call with Marine Le Pen. Canada picked the untried and unproven Justin Trudeau.

What the public is looking for are politicians that put principals ahead of promises. That is the lesson that at least Mulcair learned in the last federal election. Who was going to believe a socialist who promised a balanced budget? And where was the decency in arguing about Niqabs?

In the American tragedy of their last election, voters saw what anger, lies and distrust can produce. The only politician who came out of that horrendous selection process with honour was an aging democratic socialist by the name of Bernie Sanders. We should all take a page from his book.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

When the Pope meets the Antichrist.

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

The arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump in Rome needs a Cecil B. DeMille style Hollywood epic production. It would have trumpets and bass drums, rolling black clouds in the sky, flashes of lightening. We would see a Donald Trump dressed in black, towering over the gargoyles of Hell in his retinue. He would be met by a cowering claque of priests led by their Pope holding tightly to his cross.

That would be a bit melodramatic but Trump would like the showmanship involved. He certainly has no idea of how to act with a pope. There would be a considerable hypocrisy to him referring to the pope as “Your Holiness.”

There will be no epiphany. Trump would no more think that he is representing his country’s Catholics to the Vatican as he would be representing America’s Jews in Jerusalem. The Saudi’s had no thought of inviting him to drop in at Mecca as representing America’s Muslims.

The trouble with Trump is that he has no idea what he is doing or who he represents. He never seriously believed he would win the presidency. All he did was feed on the anger of the people coming to him. Tea Party darling Sarah Palin introduced Trump to the Republican convention as beloved of the rock ‘n’ rollers and holly rollers but she left out the bikers and white supremacists, the losers and the angry, the people mired in poverty without hope and anyone else that ‘civilized’ Americans had written off.

This American proletariat knew that Trump was a bigot, a chauvinist, ignorant and ill-equipped to be president but they all helped set up the accident that was the Electoral College. They chose him in anger and bitterness in a country of denied promises. They knew the weaknesses of America’s claim to greatness. They wanted their share and, if they could not have it, they simply wanted to get even.

And now they think Trump is serving them. He serves no one other than his own ego. They delude themselves and they delude Trump with their continued devotion. For Trump is the Antichrist.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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