Archive for June, 2017

The attention span of four-year-olds?

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

You sometimes wonder about the Ontario Liberal government. The kids in the cabinet are too easily distracted. Just the other day, we were reading about transportation minister Stephen Del Duca bragging to a newspaper reporter about the regional express rail expansion—a $13.5 billion electrification program to quadruple commuter train service in the Greater Toronto Area.

And then, to complicate the issue, Del Duca starts talking about hydrogen powered passenger trains. It sounds like a great idea for 50 years from now but the Toronto area needs faster, more efficient service today and electricity is a proven technology.

There is a reason why scientists often say that “Hydrogen is the fuel of the future and always will be.” While it is easy and economical to chemically separate it from a fossil fuel such as methane (natural gas), in the future hydrogen might have to be obtained from water by electrolysis. This is also easy to do, but a far more expensive process as we shift to more wind and solar electricity. Another expense is the fact that hydrogen is very light and difficult to liquefy making it hard to store and transport.

In the Alstom (the European transportation competitor of Bombardier) test train now under trial that is fueled by batteries and hydrogen, it would be very interesting to compare the space for passengers and the space taken up with hydrogen fuel cells and batteries.

A 10-car passenger train would need to add two extra cars to store hydrogen behind the locomotive containing the fuel cells, buffer batteries and electric propulsion motors. By comparison, an electric train, taking its “fuel” from overhead wires, doesn’t even need a locomotive; its propulsion motors can easily be incorporated under the floor of the passenger cars!

(Luckily, the current $528 million contract by Metrolinx with Alstrom is for electric light rail cars for use on Toronto’s new LRT lines.)

Instead of getting some expert advice ahead of time, Del Duca is thinking of committing $5 million of taxpayer’s funds to Metrolinx to study the potential of hydrogen technology. Metrolinx is hoping to co-host a symposium with the University of Toronto this fall with “global leaders” in the technology.

It is interesting that the big sales point of hydrogen is that it is quiet. For that matter, so is electricity.

Recently at a Barrie area garden party event, I was sitting chatting with the host when I noticed that there was a railroad track within a couple meters of his back fence. He told me that it was the Barrie-Toronto GO Train track and they had worried about being disturbed by the diesel engines when it was first announced. “Today, we never notice the trains,” he told me.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The wonder of Wynne’s waffling.

Monday, June 19th, 2017

They tell us that Premier Wynne is wondering why she has failed to connect with Ontario voters. She thinks she won the last provincial election as a politician. In truth, she was given a conditional go-ahead because her opponents fell on their faces. She won a chance to prove herself. She failed.

Andrea Horwath was leader of a party with nowhere to go. And she went nowhere. Timmy Hudak was a leader who said he would fire 100,000 people and paid the price. When you count the individuals and their extended families that he threatened, it adds up to more than 2 million voters.

And that left us with Ms. Wynne. Her challenge was to show us why she thought she could do more than her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty. He left her the legacy of the Mississauga and Oakville gas-fired electric plants that were needed to feed local electrical needs. The local NIMBY’s were so obstinate that they forced the government to move the plants to out near Sarnia and to near Napanee. The cost of bringing the power back to Mississauga and Oakville is shared by Hydro One electric distribution customers across Ontario.

The people who really looked stupid in this situation were the Mississauga NIMBY’s. That gas-fired turbine plant was what is known as a co-generation plant, it is noiseless, hardly polluting at all and, in addition to electric power, it can be a very useful neighbour in terms of providing low-cost, pollution-free heating and cooling for local office buildings, schools, apartment buildings and other municipal facilities.

But Ms. Wynne could do little to ease that problem and she was looking for other solutions for Ontario. There is always something that needs fixing.

That was when she looked at perennial problems such as pensions and beer. The pension problem was an easy one because all her government had to do was propose and the federal government agreed to take it over. It hardly made sense for two separate governments to provide Canada Pension Plan payments. Beer distribution has been a thorny issue for years and the Wynne Liberals thought it was time for beer in the better grocery stores.

But beer was her downfall. They had lots of media conferences, they had lots of grand kick-offs but the implementation program is taking years. It makes the government look silly. And Kathleen Wynne has hung herself as Ontario’s granny. Do nothing promptly, is her epitaph.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Trudeau: Poster Boy or Action Figure?

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

Goodness! Is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being criticized for not living up to his promises? Is he just a poster boy? Why is he not living up to his billing? He will have two years as prime minister in his pocket this October and some people are starting to have doubts.

What is the problem? Is he marching to a different drummer than what he promised Canadians? The transparency in parliament and the collegial atmosphere he promised there seem to be forgotten. His purported feminist support—because it is 2015—seems more like using neophytes as cannon fodder. He seems to have no urge to solve his cabinet problems.

What ties this liberal in knots is the why of his continued abuse of the Liberal Party. Today’s Liberals are not his father’s party. All the party is allowed to be is a mailing list for pleas for money. It is a propaganda mechanism and a source of suckers for fund-raising. The party that was has been gutted. The party executive are just yes-men and women. There is no policy discussion. The Leader is in control.

Justin Trudeau seems to live in some elite world of a monied aristocracy that only communicates with other elites. The only problem is that they seem to be running out of elites and nothing is happening on some serious appointments. He can hardly promise impartiality and then throw a Liberal hack on the table for an impartial position. Nobody tries hard to keep their word.

It is not like a promise that the 2015 election would be the last under first-past-the-post voting. That was a foolish promise that was proved impractical by parliamentarians giving up their summer last year to study it.

And, sorry Justin, you are not allowed to change the rules in parliament to suit your own wishes. Parliament belongs to the people. It has to be open and be fair to all parties.

Justin also needs to understand that he cannot suck and blow at the same time. If you are going to be the poster boy for the environment, you cannot send three times the amount of diluted bitumen over the Rockies on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. It makes you look like a hypocrite.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Lament for Liberalism.

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

This is not Diogenes searching for honesty. It is just a poor liberal searching in vain for the true meaning of liberalism. Has liberalism eluded us all? Is liberalism just an ideal?

It has always been our belief that a true liberal is a progressive. It is a denial of liberalism to say you are a financial conservative. And how can anyone deny individual rights? It is akin to the denial of fresh, pure air to breath and clear, cool water to drink. And yet we allow people to pay to pollute our air and defile our water. To buy the right to pollute through politicians’ ‘cap and trade’ offer is an abomination.

Liberalism has its core in the Rights of Man. Written by Thomas Paine more than 200 years ago, he believed human rights have their origin in nature. As such, we should not need charters or laws to protect those rights nor judges to argue over them. And our rights must never be subjected to any government’s ’Notwithstandiing’ clause.

But liberalism without progressivism is also a travesty. Our politics might be based on yesterday but the needs of people must be addressed today and solved for tomorrow. To live in the past is a denial of there being a tomorrow. Yesterday must always accommodate tomorrow.

Humans are sentient creatures. We have the ability to care. To deny that ability is to deny life itself. We are all as equal in birth as we are in death. By caring, we enhance our own life. Life is but a short period between birth and death to make a mark: Let it be kind.

There is no greater calling than that of leadership. It is not something that can be bequeathed, bestowed, borrowed nor bought. It is always easier to lead the lazy and uncaring than those who want to achieve. The true leader is the one who sets the greater challenges and works tirelessly to complete the journey.

Check it out Canadians. Look around you in Ottawa, at our provincial legislatures and our municipal councils. Seek out the true liberals. And you wonder why we despair?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Exorcising the errata of ego.

Friday, June 16th, 2017

There can be no excuse for slovenly writing. There is that rude awakening when your e-mails include comments on your careless errors. Some days you get more than others.

One reader was particularly incensed the other day over my rude and inaccurate remarks in discussing the United Kingdom and Brexit. While I admit the mea culpa for not noting that the UK never did accept the Euro, I always thought they should.

And there is a story to that. Back when my bride and I first arrived in London as tourists, the UK was still undergoing the change from shillings and crowns to a decimal pound. I would end up each day with a pocketful of strange mixed coins, fewer five pound notes and the feeling that I was being taken for a patsy. They probably thought we were Americans but we were surprised by the occasional rudeness we encountered. (Mind you, at the time, we had not tested our Ontario French on Parisians.)

As a professional writer, it is obviously ego that gets me to comment on subjects where others fear to tread. It is also the confidence that as a writer, I take pride in being able to research many subjects. I know too much about the Internet and the egregious errors that it can promote to trust any one source there.

But qualifying comments suffers sometimes with the continuing effort to find an interesting daily topic and to reduce the Babel-on-the-Bay word count. We found that our number of regular readers doubled every time we cut another 100 words from our comments. We will never compete with Donald Trump’s dominance of the 140 character Twitterverse, but we are very comfortable today at averaging less than 400 words on any posting. It just does not leave much room for qualifying every comment.

So, yes, we do know the difference between the free movement of labour and immigration in the EU. We erred. There are other (albeit smaller) EU countries not accepting refugees but that is no excuse for bigoted Brits to vote Brexit to avoid doing the humanitarian thing. They deserve shaming.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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En Marche Macron!

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

Did you know that French President Emmanuel Macron’s political party has only existed for a little more than a year? More than 66 per cent of French voters gave 39-year old Macron their support in the run-off election against right-wing candidate Marine La Pen. The party is reported to be fielding a full slate of candidates in the legislative elections under the banner of La République En Marche from its En Marche members, the Social Democrats and dissidents from the Socialist, Republican and minor parties. The Macron story has a cautionary tale in it for the Liberal Party of Canada.

En Marche is described as both socially and economically liberal. In France, that is thought of as being of the radical centre. It has much of the promise of the UK’s Tony Blair and American Bill Clinton’s previously proposed Third Way and it is the kind of social democratic party promised by Bernie Sanders in the United States last year. It is also the kind of party Justin Trudeau promised Canadians but so far has failed to deliver.

While one gets the impression that his predecessor President François Hollande considers him something of an ‘Enfant Terrible,’ Macron described himself as a centrist even when a member of the socialists. Based on his published economic promises and speeches, academics also consider him a centrist. Mind you, French politicians have a reputation of being Bolsheviks at breakfast, liberals over lunch and dogmatic conservatives by dinner time.

President Macron and Prime Minister Trudeau should get on well. With Trump replacing Obama on the international scene, Macron and Trudeau should be natural allies. And along with Germany’s Angela Merkle, they can dominate the G-20 countries and speak as one to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

There is also no question that Macron and Trudeau will be the strong force in the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.

Now if some of Macron’s thirst for action just rubs off on Trudeau!


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Chasing ghosts with Chantal Hébert.

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

In the pile of books set aside for summer reading was Chantal Hébert and Jean Lapierre’s analysis of The Morning After.  It is supposedly their take on the 1995 Quebec Referendum.  By starting with their book, this might become a long hot summer.

The book had come to the pile as a gift. It had been there for a while. The author(s) had waited almost 20 years to produce the book, so a few years on my must-read-sometime pile would hardly matter.

After reading half and skimming the rest, finishing it is questionable. It is only mildly interesting. It is like reading a review of a Shakespearean play in which you were a spear carrier. You have your own view of the actors and their gaffs.

And, not to speak ill of the dead, I cannot figure out what Jean Lapierre contributed to this book other than his name and access to some other story tellers. If he was the one who got the titular ‘No’ leader, Daniel Johnson, to agree to an interview, he was wasting his time. The only question I ever wanted to hear answered by Johnson was what the hell he was doing in politics? His chapter was a waste of everybody’s time.

And we already knew that then Premier Jacques Parizeau was a mean-spirited, pig-headed, ‘Colonel Blimp’ caricature. He said it all on that final night, slamming ‘money and the ethnic vote.’ We should all be thankful it was his political swan song.

Lucien Bouchard was by far the most convoluted character on the referendum stage. And to think he had been our ambassador to France before joining the Mulroney cabinet. His falling out with Mulroney over the Meech Lake Accord never did make sense. Nobody’s loyalties should teeter on that sharp an edge. And his staged sophistry on separation came across as hollow.

But as much as I have always admired Chantal Hébert’s ease in explaining the Quebec scene, this is not her best effort. Maybe what we really need is writers who can explain Canada to Quebecers. They need to understand the intense love for this entire country that people have whether their family came last year or in the last century. It is not wise to test such love.

And as for Chantal’s book The Morning After. There is a pill for that.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Concern for the United(?) Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

The mood in the United Kingdom today is concerning. It is the sort of sad mood caused by a relative that might need mental health assistance. You are despairing of just how you can help.

We can hardly lay blame. Is it Prime Minister Elizabeth May’s fault? We knew she was in trouble when she called that ill-conceived election. We could not even publish a morning line on the possible results because the situation was too fluid and too chaotic. May seems to lack proper political instincts. And despite the centuries of those lovely isles usually finding the leadership needed, they are at a loss today.

Brexit is the final straw. It spells the end of the UK as a world power. The Scots will have to rebuild that old Roman wall. Ireland will need to re-unite. England and Wales will be left with their quaint royals, hopefully attracting tourists.

Could May admit to the inadvisability of holding hands with Trump? And would it be at all wise for her to accept the political support of the party of Ulster’s late Ian Paisley?

Wiser heads than ours will determine if May is getting a bum rap. She does pale though, in comparison to the gutsiness of the late Baroness Thatcher.

The real question for May is that the Brexit negotiations are up next and we have no idea what the hell she is negotiating. Is a good deal possible when leaving the European Union? Can she keep the UK half in or half out? Could she return from negotiating in Brussels and wave a piece of paper from the top of the steps from the plane and shout; “Peace in our time’? Or is she simply asking to return the UK to the confused conditions as they were before the EU?

Is Ms. May really so confused that she does not realize that these are negotiations that nobody wins? What is there for the EU to win from the UK’s departure? Why would anyone be so stupid as to think that the UK would be better off without the EU?

There is no way that the EU countries would let some bigoted Brits win the right to stay in the EU and still fail to assist in the refugee problems? That seems the main bloody reason for Brexit and it has shamed the UK.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Did he say ‘Premier’ Brown?

Monday, June 12th, 2017

It was the kind of chill that our granny used to say was caused by someone walking on her grave. It is the combination of cold and a sad premonition. It was the feeling left the other day when noting Bob Hepburn’s column in the Toronto Star about getting cosy saying ‘Premier Brown.’

There was a problem reading the article after spewing morning coffee all over that page. Bob Hepburn really knows how to upset a guy. We were both there when Mike Harris tramped to victory in Ontario with his ‘Common Sense Revolution.’ Patrick Brown could be a far more serious problem for Ontario than Mike Harris.

First of all, Patrick Brown is smarter than Harris. He studied Harris closely as president of the Conservative youth wing from 1998 to 2002 and as a vice-president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. This is a guy who eats, sleeps and is totally absorbed in politics.

But his weakness is that he has no public persona nor does he have any particular concern for people. That TV commercial that makes an issue of his speech impediment as a child is a thinly disguised attempt to alibi him. After all, if Ontario could elect a lesbian as premier, how far do you have to go to elect a nerd?

But Brown’s problems run deeper than that. His early religious training would have helped prepare him to be a Catholic priest, not a politician. His flip-flops on abortion, same sex marriage and gay rights might have annoyed social conservatives in Ontario but that is the politician speaking. He has never really taken a stand on anything else.

In his time as an MP in Ottawa, Brown never made a contribution. He said what he was told to say. In his riding, he spent inordinate amounts of taxpayers’ money promoting different charities. The gullible among the voters were heard to say, “Isn’t it marvelous what he does for charity?” It was all in aid of keeping his name in front of the voters. The charities could have done better without him.

But the question unanswered in Bob Hepburn’s op-ed piece is about Brown’s relations with women. We know where the Premier stands. Why is it, over years of seeing this guy in action, do we get the impression that he does not like women? They certainly do not seem to take to him.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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How would Harper have handled Trump?

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

When listening to Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland give her very important speech on the new world order, there was one disturbing thought. It was a silly question as to how would our previous prime minister have handled the situation? The one thing for sure was that Stephen Harper would never have allowed his foreign affairs minister to make such an important speech. It could have only been Harper himself in the spotlight.

And the more you think of it, you realize that the speech lost something by being delivered in the House of Commons. Harper would have taken it far from the Hill. He might have even taken the speech to New York or Philadelphia. That would have guaranteed world-wide attention.

Mind you it has been most of a century since anyone gave a truly momentous speech in our House of Commons. And that speaker was a Brit by the name of Winston Churchill.

Freeland’s speech was in essence a proposed walk-around to the situation with American President Trump. And it never needed to mention his name. (The only insult the son of a bitch recognizes is being ignored.)

And Freeland’s proposed solutions are long overdue. Canadians have really had enough of being treated as two-legged pets by the Americans.

We might have counted on their protecting us under the North American Air Defence Agreement (NORAD) but who the hell is protecting us from Trump? (Are we hoping he will invade Mexico first?)

But it would sure be nice to have a real Canadian military again. Trump will be long gone before we get our military up to snuff but it will be the effort made that counts. We might even get fighter aircraft to meet Canada’s needs.

Harper would not have liked the spending part of the speech. It would be more his style to only threaten to have a real Canadian military. Yet he would have agreed to going after more bi-lateral trade deals to try to keep Canada on its feet if Trump continues to destroy the American economy with his ignorance.

But would Harper have really stood up to what is going on in the Disturbed States of America? Probably not.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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