Archive for October, 2017

The tiny, tidy minds of reformers.

Saturday, October 21st, 2017

Reading about the recent report on political reform for our cities from the University of Manitoba, reminded me of my old friend David Crombie. It was almost 50 years ago that he was still a nascent conservative and teaching at Ryerson and I was handling communications for the Ontario Liberals. We had some spirited and somewhat sophomoric discussions at the time about how to reform municipal politics. I guess David won. Toronto seems to still be recovering from what he did as mayor.

David got the sobriquet “tiny, perfect mayor” for his reform attempt at restricting any further development in Toronto at the time to a 45-foot height. He was trying to make a point and it certainly stuck—the name, not his height by-law.

David’s Civic Action Party (CIVAC) was also short lived but he went on to three terms as mayor. He and his supporters on Toronto council, such as John Sewell were identified with cities guru Jane Jacobs who urged them on in their fight against developers. What they did was create a delaying action that set the city further and further behind in development, in infrastructure and in progress and prestige.

Remember that the City of Toronto, at the time David was mayor, had a population of less than 700,000. All David did with his height restrictions was to send the developers to the suburbs and that was where the growth was taking place. Toronto is now a city of 2.8 million and its governance is a constant headache for the provincial government.

But more serious than that was the cruel end to talk of some form of party-type politics at city hall. The job of mayor has been a hopeless task since then as a growing city council with more and more councillors usurped the powers and controlled the chief magistrate.

When Premier Mike Harris tried to end the misery by amalgamating the city with its major suburbs, we ended up with 45 councillors who could out gun any mayor who did not treat them with respect. And Torontonians ended up with an on-going war between the inner city and suburban councillors.

David and I had disparate visions of reform those many years ago. I am sure that if any of our reform ideas were enacted, the years between would never have been as much fun.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Morneau mourns mendacity.

Friday, October 20th, 2017

Having worked with many politicians over the years, you always have to be aware that the higher you climb the political ladder the more prone to attack you become. It is not whether Finance Minister Bill Morneau deserved to be attacked, his position made it likely.

Bear baiting never has been legal in Canada and is never likely to be. We only allow the media and opposition to do it to politicians.

And this current fiasco with Morneau is Justin Trudeau’s fault. He had the professionals available to help his cabinet choices and he disavowed them. They were available to him before the 2015 election and he ignored them. He brought in his friends and sycophants. He bought the gloss but not the substance. He abused and brushed aside the Liberal Party of Canada.

Trudeau promised not to interfere in party nominations and interfered anyway. He wrote off ridings that he could have won. The entire 2015 campaign was ill considered and amateur. Luckily Harper expected to lose, so he lost. Mulcair foolishly expected to win, so he lost also.

The newbies in the Trudeau cabinet needed a support network that could give them strong and knowledgeable staffs. Some of the rookie mistakes by these newbies were an embarrassment to the party. They were rude to party people across the country whom they did not know.

In his determination to have an equal number of men and women in his cabinet, Trudeau made some poor choices. If they had been properly mentored, some would have been saved from foolish errors. Miriam Monsef in democratic reform was an early failure. People are shaking their heads today over Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly.

But the most serious problem is Finance Minister Bill Morneau. We all had high hopes for this patrician Torontonian but we had no idea how he would react to the pressures of the opposition and the media. Morneau is letting down the side.

There is no ambassadorial safe haven for Morneau. He needs to be fired. The problem is that Morneau is just digging himself deeper every time he opens his mouth. He has no understanding that his role is that of Caesar’s wife. Trudeau has to stop getting in the way of Morneau’s questions and responsibilities.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Horse Race Journalism and 2019?

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

It is unlikely that Jaime Watt was talking about Babel-on-the-Bay in a recent op-ed piece. The Conservative political pundit referenced “horse race journalism” as being premature and meaningless in discussing the next federal election. Well, it is too early and he is right about that.

But we like the horse race analogy and we know when to publish our Morning Line for the different electoral contests. You need that time before the contestants are ‘At Post’ to consider your bets and how you can personally influence the outcome.

It is not that you cannot dope out the election race for yourself. Most of the information is usually available by the time the writ comes down. You can assess the parentage, past performances, pole position and possibilities of the leaders and the individual candidates in your electoral district.

And you have to do far more analysis than just the party leaders. You have to view the race in relation to the entire field.

And we should all agree with Watt in regard to polls. There is good polling and bad polling and the news media have never figured out the difference. Individual polls need considerable analysis and to just lump them all together can produce some very misleading prognostications.

Watt claims that the horse race analogy portrays candidates as self-interested and focuses only on winning and losing. Frankly, those are the alternatives. There is no second prize in first-past-the-post elections.

And Watt also complains that as Professor Matthew Nisbet of Northeastern University tells us, horse race journalism leads to coverage that seems to present a false equivalency in the treatment of issues and allows for the creation of so-called “fake news.”

It has always been my belief that voters apply their own (probably unconscious) weighting system to the main issues in elections and have a wide range of tipping points that can persuade some of them to change their vote. It can be a very small percentage of voters in close electoral districts that can decide the next Prime Minister.

Canadians will be facing a growing cacophony of noise about the next election over the next two years. Given each party’s plans and promises, domestic and world problems and our individual concerns, we will have much to sort out. It will make the election a horse race.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Does blogging have purpose?

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

After working on this blog for the past nine years, I am starting to wonder what the hell is the objective. As much as I call it a commentary, it is what it is: a vanity blog. It is just a hobby. It is an opportunity to vent and to titillate a few hundred readers. I like my readers. I respect them. They come and go but they come back in droves at election time. They have found out that there is someone who understands this crazy political scene.

But that guy Trump in the U.S. is the exception. He is not a politician. He is not even a nice person. I only write about him because he is unlike any politician I have ever known. No doubt America will survive but we are in for a few more tough years. Wish us all luck with that.

I got on to this topic today because my blog gets included with the progressivebloggers.ca collection and I check it occasionally to see that the blog is there and to see what everyone else is writing about. I find the collection is very eclectic. It reminds me sometimes of the problem with citizens’ band radio when it was adopted by North American truckers: it performed a service until it started having people on air who would never stop talking.

Last time I checked the various blogs, I noticed that Warren Kinsella was honouring his readers with his ten political rules. That intrigued me, so I took a look. I was surprised that I actually agreed with two of the rules.

What surprised me more was that he had changed his web site. He even changed the name: It is now the “war room.” That was funny as some time ago, I had commented on the “war room” term as lacking the feeling of openness I believe is needed in campaign management.

But that was not the only surprise. The site no longer has any advertising. Instead, the blog now accepts donations. That really surprised me. I had never thought of crowd funding “babelonthebay.com”. To be honest with you, it is a very inexpensive hobby. All in, this site, the servers it is on and its name cost me less than $200 per year.

But if crowd funding is what everyone else is doing, I will go along with it. I accept cash and cheques.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

 

Will Singh say something serious?

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

With a new party leader established and MP Charlie Angus taking over the New Democratic Party house leadership, and Thomas Mulcair retiring, the new leader, Jagmeet Singh, is free to roam the country. He can meet Canadians everywhere and press the flesh at local labour halls. The only question is what the heck he is going to talk about?

The media will soon tire of repeated pictures of Singh with school children looking wide-eyed at his turban and beard though he would be unlikely to show off those little knives (kirpan) an observant Sikh carries. He is hardly a missionary for Sihkism and his objective is to be accepted as a Canadian politician and to sell his party and its policies.

The NDP has an extensive songbook of declared policies collected over the years but Singh’s audiences will soon tire of those old chestnuts. He is also unlikely to get very far in relating any of his experience in the Ontario Legislature. He never did very much in his role as an MPP nor did he do much in his role as deputy leader of the provincial party.

But he can hardly stand in front of audiences of local NDP supporters in his expensive suits and tell them he will lead them to the promised land.

He has a party that mostly buys clothes at Mark’s Work Warehouse. They thought the party reached Nirvana when Jack Layton’s French hit it off with Quebec voters. (Why the party thought Tom Mulcair in his three-piece suits could do the same job for them still remains a puzzle,)

Singh is trying to emulate Justin Trudeau’s time spent on the road before the 2015 election,  even though the Liberal leader was already a sitting Member of Parliament. As the third party in the Commons, the party leader has a hard time getting face time with the media anyway.

Trudeau had a stock of crowd pleasing speeches about the middle class that carried him as he swung back and forth across Canada. If he is honest with himself, Singh will be flying back and forth from Toronto and Vancouver to invest the most productive time building on those market bases. The only problem is that those are also Justin Trudeau’s key markets. It promises to be a very interesting election in 2019.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

It’s like a long race on turf.

Monday, October 16th, 2017

The next Ontario general election is scheduled to be held June 7, 2018. This race will be like a mile and a half on the turf track and requires horses with great endurance and energy. That makes it the time for the old and tired to retire. And that is what is happening with all parties at Queen’s Park.

As the largest party among the incumbents, the Liberals are expected to have the highest turnover.  The noisiest of the changes are among the contested nominations for the Progressive Conservative Party. The quiet changes are among the New Democratic Party which has already lost its deputy leader because he knew this branch of the party is going nowhere.

There is no question that the Queen’s Park Liberals need turnover. After 14 years in power, the party has promises to keep, legacies to earn. Neither Toronto’s Brad Duguid nor Glen Murray will be missed in cabinet or in Ontario politics. Nor do the Liberals need to keep dragging the anchor of Deb Matthews from London. The older Liz Sandals will be missed though for the calming and knowledge she brought to the education portfolio.

The conflict for Premier Wynne is that she needs to hold on to every MPP in her caucus who looks like he or she can hold their riding. There are no guarantees with the shake up in electoral district boundaries. And there is always lots of time after an election for recriminations.

Sure, Wynne should have resigned in the past year and given a new, younger leader a chance. There is no more time for that speculation. Win or lose, Wynne is what the Liberals have to offer. Hopefully there will be a comer among the younger Liberal MPPs.

But like the last election, Wynne’s strengths are experience, position and the lack of effective opposition. Not that the Conservatives are not going to continue to tear at her like a pack of wild dogs. She is no fool and she is street smart. They have no idea of what will bring her down.

If this were a turf contest at Woodbine Racetrack, none of the party leaders would be leading the pack. None of the three are good for the distance. The voters want better and deserve better.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Cole considers claiming the mayor’s chair.

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

The Toronto Star’s columnist on city issues, Edward Keenan, thinks black activist Desmond Cole would bring some excitement to the race for mayor next year. He thinks that the race would be a bit of a snooze without Cole. When you consider that the main contenders so far are incumbent Mayor John Tory and wannabe politician Doug Ford, the race certainly needs something to bring it to life.

Keenan reports that Cole is actively considering the possibility of mounting a campaign. He tells Keenan that he has been approached a lot by people urging him to run. He is also asking his friends what they think and he has yet to make up his mind.

Keenan feels that the city can use the “injection of energy, charisma, honesty and ideas” that he believes Cole could bring to what could otherwise be an underwhelming race.

Keenan referenced a recent poll that brought forward Cole’s name as a possible candidate. Keenan was a bit ambiguous as to whether the poll respondents preferred Cole to Ford. The poll also supplied the logical answer that some 65 per cent of people polled said that John Tory deserved to be re-elected. That figure can change given some strong competition.

As you can imagine, the Maple Leaf’s star hockey player would be an odds-on favourite to win the mayoralty if he would just bring the city a Stanley Cup next spring.

But as any politico can tell you, with a year to go before election day in Toronto, anything can happen. There is no denying that a well-planned, well-funded, dramatic campaign could set the city on fire. It is simply too early to pick your winner.

Keenan was basing his forecast on the questions the poll asked about possible names of candidates that voters would or would not consider supporting. Cole was only rejected by 30 per cent while Doug Ford was rejected by 53 per cent.

Keenan says that Cole complains that we have stopped “dreaming in this city.” He also assumes that Ford and Tory would both concentrate on the right-wing vote while Cole could ignite the dreams of the political left.

This writer’s advice is that Toronto voters best wait until next September to place their bets.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Two NDPers on bicycles.

Saturday, October 14th, 2017

Reading a fatuous op-ed in the Toronto Star the other morning was funnier than the comics. It was signed by two city councillors who are New Democratic party supporters. And it was not just the superficial treatment of the subject and the bad editing that was funny. This was a highly biased opinion piece by downtown Toronto councillors, Joe Cressy and Mike Layton.

What they were writing about was a test on 2.4 kilometres of Bloor Street in Toronto between Avenue Road and Shaw Street. It now has protected lanes for bicycles. It cost half a million to put in the lane dividers and paint the road. They ignored the loss of about a half a million in city revenue foregone from the on-street parking. This entire exercise is being treated as a skirmish between automobiles and bicycles. It has become a contest between the narrow minded and reality.

The people being left out of the statistics here are the tens of thousands of subway riders who have taken their cars off Bloor Street and chosen the “Better Way.” The ones who are left are the those who likely need their cars for their work and the many thousands of necessary delivery and service vehicles that keep the city going.

And before analyzing this study, you really need a breakdown of the monthly use of these bicycle lanes. In a city with five months of lousy cycling every year, why would you give up valuable road space for 12 months? And how do you clear snow at no cost from bicycle lanes?

I think this test lane should have been on Avenue Road between Davenport Road and St. Clair Avenue. The drivers on that road have been used to constant delays and construction for many years anyway. I would want to see what percentage of northbound cyclists are still in the saddle when they reach the top of the Avenue Road hill?

The study claims that more than a thousand new cyclists actually started using the bicycle lanes every day. Yet, it occurs to me that people going one way would be likely to come back on the other side of the street—doubling the figures. This seems to a sizeable expense for less than 2500 cyclists.

They should have counted the vehicles that needed to use the road.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Trump stands steadfast, Justin.

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Prime Minister Trudeau dropped in to the White House to see President Trump the other day. It is likely that two minutes after Trudeau left the Oval Office, Donald Trump had forgotten what they had said. It is not just that the man has a short attention span but he has absolutely no interest in what the Canadian wants. He is stuck in the tangles of his own agenda.

It is like his wall. All he wants to do is build a wall across the southern border of the United States to keep out the Mexicans who, he thinks, want to take the jobs of loyal Americans. And he hardly wants to worry about who is going to pay for the wall at this stage. He wants to build the wall and figure out how to get the Mexicans to pay for it later.

Or take Obamacare. The poor guy cannot even negotiate a deal to get rid of Obamacare. He just cannot understand why these elected politicos in Congress are so reluctant to deprive millions of Americans of their only chance for medical programs?

And, not being a politician, Trump has no understanding of how to weasel out of political promises you cannot keep. Justin Trudeau could tell him how—he is getting some practice at that himself lately.

Trump said on the platform throughout that awful campaign of 2016 that he was going to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The people who were supporting Trump were too ignorant to know that the trade deal benefitted America, lowered prices and created jobs. They saw it as a threat to jobs for Americans and moving them off-shore. So, Trump promised to Kill NAFTA for them and they roared their approval.

But Trump has no clear way to end NAFTA, Under the terms of the agreement, there is a six months clause to a cancellation but American law does not make it clear how this can be done. NAFTA was approved by Congress more than 25 years ago and Congress is not about to let Donald Trump usurp their authority. Whether Congress controls the agreement or the American President can unilaterally cancel it could end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justin Trudeau’s father once made some remarks in Washington about Canada-U.S. relations being similar to sleeping with an elephant. Donald Trump has turned out to be a nightmare.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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

Does the religious model serve the new politics?

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

Is it religion that we see reflected in the new politics. Maybe it has been there all along. Canadian politics has been slower to wrap itself in vestments but in American politics, religion plays a constant and visceral part in what is happening.

Americans speak of their country as “one nation, under God” and God help them. Even under the hands of Donald Trump, it was the God-forsaken and the holy rollers who combined to usher him into power. Trump mixed the bikers with the Tea Party Republicans, the dispossessed coal miners and frustrated farmers—it was a political coalition conceived in Hell—and they all come to Trump’s revival tents. And that hypocrite continues to revel in the adoration of his multitude.

But who expected political salvation in Canada? For the past year or so, I have been trying to fathom why Justin Trudeau has been so intent on destroying the established Liberal Party of Canada? He took away the tenets of membership, collapsed the policy mechanisms that his father learned to respect and abused the party as just a source of funds. He has left the Liberal party with no mechanisms for change or restructuring. It has become nothing more than your friendly local neighbourhood church where you can go to feel good on Sunday—but do not forget to tithe.

The Conservatives always were the self-satisfied Anglican burghers who worshipped the almighty buck. They are currently awash in mediocrity in the House of Commons while interim pastor ‘Chuckles’ Scheer holds prayer meetings. The real conservative action is in the provinces. The two major efforts are provincial as the Yin and Yang of bachelor leaders Kenney and Brown smell blood in their anti-feminist fights for power in Alberta and Ontario.

Not to be outdone, Canada’s federal New Democrats have been handed a religious symbol of sorts to lead them to the promised land of the Regina Manifesto. Whether a turbaned Sikh can serve that role is hard to say. The party’s problems run much deeper than leadership. Without coming up with a new role for the party, it is not ready be led anywhere.

But I would like to include some of the thinking of other progressive Liberals in this strange mix of religion and politics. Send me an e-mail with your thoughts and whether you want to be identified with them. I am more than willing to share the blame.

-30-

Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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