Archive for November, 2017

A Deal with the Devil for our heritage.

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

The Toronto Star owners have made a deal with PostMedia to divide Ontario between them. Talk about a deal with the devil! Did they think that the Competition Bureau in Ottawa would fail to notice? Is this what heritage minister Mélanie Joly meant when she said the government was not interested in aiding newspapers because they were an industry model that is no longer viable?

PostMedia has not been viable since it was cobbled together by CEO Paul Godfrey. The newspaper company is a nightmare of fire sale accumulations of small community media. Godfrey has been well funded by American investors who wanted to gain a foothold in the Canadian media market. The last we heard, they were adding the American executive responsible for the electronic version of the National Enquirer to the PostMedia board.

You should try to imagine Paul Godfrey in a toga standing on a soap box on the spit by the east channel to the Toronto harbour holding up a flashlight. He could say: Give me your tired, unprofitable papers, your befuddled editors yearning to promote the Conservatives, the wretched refuse of unwanted reporters. Send all those rags to me. (With apologies to Emma Lazarus, author of The New Colossus.)

Of course, Paul Godfrey knew what he was doing as he assembled this list of losers. He made millions while his American investors paid the piper. As time went on, he just kept adding more losing papers.

TorStar, owners of the Toronto Star, paid heed to his wishes and assembled all their losers and cut them loose in a swap for some of the PostMedia stable. Of the local papers they got in return, TorStar will only keep three of them in business. I checked the lists and I find our town’s ancient Barrie Examiner is ‘Gone baby gone.’ TorStar has a competitive paper here that serves as the weekly grocery flyer wrap.

The two chains have effectively divided the province between them except for the largest markets. And what Minister Joly should worry about is the number of single newspaper markets in Ontario now served by the strongly Conservative leaning PostMedia newspapers.

What the heritage minister needs to realize is that those small dailies and weeklies serving us across the hinterland are the lasting record of the communities and their citizens. TorStar has just flushed down the drain a huge chunk of Ontario’s heritage. They are a critical part of what makes our communities, our towns and cities work. They cannot be replaced by electronic media. Those local papers were never just a business.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Promises and Political Promises.

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

The magazine style “policy platform” handed out to the Ontario Conservative elite at their get-together last weekend is a style of political literature that was developed many years ago. The glossy magazine is a strong sales style that the voter might keep a bit longer. Adding a full-page guarantee was an idea that popped up occasionally when the writers ran out of policies. The only drawback is if you win the election, the people who keep the magazine the longest are your supporters and they will notice how few promises you keep.

The problem with promises are that governments are elected to govern and the minutia of day to day governance, their party ideology and reality get in the way of keeping promises such as a chicken in every pot.

But you are the sucker who believed them.

The other problem with all the promises made is that they are mainly half-baked, ill-considered ideas that are presented in very positive terms. These are not necessarily panaceas.

Some are very bad ideas. An example of a very bad idea is the one the Conservatives are making about taking over the planning and building of subways in Toronto. What they are suggesting is taking the process from one set of incompetent politicians and giving it to another group of incompetent politicians. The only difference is that the people affected will have less say.

Frankly, if a third of the election promises of any party are ever addressed, the voters should be surprised. One of Canada’s best loved Prime Ministers in the last quarter century was Jean Chrétien. His 1993 Red Book of promises was a work of fiction that was supposedly based on the Liberal Party’s Aylmer Policy Conference. Did he rid us of the hated Goods and Services Tax? Did he cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement? Of course not!

What is the most serious flaw in all these promises is that you need to understand the people making the promises. You need to decide whether these people really have your best interests at heart? If Patrick Brown has been a social conservative all his life, would you wonder at why he now says he is not? If he never had an idea in his life that helped people in Ontario, why does he now promote all these helpful ideas? Do you think we would elect him if he told the truth about himself?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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A station ghosts have forgotten.

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

As the winds of yet another winter blow through the beautifully restored but empty train station by Kempenfelt Bay, you wonder at the foolishness of Barrie’s city council. In the words of an old television series, they see nothing, they know nothing.

The story of the train station started about 700 years ago when nomadic aboriginals would sometimes camp at the shallows at the south-west corner of Kempenfelt Bay to fish and enjoy the cooling breezes from Lake Simcoe. There might have even been some disputes with other tribes about the right to camp there.

Europeans only started showing up 300 years ago when the area served as a portage point on the way to the head of the lakes. It was about 200 years ago that a village started at the portage on the north side of the bay and a village called Allandale started at the south-west. Trains have been coming to Allandale since 1853.

Today, Allandale is in the centre of the City of Barrie and the train station lands have become the de facto GO Train terminus and bus station. The only problem is that the preserved train station (built in 1905) remains unused. GO Train services are all automated, tickets are in a machine, buses pick up and discharge passengers. The only problem is that nobody knows anything and nobody sees anything. Only ghosts are in residence.

My barber, who has a small shop near the bus entrance, has noticed one problem. People who have to wait for a bus or train have no amenities. There are no snacks or coffee purveyed and there are no washrooms. When in need of a washroom, people sometimes ask her. She does not really have public facilities, but she is not cruel.

When the small business owner asked her local councillor about this problem, he assured her there were facilities. She checked the entire site again and realized that her local councillor did not know squat. So much for him.

When she told me about the problem, I checked with Barrie’s mayor. He acknowledged the problem. But it is Metrolinx’s problem, he told me. They are responsible for the GO Trains, buses and facilities but not the unused train station. It is an historic site, owned by the city. It might be a long time before it is open to the public for any purpose.

It seems nobody is in any rush. With the discovery of some possibly human bone fragments on the site that could be 200 or 700 years old, the Ontario Coalition of Indigenous Peoples (OCIP) has demanded that the land and the station be turned over to them as an aboriginal burial site. Since other local aboriginal tribes and groups seem skeptical of OCIP’s bonafides, there has been no rush for the city to give away a multi-million dollar restored train station and the site.

But nothing more is expected until the Wilfrid Laurier associate professor of Indigenous studies hired by the city gets around to a fourth level study of the site next summer, looking for historical artifacts.

It  seems like a long time to wait for a washroom.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Patrick’s pathetic policy pantomime.

Monday, November 27th, 2017

It was a come from behind event. Ontario Conservative Party Leader Brown hosted a party event over the weekend. Some of the media had noticed that he had no policies. He therefore had an event to announce some policies to start building the scenery for next June’s provincial election. He had already set the centerpiece by refusing to vote for an increased minimum wage and improvements in Ontario’s workplace standards. He was coming from behind until this weekend.

Since the event was in the British Christmas pantomime style, it was based on fairy tales, slapstick and rather broad humour. It was an event to please the children.

My favourite policy promise was that the Conservatives would take over subways from Toronto. Children love playing with trains. Instead of Toronto having an integrated transit system, the Tories would likely disintegrate it.

But, you will love these promises, the Tories say they are going to cut taxes, spend more, take another 12 per cent off Hydro prices, balance the books and pay down the provincial debt. And if you do not believe that he can do it, he is giving you a written guarantee. I bet that really convinces you of Patrick Brown’s sincerity!

Maybe that is why if you buy into Brown’s promises and elect him, he will spend $1.9 billion more on Ontario mental health needs.

It seems Brown has searched Ontario history so that he can find a Conservative that Ontario voters actually liked and he could try to copy. He had to go all the way back to the days of Bill Davis. While many liked Bill when he was Premier—because he has always been a stand-up guy—it would be taking Ontario back about a third of a century while we have to live with the realities of today.

But there were other new realities as well. On the weekend, the party was introduced to the new Patrick Brown. Yes, there has been another remake. He was sporting a new haircut. The first effort did not take and he had gone back to looking like a nerd.

Brown still does not seem to be a hot item with the ladies but he wants to prove he is warm hearted. To do this, he notes he has sleepovers for his sister’s three boys at his Toronto pad. He also tells us that he has been faithful to the promise he made his mother when he was nine-years old. He still does not drink alcohol. There was no mention of the change in marijuana rules coming in July next year.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Black on black.

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

It never pays to be pedantic but enough is enough. I try not to sound off on how others write, spell, punctuate or capitalize. I can make my own mistakes. And if I get on my high horse, the wife calls me ‘Anal Alan’ after the role of the brother in “Two and a Half Men.”

But I was reading an article by the Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star the other day and I found he was capitalizing the colour black as though it was a proper name. He even wrote about Barack Obama as the first “Black president.” He capitalized the colour instead of ‘President.’ How far do we go?

The next thing we know, the Toronto Star will be referring to me as “that darn White man.” After all English is a living language. You have to keep up with the times!

I thought the Toronto Star only let writers of colour capitalize on being black.

Though the Star should be pleased with its writers who helped end the very successful program of having police officers in some Toronto’s public schools. Despite majority approval for the program, Star writers complained that some black students felt intimidated. Well, maybe they should be. You would think that we would be smart and find out what is intimidating about the program?

The cops are there to build better relationships with our young people and the empirical evidence is that this has been very successful. If we have the majority of the kids happy with the cops being there, we have a major win on our hands. And to kill the program is colossally stupid.

If we kept one kid from joining a gang today, what is that worth? If we discouraged one kid from thinking of stealing, what is that worth? If we got a few kids to think of becoming a police officer after they have finished school successfully, what is that worth?

And what our kids really need to see is that police can be of any colour, any ethnic background, any sex and lead surprisingly normal lives. That seems to be worth a lot.

And before we take the word of some group saying they represent the black community or this ethnic group or that group, you should check it out. It is amazing how many of these groups are self appointed.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Rachel wants you on her side.

Saturday, November 25th, 2017

Do you feel threatened by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley? It seems the lady can scare anyone who gets in her way. Right now, she is in a rage against people who think pipelines for bitumen are bad for the environment. You either ride the bitumen bus with Rachel or she might throw you under it.

You almost feel sorry for Conservative fixer and party leader Jason Kenney who thinks his new united conservatives are going to take over Dodge. Kenney and Notley remind us of that old Bob Hope/Dorothy Lamour movie Buttons and Bows. Remember that old song: “Don’t bury me in this Prairie. Take me where the cement grows.”

Notley is hardly insensitive to the environmental concerns but wants them put on the back burner until her province’s tar sands exploiters can get some money for their stuff that can be turned into ersatz oil.

But if those people trying to turn a buck out of the tar sands are expecting crude oil to go back to selling at $100 a barrel, they might have a long wait.

And even if the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline eventually gets finished down to the Texas Gulf ports, there will be no profit for Alberta in whatever bitumen that gets shipped to countries that do not care about the extreme pollution levels.

Notley has been selling anyone who will listen on the federally approved Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain twinned pipelines for bitumen. Her pitch is that partisan blinders are getting in the way. She believes that environmental protection cannot come before jobs for people.

And yet she tries to get Conservatives in Ottawa and back home in Alberta to understand that climate change is real. At the same time, she is encouraging Justin Trudeau to get his troops to stand up for Alberta. So far, the only people applauding that suggestion are the Conservatives.

Notley’s new federal leader is proving to be as big a problem as the British Columbia NDP. She tells federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh that his interference in the pipeline question is irrelevant and that he needs to stick to future concerns of the party.

One day, Notley is going to notice that she is the only one making all these foolish claims. It is about time for her to find better pursuits for Alberta capitalists than trying to cash in on coal and bitumen that are better off left in the ground.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Longingly looking for liberalism.

Friday, November 24th, 2017

A correspondent from British Columbia recently asked “What is a Liberal party bereft of liberalism?” He was, of course, describing the situation today where the Conservative parties are moving farther and farther to the harshest right, Liberals are the new Conservative-Light and the New Democrats are lost in a confused and undetermined world of the centre-left.

It is a situation desperately in need of new definition and new alliances. What we appear to have is our political structures moving further and further away from their mobs. And contrary to the limited perceptions of our putative leaders, they are driving their natural supporters away.

Look around the world or even here at home. There is political insecurity as voters wrestle with their frustrations. They want something different but are finding it difficult to articulate. Some leaders are connecting; We are thinking of Emmanuel Macron in France, Bernie Sanders in the U.S.A. while on the other hand we have Trump in the U.S. and the rise of the far right in Europe.

The resilience of Donald Trump’s support is surprising pundits. Valérie Plante’s mayoral victory in Montreal and the ability of Naheed Nenshi to fight off a strong attack from the right in Calgary are catching us all by surprise. You can no longer trust political logic.

Stephen Harper swore he would move Canada permanently to the right of the political spectrum. All he moved us to was that final distaste for his oppressive form of right-wing libertarianism. He made a mantra of balanced budgets and the voters moved to a braver, deficit promoting Liberal Party.

But where is Justin Trudeau in this political turmoil? He talks the talk of saving an environmentally threatened world and approves the senseless pollution extremes of pipelines for bitumen. He makes promises to his party for power and then betrays the party. He promises voting reform without understanding the options. He promises new peacekeeping without understanding the realities of the world’s needs. He bemoans the privileged attitude of the Senate while creating a new privileged class of elites to continue the cost to Canadians for a Senate that is unwanted and unneeded.

What Canada needs is a new social democratic party of the centre-left. The New Democrats need to drop their ties to “me-first” unions and move along with real liberals to this new party. The Conservatives can fade into a futile future with their mean and selfish attitudes. Liberals will find their future as progressives challenged from the left. And voters will have new options, better government and, in time, a modern constitution for their country.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Noticing the New National News.

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

Many of us count on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for reliable, well vetted news. Well, we used to. Despite Peter Mansbridge’s droning, all-knowing, stony style, we liked his panels, the depth and the humour they brought to the concerns of the day.

But news is not an art form. The National has been turned into a Picasso. And it is not the artist’s Blue Period. We have been restraining ourselves from commenting. The Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick jumped the gun the other day and she says she loves the new National. Frankly, we have been worried for a while that dear Ms. Mallick might be losing some of her professional observational skills.

We cannot understand why the CBC would waste a reporter of Adrienne Arsenault’s skills as an announcer. We do agree that Ian Hanomansing is a fine announcer and he is quite capable of doing that entire show by himself. Andrew Chang is new to us easterners and he also seems like a fine announcer. We assume that nobody wants to do seven nights a week, so the others could do backup. Mind you if they traded Rosemary Barton to the Montreal Comedy Festival, we might all be better off. She is just not our primary source of political news.

But the people who really need to pull up their socks are the guys and gals on the switches. From the first time I walked into Ted Rogers’ nascent TV studios on Adelaide Street in Toronto many years ago, as a new (volunteer) producer/director, I have been aware of the importance of these people. It was when I asked who will be on the switches that my admiration of them heightened. I was told that along with my lofty titles, I was to call the shots on the show by doing my own switching. As we rolled the credits at the end of that first show, I was desperately trying to figure a way to miss my name.

From that rudimentary switch in that pioneering studio to today’s electronic marvels, I have a great admiration for those who can make them sing. This new National is based on the ability of a master switch taking the inputs from satellite studios across the country and creating the picture on your screen. The quick mixing and cutting between four people and news scenes does not always come off. They should ease up on that fancy stuff until they get more practiced.

It is not that most watchers really understand what is causing the confusion between the four, and sound and picture, but today’s news can be confusing enough without adding to it.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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There’s a great job opening here.

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

This is not your standard help wanted situation. Into every life there is an opportunity that comes knocking. This is an opportunity beyond your wildest dreams. It is fame and fortune. There are no limits. You just have to seize the opportunity. It is not for the faint of heart.

To start with, you had better like people. That will be a unique experience here. Male or female hardly matters. Likeability is key. Life experience or education matter. You better like hard work. And the harder you work, others will work harder to help you.

This is a political job. There are many good people in politics today but we need more. If you are old enough to vote and young enough to want to build a better future for all, we need you. You have to be a leader among people and a team player with the Liberal Party.

Did we mention Liberal? Nobody goes to Queen’s Park to get things done if they are not connected with a political party. This could be your party. And it needs leadership. It needs a progressive hand at the wheel. There will be an opening in leadership coming soon.

And that leadership needs someone with a clear vision of what Ontario should be. It needs someone who can attract young people and show them that politics can deal in the possible, be the peoples’ problem solver and lead.

Think of the recent events in the Montreal mayoralty race. Valérie Plante was a first term councillor. Few were complaining about the business as usual attitude of incumbent Denis Coderre. Plante won because she excited the Montreal voters.

We want the same type of excitement in Ontario electoral district of Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte.

The last Liberal to run in that riding lost by just 86 votes. (Federal vote recount, 2015.) In June 2018, the Conservative candidate will be Patrick Brown. The difference will be that these people know Patrick Brown. They know he did nothing in Ottawa. They expect nothing from him in Queen’s Park. They think they are supposed to vote for him because he is the party leader. They would really like to have someone more interesting.

Are you that person? You can apply to the Ontario Liberal Party at 10 St. Mary Street in Toronto, if you wish. I can also supply names of key Liberals in the riding, if that is what you want. What I can promise you is this: Brown can be beaten.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Writing Off NAFTA.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is still on the operating table. While it appears that the gurus at Canada’s banks are giving poor odds, that seems to be what banks always do. They do appear to like spreading doom and gloom. Despite their predictions, nobody is willing to announce time of death at this stage.

If any party is about to walk out on the negotiations, it is the Mexicans. They have suffered the most insults and the most scurrilous pressure. They are also the country that cannot afford to lose NAFTA. It has become a critical factor in the country’s economy.

Mexico also has the growing concern that Canada might just be a fair-weather friend. There is just too much talk to be heard about Canada and the United States going back to the NAFTA that existed before Mexico was brought on board. And then Trump really would need that wall to keep angry Mexicans seeking redress from coming to Washington to visit him.

Mexico needs those automotive plants and the easy access to American markets for their farm products. Tourism in ‘olde’ Mexico does not cut it.

The next round of the negotiations takes place in Mexico starting this week. All the signals at this time are that the American negotiators are passed the negotiating stage. They are expected to get tough.

Canada’s quest for labor law equalization and environmental concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Neither the Americans nor Mexicans are interested. It seems nobody has any conditions to trade to make the deal.

The essential ingredients of any trade negotiation seem to be missing from this series of trade talks. Those ingredients are good will and an eagerness for success by all parties. With the good will down the tubes as signalled beforehand by Donald Trump, the resentment of the Mexicans and the obvious preparation for failure by the Canadians, we hardly want to be the odds maker in this situation.

But the key question is whether the American President can unilaterally cancel or change NAFTA without the concurrence of Congress? (And do not bet on help from the U.S. Supreme Court.) The Canadians have been working the system hard across the U.S. with governors, representatives and senators, seeking support for NAFTA. It takes six months to cancel NAFTA and Canada might just have to find out how many American legislators really are friends.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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