Archive for December, 2017

Dealing with diversity.

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

We often note that Canada’s greatest strength today is its diversity. It is even emphasized as we compare it to the weaknesses in other countries as they succumb to the anger of bigotry. Travelling in England, France and the United States, it is easy to see where an inability to live together in harmony can drive the frustrations and conflict. Maybe Canadians have made better use of the opportunities diversity offers.

I remember when mother first took my younger brother and I to a Hindu household for dinner. We children were included because our hostess (who worked with mother) had children close to the same age. The East Indian kids were wide-eyed so my brother and I tried to act nonchalant. Luckily the Hindu food was less spicy for the children’s benefit and while we needed the explanations for the various dishes, we found them interesting. What disappointed my brother and I toward the end of the dinner was her ’piece de resistance’ in honour of their Canadian guests, an apple pie. It was a disappointment.

But it was the first of many such experiences as we moved about and grew in Toronto’s increasingly multi-cultural environment. Years later when I took over the Liberal Party’s Toronto and Ontario communications roles, ethnic news media were not all that unfamiliar or challenging. As the Conservatives and the New Democrats were later to learn, these media were key to many of the ethnic groups who were joining the Canadian mosaic.

Not all ethnic groups are print oriented though and with more than 150 language groups in Toronto, at that time, the growth of broadcast media in a variety of languages became accepted and created new opportunities. The producers had to recognize that they were transitional as their listeners became more proficient in the local language(s) of their new homeland.

But it is the subsequent generations who identify with their homeland as Canadians that build this country and influence its future. Those of us with English or French roots have to work hard to keep pace.

What we all need to guard against are the self-promoted spokespeople for some of the ethnic groups. There seems to be more than a few of these presumptive people around and we need to be wary of their objectives.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The failing final days of America.

Monday, December 11th, 2017

This is a time of unease. America has failed us. The heroes of the Second World War are vanishing. The people who touted democracy to the world’s oppressed are fading into history. Around the globe there is a sense of a collective waiting. People are tense, on a short fuse, wary and concerned. What will this new version of America do next?

Have we lost all trust in America? The Americans have made bad decisions before but current strains are more than incidental miscalculations. The most powerful country in the world is on a path to destruction. Nobody is in control.

The White House is in the hands of a person who insults and betrays America’s most friendly neighbours, allies and trading partners. He has built walls of resentment, disgust, antipathy and distrust, at a time when America needs friends and allies on side. Instead of rallying, he has infuriated the Mexicans and pissed off the Canadians.

And why settle for annoying just a few neighbours when you can earn the lasting enmity of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims? Donald Trump has proved himself the world’s most hated racist.

The world’s Jews should be inured to the pandering politicians of our times. They must be concerned though when Trump trods where no American president has tramped before. Donald Trump was the last person that Israel ever needed for a friend. His announcement on Jerusalem could be America’s version of 1914 in Sarajevo!

But what is war to Donald Trump but a Game of Thrones? He insults China. He derides a delusional despot in North Korea. He eschews his friendship with Vladimir Putin of Russia. He trashes the peace gained so painstakingly with Iran. He insults the Brits and brushes aside the Europeans. Trump teeters on jingoism, preaches xenophobia and practices isolationism.

What is Trump? As a maybe billionaire, he is a boor. He reveals little of his wealth because of how he acquired it out of the shadows of bankruptcies. He is a misogynist and a womanizer. He does not have friends: he has leeches, losers and louts who spread his poison.

But what does this all say for the waning of America? The United States of America is a land that usually honors its heroes. Is this the end of times? Is this the Armageddon as foretold in the Book of Revelation?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Denzil decides to do his duty.

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Toronto Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong seems to have heard the clarion call of distant trumpets. He tells people that he is challenging for the Progressive Conservative candidacy in York East electoral district. Knowing the voters in that part of Toronto as I do, this is not really exciting news.

While Denzil might believe he can leap small buildings at a bound, he has never proved to be a super guy in the political scheme of things. He is a social conservative and an avowed penny-pincher to extremes but his experience with the city will take him nowhere at Queen’s Park. They are different venues and require a different understanding of human needs.

It is this difference that is why Denzil’s blanket approval of the conservative platform is meaningless.   Fixing potholes is not a learning platform for the provincial concerns for health care and education needs. These are the two largest attention consuming and spending needs in the Ontario legislature. To bring an anti-spending attitude alone to that picnic is a disservice to the voters. Understanding the issues comes first.

The biggest trap in the conservative platform is the decision by the people preparing it to support a carbon tax over the present cap and trade approach. I, for one, agree with that decision but not how they are using it. They think ‘revenue neutral’ means that they give the carbon tax money back to the taxpayers through efforts such as tax cuts. If you are just going to churn the carbon tax money into other revenue needs, why bother? It would be less trouble if you left the carbon tax in the taxpayers’ pockets in the first place.

Tax cuts are only designed to impress the greedy. (The greedy are voters too, you know.) Tax cuts do not belong at the head of the agenda. And if the people who sign those guarantees of performance were honest, they would never sign them.

Denzil is counting on the current distaste for Kathleen Wynne as premier to influence East York voters and to dump a good M.P.P. Michael Coteau who has been serving as minister of children and youth services. Coteau has won the last two elections in the electoral district by more than 50 per cent of the vote. He is a good M.P.P. and could be a keeper.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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As the pendulum swings.

Saturday, December 9th, 2017

There can be a pendulum effect in politics. It means that for every aberration noted in one election there is often an equal and opposite reaction in the next election. We just might be seeing this in Alabama leading up to the special election for a U.S. senator next week. We can see why the vote is too close to call.

Roy Moore, a hard-right Republican is being challenged by Democrat candidate Doug Jones. The very fact of the race being so close in Republican Alabama is being cheered by Democrats across the United States. The Democrats need to win here to give them confidence of a mid-term swing to a Democrat-controlled Senate if not the House. A Democrat-controlled Senate could put a serious crimp in the Trump program being pushed through Congress.

And while a Democrat victory cannot be a prediction, it is certainly possible.

Roy Moore who is confident of holding the seat is, to say the least, a controversial candidate. Moore was the Alabama Supreme Court Justice who was ejected from office for refusing to remove a statue depicting the ten commandments from the courthouse and then tossed again for telling probate judges to ignore the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

A large part of Moore’s problems recently are the repeated charges that the 70-year old judge had a fondness for under-age girls when he was younger. They are certainly coming forward today to challenge his trustworthiness. Trump supporters are inclined to disregard these charges as false news and the Republican National Committee is sending him more money even this late in the race.

And political polling in this instance is not proving helpful. Statistically, the figures are considered even. The difference between the two candidates is well within the margin of error.

One factor that nobody can read in this race is that 250,000 prisoners in state prisons are being allowed to vote for the first time. If they vote, their choice is between a controversial Republican judge and a Democrat state’s attorney. Who would you vote for if you were behind bars? And pollsters have no effective way to ask these prisoners their questions. And why would they expect straight answers?

All us observers can say at this point is that we hope Mr. Trump has an unpleasant surprise next Wednesday morning. We will probably hear about it in the twits, he tweets on Twitter.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Wall of Wonder.

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Is the American President going to select his wonderful wall for Christmas? Hopeful contractors have erected eight samples of wall in San Diego, CA for his decision. All he has to do is pick his favourite. His Twitter followers will likely be the first to know which wall he prefers.

But how he is going to get Congress to authorize the billion dollars he needs for it, is a question begging an answer. The likelihood of Mexico paying a peso for this wall is in the range between “Never” and “In your ear, Donald!”

But they have a few engineering problems to be faced in putting up this wall. Frankly there are visitors from Mexico who might be better at building tunnels than Americans are at building walls. And these particular visitors might not be bearing frankincense and myrrh.

And we hope the new engineers putting up Mr. Trump’s wall are smarter than the ones we hear about who put up George W. Bush’s wall at El Paso, Texas. It seems George W’s geniuses left an American El Paso golf course on the wrong side of that strip of wall.

How you build a wall down the middle of the Rio Grande, is just one of the more interesting questions to be answered. They will not welcome it on the Mexican side of the river. If you put it on the American side, you will be cutting cattle off from their water.

This is not as simple as something such as the Panama Canal. Did you know that when they started to dig the canal, they thought they just needed a trench across the Isthmus of Panama? It was not until the French realized that it needed locks at either end that the Americans bought in and did the heavy digging.

While Mr. Trump is busy deciding which of the walls he prefers, Congress is still struggling with wanting to do something about the Dreamers. These are the almost 800,000 who registered for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) who are in limbo waiting for the shoe to drop. Why the fate of these people should be tied to Trump’s wall is unconscionable.

Mind you, we have determined over this year that Donald Trump is a man without a soul. Why would you assume anyone who backs him has one?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Is Trudeau’s elitism working?

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

It is getting to the point where even the Conservative opposition in parliament is noticing. They are starting to take verbal jabs at the prime minister’s elitist nature. It is starting small but it will grow. Canada’s poster boy prime minister can ill afford to have his elitist tendencies to become common knowledge.

But even when out of the country, his elitism is noticed in appointments announced by his office.

Just before leaving for China, to supposedly lecture the Chinese on their human rights, his elitist appointment was announced for the Supreme Court. The candidate chosen has a varied background in business law and in supporting Canada’s aboriginal peoples. She will be the second Supreme Court Justice from Alberta.

While in China—and with things not going as well as expected—Trudeau’s office announced his latest selections for Canada’s beleaguered Senate. It was a daily double as two women from aboriginal backgrounds were appointed as independent senators.

These are the types of appointments where you are a bit of a curmudgeon if you are critical of the applicants. These are people who have worked hard in their chosen fields and have earned the plaudits of their peers for their many accomplishments.

But this goes far beyond peer approval. Justin Trudeau has given these people a sinecure. The annual salary is well above the Canadian average and the mandatory retirement at 75 can be quite comfortable.

Senator number one is Mary Coyle, from Nova Scotia, an advocate for women’s rights and aboriginal people. Senator number two is Mary Jane McCallum, a dentist from Manitoba who has worked hard to bring health and dental services to people in the north.

As far as I am concerned, I do not believe that judges should be appointed by the Prime Minister alone—even with the aid of these elitist committees that help him. I believe that senior judges should be chosen by parliament after all the applicants have been vetted by a parliamentary committee.

As for the Senate of Canada, I firmly believe there is no need in a truly democratic country for an unelected house of parliament. The only problem is that the prime minister would rather be seen as elitist than to open up the constitution of Canada for review and changes.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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King Street. Where T.O. business goes to die.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Did you hear the exciting news? The streetcar pilot project on King Street in Toronto is moving people faster. What for, we are not quite sure. It seems that in the evening rush hour, you can potentially get home for dinner five minutes earlier. For whatever it is worth, you can also get to work up to five minutes earlier.

But this bonanza of time you are now enjoying comes at a cost. It seems others have cottoned to this wealth of time savings and those street cars seem more crowded than usual. If your business is on King Street, you might want to give tips to visitors on where to park on Queen Street. And if they take a taxi, warn them they will have as much as a three-block walk from where ever the taxi manages to deliver them.

That leaves the most serious problem: deliveries. Have you ever counted the number of deliveries your company receives each day? For some firms, it is a constant flow. And you can hardly get everything by bicycle courier. Think of the number of snow days per year that your employees might as well be taking if everything came by bicycle. Here’s a tip: find a delivery service that uses streetcars. You will appreciate those five-minute savings then.

The Toronto Transit folks are as pleased as punch that their service is showing improvement. Who would have thought redirecting all those autos and delivery vehicles was such an easy solution? They still feel challenged though that they have been unable to show any improvement at four am.

Mind you, they would also be showing improvement on the less used Queen Street line if it were not for all the autos and deliver vehicles who now have to use Queen St. and other alternative east-west routes.

The additional police service on King Street has been an unpaid bonus since the experiment started. They only warned drivers who were confused by it all in the first week. In the second week, the police got serious and started ticketing the confusion. More than 500 tickets were given out that week. (Confusion costs $110 and two demerit points.)

It seems to me that this is another example of downtown councillors making decisions that chase businesses out of downtown Toronto.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Tories try sleight-of-hand with transit.

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

When we first saw the Ontario Conservative’s proposal for Toronto Transit, we thought it was one of the silliest we had heard for a while. It just made no sense why they thought the provincial government would make less a mess of the job of running the subways and light-rail systems than the city. It turns out that what they are really proposing is changing the ownership on a lease-back type deal.

It seems when Toronto Mayor John Tory saw the idea, he also asked if they were that crazy. He had no idea how they could keep Toronto’s transit running in an integrated manner. It turned out that the Brown Conservatives only want to have the assets on their books instead of on the city’s books. By having tangible assets behind the debt, it becomes a way to hide other debt.

It is all sleight of hand. Now you see it, now you do not see it. Debt enables accountants to do their magic. As long as it is a lien against a substantive asset, it effectively disappears. You have balanced your books.

I was surprised as a business executive when I learned that the goodwill of the company was whatever you needed to make the balance sheet balance. Provincial governments certainly do not seem to build up much goodwill. They do need assets to offset debt. That is why it always seems a desperation measure when the politicians want to sell off assets.

Only a banker would have told the Kathleen Wynne government to sell off Ontario’s Hydro One electrical distribution network. They could have kept the golden goose and sold off the Liquor Control Board. The booze network is worth far more than the sum of its parts and the liquor taxes keep on giving.

But why would Wynne care about that? She could make herself look foolish announcing new booze outlets at her friends at Loblaws.

But it is Patrick Brown we are dissing today. Obviously, his accountant friends had come up with this great idea to take the transit assets away from the city. They have no thought of running the system but they have far more use for the transit assets than the city people.

But, as I said when this first came up, kids just love playing with trains.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Quebec colonizing continues.

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Some of you might be wondering about that silly motion by the Quebec National Assembly last week. It was the one suggesting that Montreal merchants stop saying “Bonjour Hi” to customers coming into their places of business. The motion was proposed by those language snobs of the Parti Québécois and passed unanimously by all parties. The politicians are worried that merchants who are polite to their English-speaking customers might be easy for the English to colonize.

The conclusion we take to this foolishness is that Montreal merchants are a lot smarter than the politicians in Quebec.

You will please note that the motion of the Assembly is just a polite suggestion and has no form of enforcement included. They still cannot stop people from being polite. The politicians did not want to be given the finger by the Montreal merchants they were complaining about.

What the merchants know and the politicians fail to understand is that the merchants are there to do business. They are not allowed under the province’s somewhat oppressive language laws to say “welcome” on the outside of their place of business but inside is their territory. When someone comes into your store or restaurant, there is a strong possibility that they might want to buy something. The merchants are not all that interested in promoting one language over another. They will be happy to help you do business in either of Canada’s official languages.

I remember a time in Montreal when you got into some abusive situations if you could not speak French. Luckily, merchants realized that confrontations over language are bad for business. They certainly do not promote tourism. As one of those people who cannot carry a musical note in a bucket, I seem to have just as an inadequate an ear for languages. And growing up among the melange of languages of Toronto, there was the chance to study French but not to practice what had been learned.

Traveling around the world over the years, I have learned that you can never be proficient in enough languages but my rudimentary knowledge of French has sometimes been helpful. What really seems to matter in most countries is that it pays to be observant of customs. Politeness never gets you in trouble.

The Montreal business that wants to be polite to me by saying “Bonjour Hi” is going to be the one that gets my business 90 per cent of the time.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Chuckles needs to change gears.

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

It is a rare time that we give serious advice to the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. It is that ‘Chuckles’ Scheer is going to have to learn the difference between legitimate political criticism and harassment. Watching Finance Minister Bill Morneau in the House of Commons it seemed to me that the poor man was distraught. This baiting has gone too far.

Chuckles and the rest of the Conservative caucus have to understand that if you are unwilling to ask your question outside the House of Commons—where you have no parliamentary immunity—then you are impugning the man’s honour. And if you have no basis for the truth of your claims, then you have no honour.

What all MPs need to understand is that Canadians are embarrassed and annoyed by the depth of the juvenile antics in the House. It is dishonourable. Do you go home and scream invective across the living room at the spouse? That is not a benefit of being elected either.

Why Bill Morneau should be hounded about selling his shares in the family company, when it was the only smart thing for him to do, makes no sense. He had been criticized for not putting the shares in a blind trust but he was doing the next best thing: divesting. Everyone knew that the earnings would be taxed at a higher rate in the next year, so why would he not tell his advisor to sell before the end of the year? And why would his father not do the same?

And all this being said, we should turn our attention to the prime minister who should have fired Bill Morneau at the beginning of this contretemps. As much as Morneau claims to have been assured by ethics commissioner Mary Dawson that he did not need to have a blind trust, she probably had no idea how much his holdings would be impacted by changing rules.

If Justin Trudeau had the discussions needed with the man chosen to be his finance minister, he should have advised him to use the same type of blind trust as the Trudeau family.

As I have already stated a couple times in these commentaries, the role of the finance minister is that of Caesar’s wife. He must be above suspicion. While Canada has lost a few good finance ministers over the years, the government of the day cannot invite suspicion of any sort. Morneau is no longer tenable.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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