Archive for January, 2018

Change Canada’s Senate: ‘There’s the rub.’

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Some of our readers thought that was a got-cha. “Aha,” they exclaimed in their e-mails, “How do you think we are going to get rid of the senate?”

Obviously, they have never heard of my idea of a constitutional conference. I suggested it once in a conversation with Justin Trudeau. His eyes rolled in his head and the only answer I got was “Never.” For a school teacher, our prime minister is not all that amenable to new thinking.

And, he should never say never. Maybe it is not in our lifetime, but Canada has to have a constitution that makes sense for our nation. We can hardly continue to carry the baggage of centuries past.

And the best way to effect the change is through a constitutional conference. This body would be elected using the most recent of federal electoral boundaries across Canada. I would suggest at least three people per district. This would give us a deliberative body of over 1000. To make sure of the balance of views, I would suggest that each voter only be allowed to vote for two citizen participants.

The deliberations of the constitutional conference will need to be brought forward to the provincial legislatures and to a subsequent national referendum. And I would suggest to you that it would be a most foolish provincial legislature that tried to stand in the way of a decision of the people. It is the decision of the subsequent referendum that determines the acceptance or rejection of the constitutional conference recommendations.

That final referendum could be for an entirely new package of a constitution or a cafeteria of changes that could be made with the approval of a majority of Canadians. That is for the constitutional conference to decide.

The important aspect of this is that the final decision rests with all Canadians. It is not a decision to be made elsewhere. It is not a decision to be made by provincial legislatures. It is a decision to be made by both the aboriginal Canadian and the newcomer who recently gained citizenship. It needs to be brought to us by an honest attempt to take our country forward to the future. It should honour those who came before and be passed on with pride to future generations.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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In a land where greed beats need.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

The last time Canada took a systematic look into its tax system was at the instigation of a Prairie populist, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker. The royal commission headed by Bay Street accountant Kenneth Carter was famous for determining “A buck is a buck.” Here we are more than 50 years later and no finance minister of any stripe seems to have understood what Carter meant.

Yet it was so simple. All Carter really said was that no matter how a dollar was earned, it should be treated as a dollar. What Canada has instead is a complex taxation system wherein a dollar is taxed according to its origin and how it is gained.

Where the dollar came from is at the centre of an unfair tax system where the wage earner remains the easiest target. The system encourages the vulgar accumulation of wealth for the already rich. It encourages perquisites for the oligarchs of business. It benefits the rich investor over the small investor. It drives the elderly who are now living longer into poverty.

And we might never know if finance minister Bill Morneau was trying to help the middle class or seeking to benefit his fellow millionaires last year. The Conservatives threw accusations, barbs and challenges in the path of his tax reform proposals as he showed his inexperience and naïveté in his portfolio. And instead of helping, the prime minister just pushed him to the side.

Both Morneau and his prime minister spend a lot of their time saying that they want to do more for the middle class. If there were more results for the middle class instead of the steadily increasing profits for the already rich, we would all be better off.

Bill Morneau has backed so far away from the grandiose reforms he presented early last year, he has an even longer way back to our trust.

In Canada, where we put our trust in a self-filed income tax system, it seems amazing that we should have a tax system so laden with exceptions. The basic fact that the rich have tax accountants and the rest of us do our best, puts our best at a disadvantage.

It would pay for both the prime minister and his finance minister to dig out and read what Kenneth Carter said over a half century ago. A loonie is still just a buck but inflation has sure eaten into its buying power.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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First-past-the-post vote still wins.

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

For all the arguments that people put up, you would suspect that first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting was on its last legs. It is not. It survives not because so many of us love it. It survives because there is no adequate alternative.

What seems most annoying about the effort put into our switching to some form of proportional voting is the assumption that people want to vote just for a party instead of a candidate. They might like the party’s leader, they might like the party’s philosophy and they might just be lazy and do not bother to check out the individual candidates.

Those involved in politics always assume that as many as half the voters in an electoral district will vote for their party of preference. Of the other half, most are not likely to vote. It means that the most effort of a candidate is to reach the 10 to 15 per cent of the voters open to being convinced to support a worthwhile candidate.

This effort benefits all voters. These non-government candidates who can win give us a strong and effective opposition in our parliament and legislatures. They might be the leaders of tomorrow. They need the experience of being our representative. We are gaining while they are learning.

The smart voter also checks on what the person elected in his or her electoral district is doing while elected. Is the person contributing? Is the person serving his or her constituents? Or is the person just doing what the party leader says to do and to vote? And does this person reflect your values?

It pays to pay attention. You can hardly wait for the next election to read some self-serving literature and make a decision. This elected person is involved in the creation of the laws under which we live. This is a live person you know. You have the right to ask questions. It is your taxes that pay for that office in the electoral district. It is there for your benefit. It is to facilitate communication with your MP or MLA.

Why anyone would want to exchange the current system for one where we just vote for a party and a faceless name on a list makes little sense. If you feel that we need to save the cost of printing ballots for each electoral district, we would be a poor nation indeed.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Forget Beyak, dump Canada’s Senate.

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Why just dump Senator Lynn Beyak? You do not have to like what she says or posts on the Internet? We have all heard it before. Bigotry is hardly new. The problem is that there is not much you can do about it. She was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Stephen Harper until she is 75. She is going to be around for a while yet. It would be easier to dump the entire senate rather than just her.

‘Chuckles’ Scheer, Conservative Party leader and leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition decided to dump her. She is an embarrassment to the Conservative caucus. He tossed her out of the caucus. That was all he could do. He left her sitting in the senate. He made matters worse. He left a pissed-off party stalwart sitting in the senate as an independent.

You can be assured that not all non-first nations’ people from the Thunder Bay region of Ontario are bigots. There are many people there who are well aware of the problems faced by our first nations’ people and are sympathetic. For all we know Senator Beyak might be posting some of those bigoted letters thinking that it can help the situation. Obviously, it does not.

But this is just another of the long lists of embarrassments by our appointed senate. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinks he is getting around the problem by having an elite committee pick elite applicants for him to appoint supposedly elite senators. He gets no guarantees.

One of the problems for the ‘Lynch Beyak’ mob is that Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations has jumped into the fray and is calling for a ‘review’ of the senator’s actions by the senate ethics committee. To give her yet another platform for racism is not going to help.

The Senate of Canada was created more than 150 years ago to give the land-owning gentry of the Canadian colonies a chance to review and, if they wish, stall the laws passed by our elected parliament. It is not needed today. In fact, its continuance is an embarrassment to our country. It should have been abolished a long time ago.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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We will call that a Wynne Win.

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Did nobody at the Tim Horton’s head office know about the change in minimum wage for Ontario scheduled for the first of January? Did all those franchisees fail to tell them? And would you not wonder about a major franchiser who dominates the product line in Ontario, not being in control of the situation?

Somebody should send a note to the new owners of the Tim Horton’s brand that they blew it. Did they not realize that a rise in the Ontario minimum wage would have an impact on their franchisers? We will assume that not all employees are still earning minimum wage but obviously there will be some franchises trying to maximize their profit at the expense of their employees.

But there is little percentage to trying to squeeze more profit from employees. Customers have watched the size of their cups reduced and prices of their double-double increased over the years. And having fewer employees is just going to slow the service and increase customer impatience. There has to be some balance.

And it is very foolish to take on the Ontario government in this situation. First of all, the government had resisted increasing the minimum wage for too long as it was. With the steady growth in the cost of living, there was no reason not to increase the minimum wage. The economics were barely tracking as it was. Ontario should have been at a $15 minimum hourly rate more than two years ago.

It was not as though the government did not give any warning. There was plenty of time for the Tim Horton’s franchise to consider computer models of the impact of the new minimum wage. The results of the models might cause a slowing of new hires in the short term but are unlikely to seriously impact earnings for either the franchiser or the franchisee.

And people should be very wary of blaming Premier Wynne for any of the problems that might be created in adjusting to the higher minimum wage. She might be slow but she is on the side of the angels in this argument. And she seems to be much better at public relations than these new Tim Horton’s franchise people

It was only when listening to an expert on Tim Horton’s operations the other day that I learned what a franchise can gross over a year. He was talking of earning of between $300,000 and $400,000 per franchise. Nobody need worry about the franchisers.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Democracy denied.

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

To many people, democracy is too much bother. Can you just imagine how much it annoys Donald Trump? Democracy requires openness and honesty, effort and consideration, rights and freedoms. And democracy continues to grow and evolve and expand. It recognizes the equality of the sexes. It recognizes our shared responsibility for our country, our environment, our peace and good government. It recognizes that the person who pushes a broom has the same rights as the person in the corner office. They have the same opportunities to education, to health care, the same public services, and access to their politicians.

And yet in Canada we proclaim this democracy, our equality, our feminism, fairness, and our rights and then set the royals of another part of the world above us. It is a sham, perpetrated by those afraid of change.

But democracy should be accepting of tearing down the barriers to change.

Should Canada have a handsomely paid and housed Governor General as nothing more than a ceremonial figurehead? Why are we continuing such an archaic and outdated practice? And should we continue to countenance the provincial Lieutenant Governors? Are they not just carry-ons from a long-forgotten colonial past?

Canadians want to remember their country’s past. They want to remember it, honour it but be able to change it. It is like the gated homes of the rich and their footmen guards that are no longer needed in this day and age that we continue in our vertical condominium castles for the very rich.

The news media continue to titillate the impoverished with the vulgar consumption of the very rich and to what ends, we do not fathom? Are we to pull a forelock as they are chauffeured by in their limousines?

The danger of public elitism is ever with us. From the Prime Minister we have his elitist choices for the useless and annoying Senate of Canada. It is an useless appendage to our parliament. And do we have to be told to whom to bow through the elitist Order of Canada? We can have their deeds speak for them not by a selection of the elite.

Democracy ignored is democracy denied. Democracy left to the elites, promotes elitism. Democracy neglected is in support of tyranny. We have choices in this life. We should choose them well.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Tales of the Trump White House.

Friday, January 5th, 2018

The Brits have a saying that no gentleman is a hero to his valet. And in politics, all the apparatchik insiders are a form of valet. The politician has to hire carefully and fire even more carefully. We all have a book in us.

As Donald Trump has none of the instincts of a politician, we can observe that in his run up to the presidency he hired carelessly and fired casually. A case in point is senior strategist Stephen Bannon. The past and again head of Brietbart News, Bannon seems to be the hero in a tell-all book on the Trump Presidency by writer Michael Wolff.

Why Trump gave access to the White House to Wolff, is just another chapter in the incompetence of Donald Trump. Why he allied himself, even briefly, with Bannon, is another story. It seems Bannon still loves Trump but Trump seems to lack the same enthusiasm for his once confidant.

The good news is that all the juicy parts of the book are being broadcast by the news media and it will save us the time and expense of acquiring and reading the book.

Not that there is much new in the book. For a deputy chief of staff to say that dealing with Trump is like dealing with the whims of a child does not surprise us. Trump is childlike in his attention span and his choices.

What is causing the most consternation in the white House are the writer’s allegations against Donald Trump Junior. The claims that Junior was involved in negotiations with the Russians during the presidential campaign is going to have the FBI scurrying around to check out the story. The fact that Wolff claims Bannon fed him this story seems to make it less credible than more.

I particularly liked the excerpts about Melanie Trump. She so obviously hates her husband, it is easy to understand her reluctance to be trapped with him in the White House. The denials by her spokesperson are lame.

Maybe for a few days Trump will tweet vociferously about Bannon and the book but soon they will find him a new toy. If you really want to have a copy of the book, you will probably be able to buy it on the remainders shelf in the next six months. There will be more books about Trump out by then.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Democracy destroyed.

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

The years of Pierre Trudeau’s leadership seem to be backing into the mists of time. It was the strength of a democratic Liberal Party in Canada that back stopped him in those years. He thought of the party at first as similar to the top-down managed situation in Quebec. He almost lost the 1972 election because he considered the party unimportant. He had the grace to acknowledge his error.

Trudeau brought some key party apparatchiks into his office and set out on the rocky road with them that took him into the eighties.

It was in the eighties that the incidence of ethnic swamping of riding associations became a major problem for the political parties. While we had the occasional maverick win in riding nomination contests, we had rarely had the outright public fight by a large ethnic group to take over a riding. We were particularly vulnerable to this in the larger cities across Canada.

The problem was finally straightened out by the combination of parties vetting candidates as suitable to run for the party and the party leader signing off on all candidates for Elections Canada—so they could run under the party banner.

But what happened was that party leaders started putting preferred candidates wherever they wanted and bypassing whatever the party was doing about a proper vetting. The worst offender has been Justin Trudeau—after promising in his campaign for the leadership to never do it. The best examples have been his appointing of key cabinet members Chrystia Freeland and Bill Morneau to key ridings in Toronto.

That in itself was not as serious as his dictating to the Liberal Party on its fund-raising and memberships. As something of an experiment, Trudeau asked that the party forego membership fees from people who wanted to support the party in the coming leadership and election. Since it was already obvious who would win the leadership, nobody raised serious objections. It was also appreciated that this would supply the party with lists of possible workers to help elect Liberal candidates.

It was not until Justin Trudeau asked to abolish membership fees after the election that we realized he was destroying the democracy of the Liberal Party of Canada. The old joke has come true: I am not a member of an organized political party; I am a Liberal.

We will discuss where this is taking us in a later commentary.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Trump’s Terrific Triumph?

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

We have been told that U.S. President Donald Trump wants to have another inauguration this month. This time he wants a proper count of all his supporters out in the cold of Washington and a second chance to do things right. This is despite all those writers who have summed Mr. Trump’s first year as a terrific triumph.

Even a writer as sedate as John Ibbitson of the Toronto Globe and Mail thinks President Trump ended 2017 as a winner. He actually believes that Trump has done a fine job of screwing things up. We do get the impression that Mr. Ibbitson is not a Trump fan.

But we are not giving Ibbitson high marks for humour. He seems serious when he says that Trump’s predecessors had built an orderly world since the Second World War and Mr. Trump is busy wrecking it. It might help if Mr. Ibbitson got out of his pajamas, went outside and looked around. If he can find this orderly world that Trump’s predecessors created at such great supposed expense to Americans, good luck to him.

Frankly, the fact that Trump has got this far into his presidency without starting a war is one hell of an accomplishment. If you just ignore his nocturnal twits, you might even think the guy is more peace loving than both of the Bushs—father and son.

And for Ibbitson to suggest that Trump has pushed America’s allies into spending more on defence has it backwards. They are under the impression that they need to improve their defenses against the U.S.A. With someone as erratic as Donald Trump, there is no telling what he might do as Commander-in-Chief.

The Globe and Mail writer seems to miss that point that what Trump does not understand, he does not like. Take the economics of trade. Trump called off American participation in the Trans-Pacific Pact without bothering to ask the experts. And he has no concept of the US$17 trillion in trade flowing between the three North American countries. All three countries benefit. Trump does not understand that the American economy will be hit the hardest if he cancels NAFTA.

What Trump really wants is longer holidays. He goes up and down the east coast staying at one or the other of his golf resorts. He actually gets the American people to pay out millions to his companies so that he can recuperate from the ardors of being President. He might be the only U.S. President that profits on the taxpayers’ generosity—and gullibility.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Defending Democracy.

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

You would think in all the many years of human social development that democracy should have gained support and growing wide-spread usage around the world. We certainly agree that it is not perfect but we do agree that it is better than any alternatives. Yet tell it to the Russians and they want the oligarchy of Putin. Tell it to the Turks and they will support the autocracy of Erdogan. Tell it to the Iranians and you will find that not all support the theocracy of the Ayatollahs.

Think of the military juntas around the world that have usurped power from their citizens. Burma (Myanmar) is run by butchers. Countries such as the Philippines and Venezuela are on the slippery slope. China’s oligarchy will countenance no change. North Korea is a junta fronted by a farce of a dictator. And the supposed heart of democracy, the United States of America is led today by a would-be tyrant.

And why is this? Why has democracy fallen into disrepair? And how do we shore up our democracy? No doubt the political science people can bring out tables and statistics to explain. All I can do is reflect on the attitudes of voters across many years of observation at all levels of government.

After the Second World War, Canada saw rapid growth in jobs, incomes and newcomers. There was an excitement then to politics and at all levels there was an expectation by the new and younger people seeking to bring their ideas and energy to the political scene. In Ontario, in particular, there was a surge of fresh thinking and younger people getting involved at the riding and regional level. In the Liberal Party, there was a new energy and a new era was introduced.

The Diefenbaker years in Ottawa had underlined the need for change and the Liberals got ahead of the curve. While Prime Minister Lester Pearson was highly regarded by his party, he represented the old guard. Yet Pearson accepted the changes recommended by the envigored new guard. As a highly skilled diplomat, Pearson recognized that the party could do even more with new thinking in Ottawa. To this end he went around the Liberal establishment in Quebec and brought in new thinkers such as Pierre Trudeau, Jean Marchand and Gerard Pelletier. It was Pierre Trudeau who allied himself with the  Liberal thinkers in Toronto and changed Canada forever.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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