Archive for August, 2018

Restoring democracy in Toronto.

Friday, August 31st, 2018

If you are not being sued by the Ford government in Ontario, you might already be suing it or hoping to sue. What is of particular concern at the moment, are the various lawyers getting together to sue the government for reducing the new 47-ward council in Toronto to just 25 wards. It would not be worth comment if it was not such a terrible waste of time and money.

Reducing or increasing the size of council has very little to with what Toronto council really needs. In a city of almost three million people it is the efficacy of local government that matters. Good government requires effective taxing powers to enable the city to fulfill the needs of its citizens. It needs to have access to the funds needed to build and maintain the infrastructure required in the city.

What it also needs is to enable citizens to communicate effectively with their elected representatives. In assuring that ability to communicate, the numbers of constituents each elected representative serves needs to be considered. And before you guess at numbers for an ideal ward size, remember that several years ago, Toronto had a mayor who took pride in his effort to return telephone calls from most of the citizens across the city who called him.

You also need to consider the ability of the politicians to provide adequate direction of the more than 40 municipal divisions with more than 50,000 employees providing the city with services, with an operating budget of over C$12 billion a year. This alone might require more than 26 individuals to assure effective oversight.

But the essential need is for the citizens to understand that they can take problems to city hall. It is an essential component of democracy. Citizens must not only be heard but be assured of a fair hearing. They must see that wrongs can be righted. They must see that democracy works for them.

But there are many ways to deliver the service needed. Community councils have been tried. More staff for councillors can help. More councillors is also a possibility. The only problem with more councillors is the lack of discipline. Without political parties of some sort, every councillor is an island of ideas and ambition—or the lack of either. Council meetings, with 47 councillors to be heard from, presents a frightening picture of deadlock.

People need to be considering how best to get the job done—not massaging the egos of council wannabes!


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Trudeau trusting Trump?

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

Is that nice of Mr. Trump or is it not? He has given Canada this week to cave in to his absurd demands on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The U.S. president has proved to Trudeau on many occasions now that he is a liar, a braggard, a boor and a bad neighbour. His negotiators just finished putting the screws to the Mexicans, offering them a bilateral deal without Canada in the mix.

And now he is allowing Canada to come to the table. “Do it this week, if you do not mind.” Do it for the convenience of the Americans—after all, they are including Canada as an afterthought.

All Trudeau and his half-pint foreign minister have to agree to is giving up something on dairy supply management, agreeing to a sunset clause and letting the Americans weaken the dispute settlement clause. “And when you agree to those, we have another half dozen clauses you can cave in on.”

Mind you the reason the Americans have such a glut of milk to sell is that government subsidies account for more than half of their dairy farmers’ incomes. If the Americans would consider their own supply management of dairy products, their government could save as much as $20 billion per year.

The proposed sunset clause is also something of a red herring as any trade agreement is subject to partial or full review at any time. A sunset clause is always a worry for business. It threatens their long-term planning. They do not like uncertainty.

And, if anything, Mr. trump has proved that a dispute resolution clause in the agreement is essential. What if every occupant of the U.S. White House unilaterally imposed tariffs on America’s trading partners at a whim?

Despite Mr. Trump not being very respectful of laws, customs, decency and ethics, America is a country of law. It is a country with ambitions for world leadership. It is a country yearning for democracy.

They will need to admit that Mr. Trump’s current tenancy in the White House is an aberration and they should try not to let it happen again. Mr. Trump might seem to be having a fine time as Commander in Chief but he should remember that his occupancy is only a rental. He should try to leave things in decent shape for the next incumbent.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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It’s ‘Scheer’ Madness.

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

Checking reports from last week’s conservative conclave in Halifax has not indicated any serious policy directions for the party in next year’s election. It was Maxime Bernier who sucked all the air out of the beginning of the event and it became just a footnote to Bernier’s farewell.

But what else did the conservatives really decide? What are they presenting to Canadians next year? Do they have any answers to global warming? Unless they think denying global warming is a political strategy in itself?

All that the public is hearing in most provinces is that the conservatives do not want a carbon tax and they support pipelines. And the Ontario and Saskatchewan conservative governments are taking the federal government to court over the issue of a carbon tax.

It sounds to this Ontario voter like the conservatives will continue to elect their Neanderthal MPs in the three Prairie provinces and will be decimated everywhere else.

Looking across the country, it looks like the Atlantic provinces voters will mostly ignore the conservative issues, Quebec is ambivalent, as its provincial cap and trade system seems to be working. Ontario will be the only fighting ground but Scheer is no Doug Ford and he is not offering much to Ontario. (And when you have a Ford for premier why would you need another fool defending Fortress Ottawa.)

Where Scheer will hit a wall is when it comes to B.C. He will be playing second fiddle to Trudeau on the pipeline and the NDP will be making hay as the natural successor to both parties.

It is when you do the analysis across the country is when you realize that the sunny days are over for the liberal’s Justin Trudeau. He is headed for a minority. He cannot have his pipeline and save the environment and his job at the same time. He is going to have to stay home and learn to manage parliament. He is failing on too many files. His only advantage is Scheer.

Scheer’s conservatives are marching in many different directions today and it is obvious that they have no idea where they are going. If they could find out where the country wants to go, they could become more effective.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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John McCain: Honesty, Honour, Humour.

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018

Senator John McCain of Arizona was old school. He was Republican by tradition. He was a gentleman. He was a warrior, from a family of warriors. He was a politician who believed in serving the people first. He brought decency to government. He wanted no truck with that asshole Donald Trump in the White House.

John McCain will always be known as the politician who saved Obamacare. He is no devotee of the plan. He did it because it was needed. He did it because he could. It was the honest thing to do.

As a warrior, he brought honour to his country. When the Viet Cong offered him amnesty as an injured prisoner of war, he refused release without his fellow prisoners joining him.

He was a politician. He served in the House of Representatives. He was a pillar of integrity in the Senate. John McCain was nominated by Republicans to be President. He ran against Barak Obama and ran an honourable and respectful campaign.

It could only have been his sense of humour that enabled him to accept Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate.

It was because of his sense of decency that he requested that Mr. Trump not attend his funeral.

John McCain was an American hero.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Beauce’s Bernier bugs-out.

Monday, August 27th, 2018

‘Bug-out’ is an American military term for the rapid advance to the rear of troops or an installation about to be over-run by enemy combatants. It is also an appropriate term for political people deserting their political party in the face of sure and certain defeat. And that is the most likely scenario for Canada’s conservatives next year as we head into a general election.

And it is the party’s fault. The foolish drill down to the least competent of the conservative candidates in last year’s leadership contest practically guaranteed that outcome. The objective of the leadership vote was to be the first to have a majority in a countdown of voting outcomes on a preferential ballot. All it proved was that Andrew ‘Chuckles’ Scheer of Saskatchewan was the least offensive of the 14 candidates and that Maxime Bernier of Quebec was the second least offensive. Neither was first choice and nobody seemed to to be impressed with their relative ability to lead.

As many have noted for the past year, conservative MPs in the Commons seemed to be doing their own thing anyway. It was hardly just a libertarian such as Bernier that was out there pitching for himself. Quite a few of the likely replacements for Scheer have been out building their own brand. The smartest of these is former federal minister of everything Jason Kenney who returned to Alberta to unite the right and hopefully return his province to the conservative fold.

Bernier was more than convinced that Scheer was leading the conservatives nowhere. At a time when Justin Trudeau’s liberals were proving themselves incompetent on many fronts, Scheer was failing to mount a meaningful opposition. Bernier complained that, under Scheer, the party lacked conservative principles and was morally corrupt.

Bernier’s announcement last week that he was leaving the conservative party came as little surprise to political observers. Whether he will entertain an opportunity to take over the already existing Libertarian Party or launch a completely new party will depend on his fund-raising prospects. The extremes of libertarian principles that Bernier espouses seem very similar to the far right-wing conservatism of people such as Doug Ford.

In the long run, it should serve to bring Jason Kenney back to federal politics. He will have to come back to Ottawa to unite the right across the country.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Wise politicos choose their battles carefully.

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Toronto council has made a bad move. They are, in effect, fighting ‘city hall.’ Because city hall for cities in Canada are the provincial and territorial governments. I am not saying the Toronto councillors definitely will not win against Queen’s Park reducing the number of councillors but they are not likely to get anything other than a ‘stay of execution.’ And nobody wants to be hung more than once.

The problem is that to delay the change to half the number of councillors for four years is a very costly and unnecessary step in the modernization of city hall. It solves nothing. It changes nothing. It simply extends the ongoing waste of time for an already unworkable system of civic government.

This is not a problem for the judiciary. It is a problem for a plebiscite by the citizens of Toronto. Toronto needs to build a partnership with the province. It is a growing city of almost 3 million people and needs a system of government that allows it to raise the funds needed to manage the city properly.

It requires the infrastructure of a city, not a province. It requires governance that makes high density living workable. As a city it requires the constant flow of people to and from the greater metropolitan area and that is the key reason for the partnership with the province.

A city is more than just so many people per hectare, it is a centre for commerce, for trades people, for learning, for banking, for living and the amenities. A city requires an entirely different political view than a country or state. It consumes the products of the countryside and creates the artifacts the surrounding lands require. It creates and regulates the trades, it teaches and advances the sciences, and it offers services and entertainments.

And cities also offer the opportunities to politicize, to experiment, to grow in knowledge and in culture, in the arts and in professions. Great cities develop unique cultural entertainments. They develop an accent and a political view. A knowledgeable traveller can almost sniff the air in a city and easily identify their location.

A city is a unique part of life experience. It can evoke strong loyalties. It has its own patterns of entertainments. They become strong tourism destinations in themselves. They have to earn their plaudits.

Autocratic politicians who take on a city most often get their comeuppance.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Exploring electoral ennui in America.

Saturday, August 25th, 2018

The one overriding perception of the 2016 American presidential election was that people were angry. Their disgust with Democrat and Republican party politics was visceral. A wise host and hostess tried to avoid discussions of politics among their guests. There was the common feeling that politics in America was not working. Washington was a quagmire. Politicians were failing to represent the people and there were many answers to the “Why?”

But what was at the root? Your senator or representative, Democrat or Republican, could always point at the other guy. There was no easy answer.

Take a look back at the campaign of Donald Trump. He broke all the rules. He hardly cared. The more the man proved himself shallow and unqualified for the presidency, the larger his claque grew. They supported him despite his limitations. They dug in their heels. They would shout down common sense.

And with the election of Donald Trump as president, the barbarian had breached the gate. As the incumbent, he was able to command centre stage as the court jester. What are you supposed to think?

Donald Trump has given succor to every tin pot dictator and aspiring tyrant in every country around the world. Let a mantra of lies carry you to your destiny, he tells them.

And yet this is a man who is becoming increasingly paranoid as he also realizes that the job of president is far beyond his capabilities. He is becoming the buffoon who entertains the troops. His rambling screeds at his ego-boosting rallies are becoming more and more incoherent.

Mr. Trump is not making America great again but destroying friendships with America. Under Trump, America stands alone, a pariah among nations.

But it is the lessons others are learning from the Trump experience that cause concern. Where can politics be headed when these egotistical supermen (and some ladies) decide they alone represent ‘Truth, Justice and their country’s Way’ in your local elections?

All the candidate needs to do is: Build on bitterness—conquer civility—defy definition—encourage evil—foment feuds—galvanize the gullible—hasten hostility—inculcate ignorance and the list goes on.

And candidates always have to remember that the news media are your enemy. Keep them guessing. You only have to pander to the needy. Promise them anything for their vote. Deliver at your whim.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Is Trump really the king of Twits?

Friday, August 24th, 2018

No, we do not shun social media. I have tried a few of them and I simply find them wanting. It came as a surprise that when I decided they were a terrible waste of time, I could not get rid of them. It is insidious but I guess it substantiates some of the outrageous membership figures they tell us about. It would be like the New York Times keeping the names of deceased subscribers on their daily circulation figures forever.

I am pleased to say that I am not included in the numbers who follow the real president Trump on Twitter. The last figure I looked at was over 50 million. It does seem odd that the news media have to subscribe to Twitter to be able to tell us what is going on with the American administration. It is also odd but it is more shocking that the president of the most powerful nation on earth uses such poor language skills.

When Twitter was first presented to the public, I thought it was an interesting challenge to people to communicate in just 140 characters. What it is really achieving is the destruction of English as well as many other languages. It has been embarrassing for me that I have never figured out what many short forms for words such as ‘LOL’ really mean. And those emoticons are a poor substitute for words at any time.

Luckily most politicians who use Twitter to communicate with voters have professionals who do the final writing and placement. What foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland placed in Twitter recently about human rights in Saudi Arabia was unfortunate. There was nothing new about what she tweeted. What she did was gravely insult the Saudis by using Twitter in English to reach her voters in Toronto. It’s a World Wide Web, lady!

Of course, Trump is no diplomat. When he insults some foreign leader from Trudeau in Canada to Erdogan in Turkey, they do not recall their ambassadors. They probably have multiple meetings with high-priced staff and consultants and nothing happens. It is just the news media that goes crazy. And Trump gets off again—because he can.

What the world needs to do (and to think I used to charge huge fees for advice like this) is to stop allowing it to go unpunished. Just insult the bastard right back. Do it intelligently. Do it with humour. If you can get the Americans laughing at him, you win. What the hell have you got to lose?


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Dougie doesn’t define Ontario.

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

Watching the first session of the new Ford government at Queen’s Park was a letdown. It was regressive, loud, uncivil, sexually repressed and barely disguised in its bigotry. The sea of white faces on the government side is barely broken by any ethnicity. Dougie does not do diversity.

And this is definitely not a government for the people. It is a government for the red-necked farmers of the Ontario Landowners. The association hates wind turbines, gun controls, carbon taxes and liberals.

It is also a government of the gated communities around the Greater Toronto Area. “I’ve got mine,” they will tell you. Go get your own!”

It is a government that resents the concerns and warnings of the concerned and the environmentalists. It scoffs at global warming. They only open the windows in their SUVs to throw out the used Tim’s cups.

It is a government that stages news for the gullible. It uses its underlings to smother the legitimate questions of the news media. It has foisted an incompetent leader on the public, to defeat a government worn by weariness of governance.

It is a government that panders to the sexually repressed of the religious right. “Don’t teach our kids about sex,” they snarl. “Let them learn about it with all the vulgarities of the streets like we did.”

Some in Ontario thought they were voting for the progressive conservatives of Premier Bill Davis’ era. They are learning the difference.

This is a government that will shut down safe injection sites, “Unproved,” they tell us. They are not in the business of saving those lives.

This is a government that saves money for tax cuts by cutting a proposed increase of 3 per cent to 1.5 per cent in the already inadequate funds for the Ontario disabled (ODSP).

This is a government that is suing the federal government for proposing a carbon tax in provinces that are without one. They do not believe in it.

This is a government led by a homophobe. Enough said.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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Who says Dougie’s done?

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

Looking at the upcoming Toronto municipal election in October, you can end up with more questions than answers. The problem is premier Ford. This guy is not finished with his home town. And they are not finished with him. And they are wasting the taxpayers’ money fighting him. We seem to have the ghost of Rob Ford running in this municipal election.

And what is the point of Jennifer Keesmaat and John Tory arguing over Smart Track and the one-stop subway to Scarborough while everyone is waiting for the premier to decide? We are reminded of a promise Doug Ford made during the provincial election that the Toronto subway system and the GTA transit lines would be taken over and integrated by the province. As ominous as that prospect might be, at least the province has pockets deep enough to pay for those needs.

John Tory’s Smart Track has been kicked around for the past four years and nobody seems to acquired much more fondness for the idea. Overall, Tory has been a pretty good mayor. He probably deserves a second term. Whether his ideas for rapid transit are any better than Keesmaat’s, I do not know.

But I do know that Keesmaat became the poster girl on the file over the past few years and she assumes that people should trust her. I have a problem with that. Civil servants who think jumping into elected office is the road to fame and riches, are deluding themselves. The two jobs take radically different skill sets.

Keesmaat might look good but I expect she is a one-trick pony. John Tory has far more experience in the political scene and he can probably run rings around her.

But it is still early in the campaign and it is unlikely that Doug Ford will save the good news about taking over Keesmaat’s specialty until after the election in October.

Keesmaat is the darling of the downtown NDP and all their fellow cyclists and as such will get no kind consideration from Dougie.


Copyright 2018 © Peter Lowry

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