Archive for February, 2019

Trudeau takes on the Truth-Teller.

Thursday, February 28th, 2019

The streaming video from CBC News in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon was a time of truth. There was absolutely no reason to disbelieve former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould. She was obviously under intense pressure in that job to take the well-traveled political road and save Quebec’s SNC-Lavalin from criminal prosecution. And they lied about it to Canadians. The prime minister lied. The clerk of the Privy Council lied. The prime minister’s principal secretary lied and must have resigned because of that lie.

But no laws where broken. Just hearts. It was a failure in trust. Nobody needed to prove that politicians lie. It was the political road so often taken. The prime minister’s principal secretary cannot take all the blame.

There must be consequences. Justin Trudeau lied to us. His is the most important position of trust in the country. He cannot continue in that position without redemption. He has few options:

His first option is to resign. And would that not leave us in a mess? There is barely time to pick a new liberal leader and have the federal election in October.

Another option is to have the writ dropped for the election immediately. At this time of year, it is the equivalent to an icy dip in a frozen lake. It might be cathartic.

Or Justin Trudeau can brazen it out. We already know he wants to be a poster boy for the environment and own a highly polluting bitumen pipeline too. He wallows in that hypocrisy like a pig in mud. His only saving grace is that his opponents have their own problems. He might be better than the alternatives. He will certainly deserve a strong vote in Quebec for his support for saving SNC-Lavalin. The company will probably just move to another country that understands bribery.

But it seems Justin Trudeau does deserve a spanking for lying to us. Considering the alternatives, I might just settle for some contrition.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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An unscientific method.

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

On Global’s West Block public affairs show on Sunday, two of the Toronto Star’s remuda of political pundits voiced their opinions on the Monday by-election in Vancouver’s Burnaby South. They both picked new democrat leader Jagmeet Singh. If you were only going to guess at the outcome, that was a good guess. Even if I was still handicapping politics, I would likely have come to the same conclusion.

But I would not have been guessing. The key to political handicapping is to not believe what others report on the workouts. When needing to know, I often grabbed some literature from the committee rooms and went out to explore the riding. I have been told it is very unscientific to select neighbourhoods, knock on random doors and talk to the homeowners. Yet, I cannot find a simpler way to find out why people are likely to vote or not, support one candidate over others and how deeply they feel about the issues.

In a by-election, motivating the voters to go to the polls is your major challenge. You can have many voters telling you that you have their support but if you have no ground game to get them to the polls, you have wasted your time.

And that challenge can be doubly hard in a general election. The pressure is on the average voter to get out to the polls and if they do not know who to vote for, your efforts can be wasted. A good ground game can come to the rescue.

The only problem is that a good ground game takes extensive organization, hard work, long hours, careful planning and always with backups for your back-up plans.

It was a bit of a shock to the system when I moved from Toronto up to Barrie in central Ontario. There are a band of rural electoral districts stretching from Ottawa all the way to Windsor, that are dominated by conservatives. And they have also mastered the ground game.

It is too bad that liberal leader Justin Trudeau does not understand the importance of giving people involvement in their party.  It enables the party to mount a strong ground game in many electoral districts.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Jagmeet’s winning honeymoon.

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

Burnaby South electoral district is not your typical first choice for honeymooners. It is no resort. The electoral district is not even middle class, includes migrants from many countries and probably more like many of the heavily ethnic areas of Toronto than of any other Canadian city. Yet it is where Jagmeet Singh and his princess have spent the last couple months to win the federal by-election called by prime minister Trudeau.

With a turn-out of 29 per cent of voters, it was a classic by-election situation. The NDP worked hard and brought out their vote.

For British Columbia, it was a confused and concerning race. With both conservatives and liberals supporting the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline, many of their supporters sat on their hands. Where the protest was serious was the ability of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party to garner just over ten per cent of the vote with what was denounced as a racist campaign.

Married last year in a colorful Sikh ceremony in Mexico, Jagmeet Singh and Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu have been meeting the voters in Burnaby since he decided this is the electoral district he wanted to send him to Ottawa. The attractive Gurkiran is a fashion designer and seems to be not far from her husband’s side since they set up housekeeping in Burnaby.

But Jagmeet is heading for a brief stint in Ottawa as leader of the new democrats. And then, the entire exercise begins again for the October general election. Whether he can duplicate the win again in October is very much the question.

In the east, we went to bed last night having little awareness of how the B.C. by-election was going. The by-elections in Outremont in Montreal and York Simcoe were open and shut, easy to predict. No surprises there. As precursors of the federal election to come, the three by-elections told us little. It was a loss of one seat for the NDP and the gain of one seat for the liberals. And Maxime Bernier’s new party was just an also-ran.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Saving the Scenic Salish Sea.

Monday, February 25th, 2019

To nobody’s surprise the other day, Canada’s moribund National Energy Board (NEB), once again, approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. And once again to the barricades my friends to stop the tripling of the ocean-going tankers manoeuvring under Lions Gate Bridge, through Vancouver Harbour to the Second Narrows and into Burrard Inlet to fill up on highly polluting tar sands bitumen.

The NEB approval comes with the caution that the traffic will harm the killer whales, annoy some of the aboriginal groups (probably the ones that could not be bought off) and cause significant greenhouse gas emissions. Since nobody has figured out a way to provide emergency measures services to the endangered Orcas, you would think this advice alone from the board would come with a negative on the project.

But, no. The NEB obviously made note that the federal government now owns and operates the pipeline and the government can do what it wants anyway. And since this is also the government that appoints the board members, you can assume that they would not bite the hand that feeds them. And, at the same time, it pleased their friends down at the Calgary Petroleum Club. This was a win-win for those guys.

The funniest response was from Alberta premier Rachel Notley. She took a cautiously optimistic approach. She figures it’s an important step, though she did not seem to be rushing to call out the brass bands.

But the federal government still has 90 days to make a final decision. It can take its time. Notley and the tar sands exploiters have spent a great deal of money on the false advertising for their part in the tar sands charade. You would think that with how Notley and her government have stood up for the lies, there would be some payoff. They have cut themselves off from the federal new democrats and crossed the country telling us that ‘bitumen is good for you.’

Despite all her efforts, I hear there will be nothing but bad news for Notley in the election she has to call.

Maybe Justin Trudeau will be even more of a chump. Does he really think his liberals will hold all three seats they now hold in Alberta after the October election?


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Senior civil servant says something silly.

Sunday, February 24th, 2019

The crazies are behind door ‘C’ and we turn them loose at our peril. And it is certainly not the role of Canada’s senior civil servant to open that door. To even suggest that somebody might be shot in this country, in this year of elections, is tantamount to an invitation.

Maybe he had to say something that foolish to get the attention and felt that it was needed in the circumstances. I doubt it.

One of the things that has been bothering Canadians is the growing use of firearms by people totally unequipped to handle them responsibly. The politicians make the appropriate clucks over the problem but never do squat to really address the problems. Nobody who takes hunting seriously takes a large magazine, automatic pistol or assault rifle hunting.

Canadians are damn lucky that their fellow citizens are generally law-abiding and responsible but it takes only one crazy loose with a gun and deaths and crushing injuries can follow.

And never, ever suggest a target. The only place we want people to shoot guns is in a properly laid out and safe firing range.

That being said, I do appreciate how Canada’s Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, was open and blunt in his appearance before the Commons Justice Committee. He is concerned about Canadians losing “faith in the institutions of governance in this country.” And they are.

It should also be said that Michael Wernick’s appearance before the Commons committee went a long way towards clearing some of the confusion caused by events of recent weeks. I feel no shame that I was puzzled by the situation. Lots of very knowledgeable people were having problems digesting this SNC-Lavalin mess and when you realize it took ten years just to reach this state, you wondered if we would ever understand. Hearing Jody Wilson-Raybould’s side of this current confusion might also help.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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When compromise is the problem.

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

Nobody should celebrate too soon about the compromise solution to paying Ontario’s doctors. After more than four years of arguments, back-stabbing and threats, nobody is particularly happy. The three-member arbitration board did not have to find the money, so they could be generous. And they were. The doctors got what they wanted and they can go back to fighting among themselves for the spoils.

But why does it feel like there is still another shoe to drop?

Oh yah, I really do not think that Dougie and the gang at Queen’s Park are going to take this solution lying down. They are hardly about to bleed another few billions into the doctors’ pockets. Do the math for yourself. There are some 23,000 doctors in Ontario set to making a rather generous $12 billion plus per year—requiring almost a quarter of our health care costs.

And you were wondering why Dougie and the gang were putting the screws to families with autistic children? These purported politicians who told you that they were going to save the taxpayers money have been bleeding money since getting into office after that rout of the liberals. Dougie puts the president of partially-public Hydro One on a strict diet and yet pays his friends more than they ask for. And the government is now faced with open-ended payment for the doctors.

We will probably hear from the health minister soon that a new bill is coming to put a cap on doctors’ earnings. That could start another round of arguments with the doctors. And to complicate the situation further, it could cause more rifts between the specialists and the general practitioners. It would almost be a blessing to see the Ontario Medical Association become something of an amoeba and start splitting into multiple versions of itself.

And the politicians thought just one OMA was a problem?


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Who quits for no reason?

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

Being principal secretary to the prime minister is no flunky appointment. It is a position of high trust and higher pay. I have known various people in the role, both liberal and conservative, over the years. From the time that Marc LaLonde kidded some of us insiders that all he wanted to be was an ‘éminence gris’ and his friend Pierre Trudeau asked him to be his principal secretary, to the surprise resignation of Justin Trudeau’s friend Gerald Butts the other day, nobody has made a lasting career of the job.

The difference was that Marc’s experience with the Privy Council Office was invaluable to Pierre Trudeau in penetrating the layers of the government power structure in 1968. It took time, but they wrested the power from the bureaucrats and gave it to the cabinet members.

In selecting Butts as principal secretary, Justin Trudeau had a friend at his back but not much help. Their talents were similar instead of complementary. You are better to have someone in that job who is yin to your yang.

As obvious as it was in the 2015 election, that the troika of Butts, Telford and Trudeau running the liberal campaign were novices, the outcome was easily forecast. It was theirs for the taking. It was a time for change. There were some foolish promises and failed promises.

But the honeymoon is over. The realities of office are more than selfies and fun in the sun. It is time when there were some adult hands at the helm. You cannot be a conservationist and a pipeline owner. You cannot be a feminist and demote a competent woman. You cannot pretend to offer olive branches and try to destroy minor opposition. You cannot just brush off promises made, promises broken.

You cannot turn the liberal party into your personal fund pool and expect them to also man the barricades when you need a ground game. You cannot promise democracy and act as an autocrat.

At a time when we need competent leadership, there is so little from which to choose.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Corporations can be citizens.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

In last Sunday’s Toronto Star there was an interesting juxtaposition of two letters-to-the-editor on the SNC-Lavalin affair. It reminds me of the time I spent over the years lecturing business students at Ontario universities on corporate social responsibility. Despite the assumption by the public that you cannot charge a car for someone’s careless driving, you can certainly charge the manufacturer with liability if the fault is in a manufacturing defect.

Companies are people too, as far as the law is concerned.

And companies can also suffer double jeopardy as they have their own judge and jury when they are found at fault. The company that has just paid a fine or a court ordered recompense, is hardly going to say, “It is just the cost of doing business!” The company’s reputation is an asset and you besmirch it at your peril. I have helped carry boxes of a few careers to the parking lot and have seen how it can be an object lesson for others.

And while baksheesh can be considered a tip, a small gratuity, or a charitable donation in many countries, in large amounts, it is a bribe.

While many think corporations lack a brain, a soul and a moral compass, the truth is they have many. From the night cleaning staff to the chief executive officer, everybody has an investment in their company. And they do not always look favourably on people around them who disrespect the company’s moral compass.

People who invest in shares of companies for their retirement years should always look beyond the public relations department’s hand-outs. How employees think of their company, the rate of turn-over of staff and how their suppliers feel about them tells you far more.

Thinking of another example of corporate social responsibility, I am disappointed that General Motors Corporation has broken faith with William C. Durant’s vision for the company and certainly the deal made with Sam and George McLaughlin when GM bought their company in Oshawa, Ontario and made Buicks and Chevrolets there for the Canadian market. GM gave up more than just market share when it made the decision recently to end a hundred years of Oshawa manufacturing and leave North American production to the U.S. and Mexico. People do not buy your products quite so readily when you disrespect  them.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Potholes on the Yellow Brick Road.

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

It’s the time of year in Canada. The roller-coaster of ice and snow, melting and freezing, leaves even a yellow brick road a minefield of broken and missing bricks. Dorothy and Toto and their three friends have to watch where they step.

With the Cowardly Lion (Justin Trudeau) more familiar with riding on elephants in costume, being transported in the helicopters of rich family friends and the convenience of government jets, he seems more prone to falling into the larger potholes. One of the first to be tripped up, he has fallen into one that could require Quebec’s giant engineering firm of SNC-Lavalin to repair.

It really makes us all wonder at the seeming inability of the prime minister and his wunderkinds of the PMO to handle this current tempest with his former justice minister and, more recently, former veterans’ minister. To stretch the problem this long and to keep feeding us piecemeal snippets of information about the debacle does not seem appropriate to 2019.

The good news/bad news yesterday was the resignation of the prime minister’s principal secretary Gerald Butts. He and the prime minister think alike. They both lack some basic political instincts. Neither understood that the win in 2015 was not theirs. It was a gift from an used up Stephen Harper. Measure Butts’ replacement by his or her political smarts. That is what is needed.

But where is the Scarecrow (Jagmeet Singh)? The poor chap is in the midst of a life and death struggle to take a seat in the House of Commons. He is far from his home grounds of Brampton and at a complete loss to tell you how he is doing. The liberals might as well give him the bum’s rush because the NDP caucus in Ottawa will demand his resignation as leader if he loses in Burnaby South. Oh well, February 25 will tell the tale.

But it is the Tin Woodman (Andrew ‘Chuckles’ Scheer) who is the enigma, who can benefit the most from the confusion of the others. He is but a buffer for the parochial concerns of his friends, Doug Ford in Ontario and Jason Kenney in Alberta. Provided, of course, Jason can defeat ‘Rachel Notley’s party’ in the spring elections in Alberta.

What we are sensing in these early stages is anger and annoyance with all political parties. The Cowardly Lion needs more than to be brave. He needs to learn to be a leader. The Tin Woodman needs more than a heart. He needs to learn to connect with people and offer positive directions.  And the Scarecrow needs more than brains. He needs to realize that his politics have to stand apart from his religion.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Who is running this circus?

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

It is usually best to stay away from political situations that you do not understand. While we have gone around the the rings in this circus a few times, we still do not know much. It really is too bad that we do not have a leader who can explain.

We are talking about SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec-based world-wide engineering firm. When you are doing multi-billion construction jobs, it pays to have a firm such as SNC-Lavalin on board.

All we know is that it has something to do with an incident in Libya ten years ago. The Quebec firm was said to be involved in something illegal back then. It seems that the firm can pay a fine and be forgiven if the federal minister of justice thinks it appropriate. Otherwise, they still pay the fine but they are also cut off from federal contracts for the next ten years because of the conviction. That could destroy the multi-billion-dollar firm by cutting it off from billions in contracts.

The most open politician in this squabble is Quebec premier Legault. He has made it very clear that he wants the firm to be forgiven its indiscretion. He sees nothing wrong with the prime minister’s office telling the justice minister to get in line. And most of the talking heads in Quebec seem to be agreeing as none in that province want to see SNC-Lavalin go under.

The situation is quite different out west where the former justice minister is from. Jody Wilson-Raybould has further complicated things by resigning from cabinet and hiring a senior constitutional lawyer to advise her on the conflicts of interest involved with cabinet ministers and the prime minister’s office.

The prime minister is no longer making nice over the situation and he appears to be as frustrated as everyone else about what is going on. As things stand today, nobody is happy about it. The public is confused. The liberal MPs are closing ranks with the prime minister and the opposition is baying like hounds with a scent. We can only hope that it is just Jody Wilson-Raybould’s ‘new freedom’ perfume!


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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