Archive for February, 2019

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 re 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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The ties of Trump and Toad.

Monday, February 18th, 2019

It is doubtful that American president Donald Trump, has ever bothered to read Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. Published in 1908 in the United Kingdom, it is a book that has delighted children everywhere for more than a century. What would surprise Mr. Trump today is how much he is like Mr. Toad of Toad Hall.

Take this one line from the Wikipedia description of the character: “Toad is intelligent, creative and resourceful; however, he is also narcissistic, self-centred almost to the point of sociopathy, and completely lacking in even the most basic common sense.”

Now, change the name to Trump. Can you tell the difference? Now I know why I often think of Mr. Trump as a big orange toad.

It is not that I particularly care about Mr. Toad or Mr. Trump. In fact, my favourite character in the book was called Mole. I saw him as the more thoughtful of the characters created by Mr. Grahame.

But Mr. Trump really needs a Mole to help him get over the hissy-fit he is having over his damn wall. He has to have someone explain to him that there is no national emergency to be perceived.

You would swear that the damn fool is proud that he shut down the U.S. government for the amount of time he did. He had no concern nor care for the people he hurt in the process. He seems to think he made the point and his claque of clowns approves.

Now that he has declared his emergency, only Trump would create the story that the barbarians are at the southern border of the United States of America plotting to assail the United States to rape and plunder. That statue lighting the way into the New York harbour with her lamp must be weeping while Mr. Trump affronts the entire world.

It can be expected that 100 years from now, American mothers will call on the spectre of a big orange toad to get their children to behave.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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A Corrected Convention.

Sunday, February 17th, 2019

The seven liberal MPPs remaining at Queen’s Park are going to carry a lot of weight in deciding the when and how of the convention to replace Kathleen Wynne as leader of the party. Not only are there possible candidates among them but they will also want to ensure that the process passes the smell test.

The last convention, that chose Wynne, did not. It has to be the last time the old guard will have had control. It has to be the last time the old guard was allowed to make the decision.

And at a time when it is very easy to give the entire membership a vote, it is hard to argue ‘why not.’ We have the membership lists. We can provide members with unique codes for access and we can have live voting across the province. We can also stop people from paying the memberships fees for large blocks of voters. We can have a real ‘One member: one vote’ leadership race.

But the one thing that the new leader must make clear is that a political party in a democracy has to be democratic itself. The party must choose its candidates in the electoral districts without interference from the leader or the central party organization.

The party members must have a full and public say in the policy direction of the party. Party platforms have to be developed in the open. No more surprise announcements by the party leader from somewhere in left or right field.

A political party is not a local service club. It is a cause. It has to be something that people can believe in. Party policy is something that party members need to discuss and get involved in developing. Training members to knock on doors during elections and getting out the vote is a critical part of getting your party’s views and programs understood and supported by the public.

You do not have a real democracy until you put some work into it.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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The Pathetic Pretenders.

Saturday, February 16th, 2019

Gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protestors are a particularly French phenomenon, as French law requires all automobiles be equipped one of those fluorescent vests in case of emergency. It made for a rather colourful, beehive-like mob scenes across France, when the emergency was determined to be the increase in taxes on gasoline and other real or imagined errors of the Macron government. The French do tend to take to the barricades when annoyed with their government.

But that does not suggest that they would want to franchise their form of protest to North Americans. Attempts to emulate the French passion for protest in Canada, have, so far, proved pathetic and immaterial.

The main difference is that the French right and left on the political spectrum can find themselves fending off ‘les flics’ (cops) together. In Canada, the fight would be between the right and left, and the cops would be trying to keep them apart.

Canadians might be better at picking up American themes when looking for a cause. The least successful in this regard were the wannabes in Toronto who picked up the American “Black Lives Matter” name but not the cause and tried to use it on this side of the border. They managed to dishonour what the name means in the U.S.

All they really managed to do here was annoy the local black community and then, ultimately, piss off the police and the Pride parade organizers. They were annoying, self-serving, trouble-makers who needed to find something useful to do.

And while you would expect that the Trump name would not travel well north of the U.S. border, he does have support here. There are the occasional covens that worship him, but so far, they have wisely kept their admiration to themselves.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Friday, February 15th, 2019

Oh, the shame of it. My last contribution to the Liberal Party of Canada was June 16, 2016. And the party has asked me if this is a mistake? Hopefully nobody has told Justin. He would be so disappointed with me.

Luckily, I expect that only the computer knows that I made my last contribution to the party the month after its meeting in Winnipeg that canceled all memberships to the party. I had been faithfully making the same contribution every month but my membership was canceled. We were all supposed to be happy liberal supporters. I disagreed and canceled my payments.

That was a bold move for the guy who did the first fund-raising effort among the party faithful in the 1960s. I remember having 70,000 letters sitting on the boardroom table at the party’s Toronto office ready for mailing in Ontario. The party treasurer stopped in and looked at the huge stacks. He clucked, shook his head and said, “This is not going to work, Peter.” were his kind words.

The truth is my letter did not get much money but it was a start. The party had to become more self-supporting or always be beholden to its corporate benefactors.

Of course, the Internet helped. The ability to beg and plead with hundreds of thousands of people for peanut prices was first realized by the federal conservatives. And their members seem to have more money than liberal supporters. The conservatives either write better begging letters or have richer retainers. Luckily, it does not necessarily translate to votes.

But today’s liberal supporters are no slouches. They seem to respond to the pitiful pleas of the liberal party. They always tell you that a few more loonies from everyone will make all the difference.

I remember one time the president of the party and I were setting up chairs for a meeting. (Somebody has to do it!) We sat down to rest for a minute and he admitted to me that it would be easier for him to just send money but it is getting more and more people involved that helps us get out our vote during elections. I wish he had told Justin Trudeau about that involvement.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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Ford Follies.

Thursday, February 14th, 2019

This entertainment is settling in for a long run. Ontario premier Doug Ford and his ensemble are enjoying their reviews. You cannot help but compare the show to the old 19th Century minstrel shows—without blackened faces, though Doug Ford does seem pleased in playing the role of Mr. Interlocutor.

In this minstrel show, the Ontario cabinet is seated in a row with Mr. Interlocutor in the middle. Each routine is a chance for another member of the troop to do his or her stuff. When the minister of colleges and universities announced cuts in student funding in Ontario, Mr. Interlocutor added that there would be no more crazy Marxist nonsense promoted.

That is the way that these routines run. The minister of health will say that big changes are coming in health care. Doug Ford has already hired his pal Reuben Devlin at $348,000 per year to tell him what those big changes will be.

Ford even tried to hire long-time Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion to tell his minister of municipalities what to do about the housing needs in Ontario. Mind you Hazel, being a wise person, said she would prefer to do it for free. At 97, Hazel has stopped saving money for her old age. And then, when she thought a little further about it, she decided she did not have the time. (There is a lot of humour in these minstrel shows.)

The funniest routine that the show came up with last week was the announcement by environment minister Rod Phillips that the province intended to give taxpayers’ money to the polluters to get them to try to stop their polluting ways. Even Doug Ford could not top that one.

Mind you, the environmental stuff is a rolling situation. Phillips changed his mind and is now saying polluters will pay but not as much as the federal government wants. Ontario will now have a carbon tax but want to call it something else because they are still suing the federal government over the carbon tax.

But I am going to have to stop this comparison to minstrel shows. It will get me in trouble.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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‘Chuckles’ checks campaign conditions.

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

With the new democratic leader Jagmeet Singh tied up in a do-or-die by-election in Vancouver and the prime minister under steady fire on the SNC-Lavalin debacle, the conservative leader is out testing fault-lines for the coming election in the Fall. While Andrew ‘Chuckles’ Scheer is not particularly glib, he seems to have hired some better writers.

In a test flight of fancy in Fredericton the other night, he got off the line that a liberal carbon tax is “a tax on commuters and a free pass for polluters.” For pure, lyrical political B.S., you have to put a mark on the wall for ‘Chuckles’ on that one.

The liberal plan, as this writer understands it, is that the federal government is collecting money from people who make carbon producing products such as gas for your automobile and they will give you a credit on your income tax for your share of this bonanza. Of course, Imperial Oil et al will promptly charge the bill from the government to you at the gas pump. If you are lucky, the government gives you your money back.

This money that has gone on the merry-go-round of carbon tax to taxpayers’ dividend will also improve the volumes and velocity of the money supply. Economists like to analyze things like that.

Mind you, ‘Chuckles’ says that job number one, if he ends up in the prime minister’s office, is to cancel such carbon pricing. For some reason, he thinks it is an imposition on “hard-working families.”

It was at this point that he gave a shout-out to New Brunswick’s new conservative premier Blaine Higgs, who was in the audience. He welcomed the premier to the good fight against carbon taxes.

‘Chuckles’ also tried a few lines on Trudeau and the new NAFTA. Other than failing the dairy farmers, it was not all that clear what he was complaining about. He needs to work on that one. Maybe one of his aides could read both versions for him and tell him what has changed.

It was a good start for ‘Chuckles’ in New Brunswick. He has no MPs from the province in his caucus and prospects are not that great for this Fall. He started there because he needs the practice.


Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

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