Archive for March, 2020

Dougie dumbs it down.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

You get the impression that our Ontario premier goes to the office each day hoping to find new things to screw up for Ontario residents. Despite the tantrum he threw the other day over a high-priced grocery store overcharging for sanitary wipes, I never get the impression that he is on our side. He is not.

I do not believe of making lists of peoples’ failings and in Doug Ford’s case I have probably forgotten half of them anyway. I think the reason is the lack of logic in what he and his troop of clowns decide to tackle. For some reason, he had taken aim at price gouging this past week.

It was Dougie’s ‘whim of the week.’ He is proposing fines of as much as a $100,000 for price-gouging convictions and up to a year in jail. If he could go after a federally incorporated company such as Bell Canada, I would settle for just the board of Bell going to jail for a year. Bell just raised the price of already over-priced Internet services by another $7 a month. Add that up for close to three million customers and you are talking about a billion dollars in annual cash flow. Bell could pay a $100,000 fine from petty cash.

But the most serious problem is that Dougie and the rest of his troop do not think things through. The gang heard that some people might be stock piling their meds. The government’s solution was to stupidly cut back on certain meds that are for long-term conditions such as with heart and diabetes. These drugs are usually supplied on a three-month schedule. I really doubt anyone would over-dose on any of them. There is certainly no black market for them. Nor are they in danger of being in short supply. All this incompetent government did was increase the costs for private drug plans and seniors. Instead of one co-pay for these prescriptions every three months, we now have to pay the co-pay three times. I really do not think my local Shoppers Drug Mart needs that extra $12 per prescription every three months from seniors!


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Checking with the Cuckoo Clock.

Monday, March 30th, 2020

We have a pattern emerging. Every day at 11 am Eastern, we are now tuning into a news channel or live streaming CPAC on the Internet. The opening shot, is of the front door of Rideau Cottage, on the grounds of Rideau Hall in Ottawa. There is often a wait but the news channels are filling the time with related news about covid-19. We are waiting for the prime minister to pop out of the cottage door to provide us with an update on Canada’s war with the coronavirus.

It is somewhat similar to the news media practice in England of setting up at 10 Downing Street in London for announcements from the prime minister of the United Kingdom. I like to think of it as sort of ‘the mother of all cuckoo clocks.’

Mind you, my wife has taken umbrage at what she considers my rude reference to our prime minister. She is quite in agreement if I choose to suggest Boris Johnson is a cuckoo. As all we have is each other in this time of isolation, I think I will acquiesce.

Besides, in discussing the prime minister’s performance over lunch, she asked me to rate his performance on a scale of one to ten. I gave him an eight. He stuck to the script during his prepared remarks and there was far less grunting as he thought about his words in answer to reporters’ questions.

We were particularly impressed when his remarks were directed to Canadian children. Only a caring father would think of that. It reminded me of the times when there were arguments with his father, Pierre Trudeau, about including some remarks about his children when addressing the Canadian public. He kept his children private. A different era, I guess.

Pierre did allow his children to be included on his Christmas card. When she first met Justin, my wife was telling him about her collection of Trudeau family cards that showed him and his brothers growing up. He had his staff add her to his Christmas card list. At least Pierre sent them to both of us.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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An idea that’s time has come.

Sunday, March 29th, 2020

It has been hard to be one of the few writers harping on the need for a Canadian universal income program. This past week, we got some support in the person of Mike Schreiner, leader of the Ontario green party, and Jo-Ann Roberts interim leader of the federal greens. They drew up a simple little opinion piece for the Toronto Star lauding the concept.

But where were the leaders of the new democrats? Are they unable to get any ink these days? Have the new democrats decided that universality is for peasants? Are they on Bill Morneau’s ‘save the one per cent’s wealth and the trickle down will follow’ bandwagon?

To be fair, I listened to the federal finance minister carefully when they were streaming the media conference with the cabinet luminaries early in the week. I got the feeling from what he was saying (more than doing) was that he did not believe there was a really an effective way to reach all the Canadians in need of support. Anyone who thinks our retail banks can help is suffering from myopia anyway.

What the banks can do is give every person access to a bank account. They have got to stop sending indigents to cheque-cashing store fronts.

I believe that there are fair-minded conservatives and many more liberal-minded Canadians who understand that a universal income program would save a great deal of money that is now spend on inadequate and wasteful support programs.

And there will also be a small percentage of recipients of these funds who will need what is recognized in some courts as a McKenzie Friend to provide advice and assistance in managing their stipend.

But the essential point, as stated in the green party commentary, is that “Our social safety net has been broken for a long time and the covid-19 crisis has only exposed the gaps in our income support programs.” Employment insurance cannot fix it. Payments starting in April are too late. We have to get money to those who need it immediately. And if we can get the wrinkles out of the program, we should keep it.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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A professional is on the job.

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Kirsten Hillman of Global Affaires Canada has been appointed Canada’s ambassador to the United States of America. She has been in the job in an acting capacity since the departure of political appointee David MacNaughton to take part in the federal election last year. It is certainly a time when we need a professional diplomat on the job.

While Canada has always tended to have a political person in the hyper-intense political environment of Washington, Donald Trump in the presidency has changed that. He leaves those with just some political expertise lost and in the dark. He is not a political animal. He might be a lot of things, but he is no politician. The last three years have been a learning experience for all of us.

The appointment of Hillman as deputy ambassador in 2017 was in recognition of her expertise in international trade agreements. She was our general in the battles over NAFTA 2. While Canada’s foreign affairs was Chrystia Freeland’s bailiwick at the time, Hillman must have been the source of much of the strategy.

As a professional diplomat Hillman must spend hours in Washington just making sure she is retaining her cool visage. She can probably run rings around Trump’s ambassadors to Canada. Both the first appointee, Kelly Craft, and the more recent appointee, Aldona Wos, are best noted for the large amounts they (or a husband) donated to the Trump and republican party campaigns.

These ‘bought and paid for’ ambassadorships go back a long way in American history and the Americans have been roundly criticized for it over the years. I remember back in the mid 1970s the former Hollywood child star Shirley Temple Black had been appointed ambassador to Ghana by president Gerald Ford. The Ghana leadership felt insulted by the appointment. My wife and I met Shirley at a conference in Spain during that time and it was very obvious that she was not happy in that posting. I think she reached her ideal in political appointments for Foggy Bottom later when she was, briefly, chief of protocol for the United States.

But what can you say for a person who reached the peak of her career when she was eight-years old?


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Can a conman cure a coronavirus?

Friday, March 27th, 2020

U.S. president Donald Trump is impatient with the progress in curing covid-19. As a perpetual con artist, he will grasp at any straw as a solution. It is his nature. It is what also makes him a continuing pain in the ass in politics.

Trump is deluding his followers and nobody else listens to him. He has a feeling for a random solution—when the World Health Organization is showing 465 studies in process in reputable hospitals and universities around the world. He wants the solution to be found in America. Does he want his country to profit from the solution? The rest of the world could care less who comes up with the solution. Just do it!

And the Donald thinks the solution to covid-19 will be found by Easter?

Even if we found the answer today, we could not have the first plant manufacturing the serum ramped up to full production before the end of April. And then ‘boys and girls,’ you can be out playing together in the sunshine?

The only good news in that scenario would be that we could have Mr. Trump out of office and a new U.S. president inaugurated as soon as next January.

But turn the tables and consider the problems if we have not solved covid-19 by November? The democratic convention could be no problem. All the voting and hoopla can be live streamed into the computers and TVs of the nation. There is no need for any democrats to meet face to face.

But Americans would be left with the problem of Donald Trump. If we have not reached the turn-around on the pandemic by then, the silly bugger might think he has to cancel the election. Ponder that!


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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It’s time to make lemonade.

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

You know the old saw: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. We can all wonder at the colossal stupidity of the republicans in the American congress who fought to ensure that American business gets the bulk of federal government support funds during the covid-19 pandemic. Even in Canada, more than half of the support funds from the federal government are in support of the banks and big business. The primal instincts of bankers and business is to fight for their business survival. Employees, customers and the public are much lower on the totem.

But one thing we can consider guaranteed in all of this is that banks and big business are not the battleground of a pandemic. They might need repairs but they are not broken yet. This is the kind of fight that battlefield logisticians dread. This is fighting street by street, house by house and the enemy wears no distinguishing uniform. It is a battle when, in the middle ages, they sent wagons down the streets calling: “Bring out your dead.”

Our battle is being fought by the medical corps. Give them the cheque book of government. Kill the disease, cure the people. And do it as fast as humanly possible.

It came as a surprise the other day when Ontario’s chief Grinch, premier Ford, announced the availability of $200 million to Ontario’s municipalities to support food banks and other community support services for those in need. Mr. Ford has obviously been listening to people who understand the problems we are facing.

But do not forget that this is the guy who cancelled the liberals attempt at proving that guaranteed incomes can work for us all. It is the federal government that needs to take this opportunity to create a guaranteed income system for all Canadians.

Every citizen and newcomer to this country needs to receive a realistic basic income. If you are earning more than that, the basic fund will simply be taxed back to the government. It is a system that makes sure than nobody is missed. It will amaze people when they realize how much money the system can save us.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Measuring social separation.

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

We should all applaud the ingenuity of cashiers and others in their efforts to maintain social separation at this difficult time.

The prize for the most ingenious solution should go to a clerk in an Ontario Beer Store. (Yes, that’s what we call them here: The Beer Store.) Frankly, not one of these 450 or so stores in Ontario will ever win a design award. This is a recently built store and they actually have one cash directly behind another. The clerk was standing at the first cash directing customers to the second cash. There were lines on the floor there that were two metres apart going all the way back into the refrigerated warehouse, where you had (hopefully?) found your beer. The clerk had rigged a cardboard tray on a pulley system so that he could operate the first cash while serving the customer at the second cash—payment by credit or debit card only.

I think this is the hardest part of the covid-19 pandemic. Canadians do not trust their plastic five, ten, twenty and fifty-dollar bills to be free of the virus. It is just that when our circulated 100-dollar bills often test positive for traces of cocaine, it is no wonder we are suspicious.

But how can a business refuse to accept cash for what is normally a cash transaction? They always used to be delighted with cash. It lacks the stigma of the charges for using cards. Even if you have to dip the bills in a disinfectant, the savings are worth it.

And what is the big deal with returns? Nobody wants returns anymore. Even the Beer Store tells you to keep your booze bottles and cans until some unknown date. And all other stores are also telling you to keep your returns until some unknown date in the future. My wife, who spends almost as much time on returning as she does on shopping, is going to crowd us out of our home, if this lasts too long.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Welcome to our Downton Abbey.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

In reliving the period from before the First World War to the mid 1920s, the television series Downton Abbey was often criticized for not being more critical of the pomp and puffery of the British class system, of the time. Instead, the series showed the interdependence of the classes in artificially sustaining the declining class system. I think there is a similar class schism becoming apparent in North American society during the current coronavirus concern.

And yes, there is a class structure in North America of the 21st Century. I am no anthropologist, but a lecture I sat through as a very young person, has stuck with me all my life. The lecturer had colored charts to show the gradual movement of upper-class Torontonians over the years since Confederation. With today’s more ethnically split upper class, there would have to be more colors used in the charts.

But it is the many pockets in the Greater Toronto Area of desperation and impoverishment, that need our attention. And just think of the conditions in the city without those disappearing pockets? How often have you actually looked at that clerk completing your store transaction? That person probably works for our disgusting minimum wage. Do you know who the person is who empties your waste basket at work? When was the last time you really looked at the people doing the menial work that keeps our modern society from drowning in its own waste?

And has it ever been more important to recognize those people cleaning our hospitals and public spaces? We have to start caring. We have to be concerned. We are not all sitting around at home, bored out of our minds. Who is keeping the food stuffs moving? Who is growing the food? Who are the people keeping the lights on? Our phones and Internet working? We have a long way to go before the robots take over.

In the Downton Abbey series, we saw how the people below stairs supported those above, and vice-versa. When later anthropologists speak of our generations’ one per cent, will they be as kind to them?


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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In my humble opinion.

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

What the hell does a commentator comment on when the world’s news media (in English anyway) are totally committed to telling us, ad nauseum, about the world’s trials with a coronavirus and the results of covid-19?   Is there a message of hope among all these horrendous statistics? Like the plagues of the Middle Ages, the pandemic knows no barriers of money, or prayers, or position.

Should we soldier on, giving hope and encouragement to our leaders and the front-line medics who are struggling with the virus? There seems to be no glimmer of light yet at the end of the tunnel. If we think this will end soon, we might have other delusions as well. Check with Mr. Trump in Washington. He even lies to himself.

For myself, I am not making plans for a summer holiday this year. I just might have time in the coming months for some of those thick political biographies that I have always promised myself to read.

And my brothers in the U.S., who are American citizens, had better stay healthy. Not only have our governments closed the border to non-essential travel but I have let my Canadian passport expire.

I am having trouble practicing social distancing in my apartment building. We can call out from doorway to doorway and then we can crowd together into a tiny elevator. We are supposed to go down to the front door for all our deliveries but I have not told our self-appointed people policing this policy that the Toronto Star is delivered to my door every day before 5 am.

I think the real problem of this pandemic is that we are in danger of losing the closeness and the caring of those who live in proximity to us. Being a good neighbour is a precious gift that we share everyday. We cannot let fear drive us apart. Whether on our street, our cities or our countries, we need to continue being a good neighbour.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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Leadership is in the eyes of the followers.

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star wrote an opinion piece last week that commented on Doug Ford of Ontario looking “downright ‘leaderly’.” I rarely argue with Hepburn, but in this case, I sense some wishful thinking. True, Ford is running a notch or two ahead of Trump but nobody ever saw that as a high bar.

I don’t think anyone convinced Ford of anything. I think they simply scared him into acting the way he is. He didn’t need a visit from Marley’s ghost to warn him of the coming visitations. He simply left behind the childish traits of bluster and braggadocio that have been his trademark in politics. It was time to act grown up.

I must have seen some of the same news clips as Mr. Hepburn. I agree that Ford acted as he believed a real leader might. None of the usual bombast was a treat in itself. The guy felt he had to stick with the prepared script. He has no ad libs for a coronavirus.

Let’s face it, Doug Ford is no Donald Trump. He is not rich enough. He is not a good enough con man. He does not have as much ego. He got much of his political training from his late brother Rob. As mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford knew how to pull the mantle over himself for the rough spots. Their mother was watching.

But when he got to Queen’s Park and the corner office, Doug had no idea how to act. His bluster was real. He really did not know what he was doing. He launched a vendetta against anything those liberals had done and got himself in lots of trouble. He fired and hired and made a mess of it. He cut budgets he should not have and missed the low-hanging fruit. He thought he could look like the big-man on campus and made himself look stupid.

And he is probably not any smarter today. He has not learned much but he might not be as easy to catch. We will watch him.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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