Archive for April, 2020

Some people never learn.

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Writing about the ministry of education in Ontario yesterday reminded me of the time in the early 1980s when I complained, loudly, that Dr. Bette Stephenson, then minister of education, was out of her depth talking about computers. Nobody would have noticed if I had not said it on the CBC evening news. As a frequent spokesperson for the Canadian computer industry, I should not have said her announcement of the Icon class-room computer was ridiculous. It was almost ten years before the ministry of education would agree with me.

The point I was trying to make at the time was that computers keep evolving, software is changing for the better (maybe) and different types of platforms are being introduced. It is not just Mac and Windows anymore.

I thought an amusing article in the Toronto Star by a harassed mother of three youngsters said it all yesterday when she found that three children in different grades need three different computers. The headline noted that she may chuck the Chromebook out the window. She found out what I was trying to tell the late Bette Stephenson, 40 years ago, the hard way.

It was why I laughed at the current minister when he first talked about computer-assisted education for Ontario students. I had a computer terminal in our kids’ playroom for a couple years around 1979-80 and I showed them how to access the General Education Development (GED) programs on it. I wanted to see how they reacted to the learning programs. They had little interest in the learning but quickly found the games. By the time he was 12, my son was already a backgammon wiz.

Developing computer-assisted learning is a very complicated marriage of computer expertise and teaching skills. It has to capture the interest of the student. It requires extensive testing and it has to be kept up to date. If you think it will save the ministry money, you have more to learn than the students.

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Give Ford the credit he deserves.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

Premier Doug Ford of Ontario had two choices. He could continue the bombast and bluff of his usual approach to politics, or he could learn from his mistakes and tone down the rhetoric. His new approach is far from perfect but it shows that unlike his first year as premier, he can learn. It is good to see, but is it a smoke screen or reform?

In the provincial briefings that he learned to do from Justin Trudeau, you get the feeling that he would prefer to do the act as a single. Maybe it was from watching Trudeau that he realized he had neither the glibness nor the experience. He always has some experienced political people at those briefings, to try to keep him out of trouble.

It was like the experience with the teachers. When Lisa Thompson MPP fumbled the 25-plus billion education budget in Ontario, she was just doing what she was told. She was told to save money. Thompson followed her conservative instincts, fired teachers and increased class sizes.

But what neither Thompson nor Ford seemed to understand was that it was the teachers and their unions that had been keeping the liberals in power until the 2018 election. They had awoken a sleeping giant. They reminded the teachers’ unions of their strengths. The unions savaged Thompson. They drew more attention to the Ford government’s ineptness in power.

Ford had to bring in the A-team. He had kept the smooth-talking Stephen Lecce, a young conservative who was trained by auto dealer Al Palladini and impressed Stephen Harper, in reserve.

When Lecce, in his sharp suits and sophisticated tonsorial style, appeared to settle down the teachers, the battle was joined. To Doug Ford’s disappointment, the battle was won by the teachers. Lecce, in a creased suit and badly in need of a barber has signed armistices with the major teachers’ unions.

But it was minor news compared to the pandemic. That is the ongoing battle that consumes us all. Doug Ford has learned some lessons. It will be interesting to see if he remembers them after Ontario gets back to work.

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

It’s all about politics.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

There was a suggestion in the news the other day that few of us are interested in politics at this time. The assumption was that the coronavirus has chased politics out of the driver’s seat of the daily news. In my humble opinion, that is just so much twaddle. The coronavirus was not sent our way by all-powerful gods. We ended up in this mess because somewhere, some politicians screwed up.

The most reliable reports, at this time, are that the politicians in charge in Wuhan City of China were afraid to bother the top dog politicians in Beijing. They became concerned about an unusual flu that was going around. And then things got out of hand, like people dying. You know what happened when the bosses in Beijing found out.

Nobody wanted to hear the news from the world health folks either. When they declared the novel coronavirus to be a pandemic, nobody had any reason to be happy—unless they had a stockpile of personal protective equipment.

Somebody had let the disease dogs out.

To make matters worse, it was all run by the politicians. Some smart politicians listened to the advice of their medical experts and acted accordingly. Some did not like what their medical people told them and twitted their frustrations. That guy in the American white house, told us it was just a passing fancy. It would go away. The mess in the United States today can be laid at the feet of this man who nobody thinks of as a politician.

People such as Captain Canada, in the person of Justin Trudeau, saw a need for leadership. Despite his minority federal government, the prime minister drew the provincial premiers into his magic circle. What the news media see as political unanimity, you should know it for what it is: political opportunity. If our prime minister could just get a haircut, the world would return to normal.

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Making a stand, in Dixie.

Monday, April 27th, 2020

It is only appropriate. If any music is right for the coronavirus in the United States, it is Dixie. In the American Civil War, Dixie was the song of defiance and it took many from the American South to a needless and untimely death.

This came to mind the other day while trying to decipher one of those complex graphs in The Economist that was being used to try to explain the pattern of occurrences and rates of death from covid-19 across the United States of America. (This was in the North American edition of the British journal.)

Giving up on the confused graph, the real shock of the story, for me, was the comment in the last paragraph of the article that the states of Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee were relaxing their lock-down restrictions. Those rednecks in the heart of Dixie have probably had enough of governments telling them what to do and have decided to take things into their own hands.

The point of the Economist article was that the mortality rate for covid-19 was much higher in areas of higher heart disease and diabetes and with fewer hospitals equipped with intensive care units. That is a good description of that part of Appalachia.

The article also noted that the disease is also more prevalent in places where people are crowded together, such as in New York City. The difference is that in New York, there are good hospitals and a willing population that supports a governor who took the reins and knows what he is doing. Those factors can contribute to a lower death rate.

But we have been seeing on the news how the citizens of many of the southern states have been becoming more and more dissatisfied with restrictions forced on the population because of covid-19.

It is really a shame that the United States lacks effective national leadership in this time of crisis.

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Ontario NDP: A party of survivors.

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

If you came to Ontario recently, you would have a problem figuring out what goes on at the provincial parliament at Queen’s Park. With that big blowhard who seems to be running things, this seems to be a one-party government. And you are even more convinced when you are told that the Pollyanna with the dimples is leader of the opposition.

This is Andrea Horwath’s eleventh year as leader of the Ontario new democratic party and everyone seems to wonder why? It is because she is not a leader. At best, you can say she is a survivor.

It was in the 2018 provincial election that the incumbent premier, liberal Kathleen Wynne, disgraced herself and her party by resigning before the election was over. It not only allowed Doug Ford and the conservatives to win a majority government but it left the new democrats as official opposition.

And it should be clarified that the NDP did not win the right to be the official opposition. They got the position by default. This was an election where nobody won. It was an election where everybody lost. And the voters lost the most. They were not all that sure what they were voting for. They were only sure as to who they were voting against.

It hardly helped the liberals that premier Wynne ran a campaign of seemingly more and more spending while lacking a rational reason for the voters to consider the party. The conservatives ran a consistent attack campaign on the liberals with promises of lower costs for gasoline, hydro and the unusual promise of $1 beer. When they actually carried out those promises, few noticed.

The first year and a half of the conservative government became chaotic as the government tried to lower expenditures on education, for example, by reducing the number of teachers and increasing class sizes. The biggest problem though was that they were picking on people who were willing to fight back. There was turmoil and there was only a small voice from the leader of the opposition. Nobody paid much attention to her.

And now we have a pandemic for the Ontario government to fight. Who needs an opposition at that time?

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Justin’s magic bag of money.

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

Watching the daily news conference by the prime minister the other morning, I lost track of how much money he was promising. No doubt our news media people are keeping track. I was struck by the similarity to an election campaign without the opposition critics jumping on every announcement—to either better the offer or denounce it. It was as though the prime minister had a magic bag of money from which to draw the funds to solve all our problems.

This particular day was promises for our university students to keep them going through a summer when jobs will be scarce. The amounts were not all that generous, but by the time he had finished, some $9 billion had been lavished on Canada’s students.

As with all the aggressive spending to compensate people for the ravages of the coronavirus, there was the provision that the amounts had to be approved by parliament. Whether the opposition in the house of commons would suggest less than the government offered would be quite unlikely.

As it is, the government is constantly discovering people who have been missed by this program or that. The solution has been to simply add these people to the program and to worry later if the payment was really warranted.

This ‘by guess or by golly’ attitude is particularly applicable to the emergency response benefit package. Run through the Canada revenue agency, this is a very generous package. If you lost your job or even a potential job because of the coronavirus, you can apply for $500 per week for up to 16 weeks. To catch up with the program, this past week, people were receiving cheques for as much as $2000.

This just happens to be the amount that people who support the idea of a guaranteed minimum wage, think should be the starting amount for a national guaranteed minimum income program.

There is lots more money in Justin’s magic bag. At the end of his answering questions he was asked about what he intended to do for seniors. He said that is still to come!

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Blame Alberta’s Jason Kenney.

Friday, April 24th, 2020

You would think that one of these days, the people of Alberta are going to catch on to their premier Jason Kenney. Those of us who consider him something of a snake have known about it for years. We watched him in Ottawa. We watched him when he returned to Alberta. He is smart. He knows what he is doing. He looks after one person, himself.

But when the price of beef—if you can find any—goes out of sight in the coming weeks; blame Jason Kenney.

While covid-19 cases run rampant through Alberta long-term care facilities in the coming weeks; blame Jason Kenney. When workers, flown into the province to work at tar sands extraction plants take home covid-19, blame Jason Kenney.

Kenney was former prime minister Stephen Harper’s go-to guy. He was supposed to keep the Harper dynasty in power. He showed conservatives how to use ethnic groups for their own ends. He showed the party how to manipulate them. Patrick Brown of Barrie was one of his acolytes. He gave Brown the Indian Sub-Continent. He gave Brown the key to the Ontario conservative party.

But the Harper conservatives met their Waterloo. Not even Kenney could keep his party in power. He tucked his tail between his legs and went home to Alberta. There he struck a deal with the Devil to unite the right wing in Alberta. He proved himself an user and a chauvinist, a schemer, a manipulator and duplicitous. It was what he needed to get the job done.

And now where is the real Jason Kenney? He is sitting in the premier’s chair in Edmonton. He has driven his chosen province into the triple threat of the coronavirus, the world-wide crashing of the oil industry and conservative mismanagement of the province’s remaining economy. We wish our friends in Alberta well. They did not deserve this combination of ills.

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

What Jinping, Putin, Trump have in common.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

Why are we surprised if American president Trump wants to be named president for life? The man hardly wants less than his counterparts, Xi Jinping, president for life of China, Vladimir Putin, president for life of Russia. They are men of enormous egos. They live in make-believe worlds, where all pay obeisance to them. They are commanders-in-chief of powerful, subservient armies. Who questions their actions?

Was the constitution of the People’s Republic of China a problem for Xi Jinping? Did anyone say ‘No’? Some troublemakers in Russia have ended up dead or in jail after questioning Vladimir Putin’s motives. Who else might want to say ‘No’? Donald Trump can probably achieve the same ends through executive orders. Who would deny him?

But then, who would be surprised at a few more pandemic deaths in America, the world’s hot spot for the coronavirus? With more than 40,000 covid-19 deaths across the United States, who will wonder about a few more?

Mind you, the governors who are organizing to combat covid-19 could be a problem. They have to be kept busy and not paying attention to what Trump’s people are doing in preparing for the November polls. If you want to be president for life, you have to get more momentum going in your vote. That can be done by having two things happen. One can be making sure all your voters get to the polls. Second, you make sure your opponents’ voters do not get to the polls. It is that simple.

Whatever Trump does do about the election this November, you can count on it being something simple. He is not a complicated thinker.

Nor are the Trump supporters. If you ever want to watch a group of people who should not be allowed behind the wheel of a pick-up, it is those people in red baseball caps saying “Make America Great Again.”

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Is Chuckles shooting blanks?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

The lame duck conservative leader and leader of the opposition in parliament, Andrew Scheer, has a problem. Is nobody paying him any attention? Is it that difficult for him to squeeze past all the articles about the coronavirus and covid-19? Is the pandemic more important?

The answer to all three questions is ‘Yes.’

A lame duck leader, who is nothing but a place holder, until the party choses his replacement, is often ignored. Remember. he resigned to escape the ignominy of being voted out of office by the conservative party. It was the right thing to do. He should have known that the media would no longer come running to hear his words of wisdom.

And the current pandemic makes his situation even more difficult. Scheer’s comfort area is the house of commons. He knows this turf. He has had his best years there as an MP, as speaker and as leader of the opposition in parliament. He wants to keep this alive.

But in a pandemic, parliament is but a shadow of itself. Social spacing would force parliament to be a parliament of about 30 representatives of the people at a time. The other 308 members would be anxiously awaiting their turn.

And arranging for a virtual parliament with connections for all MPs is not an easy matter. Until adequate telecommunications can be made available for all members, some remote MPs would have to come into larger population centres to participate, until the high-speed, two-way connections can be completed in their ridings. Even then the management of sight and sound connections for more than 300 individuals, in isolation from each other, is a monumental task. It would require hundreds of technicians across the country and several hundred more in Ottawa. And do not forget that the parties have to be able to hold private caucuses.

Our parliamentarians are already learning from virtual committee meetings. No doubt they will be ready for a virtual parliament by the time the coronavirus has run its course.

And as for Chuckles, he is the forgotten man.

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

In a half-full Canada.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

How many attractive countries are there to help alleviate the overcrowding, the poverty and the tensions of so many countries of this world? And of one of the more desirable outlets is Canada. The truth is that Canada needs at least three times its present population.

In the next 60 to 80 years, Canada needs to aggressively bring to our shores those who can adopt our freedoms, appreciate our rights and grow and prosper in a dynamic and progressive country. We need these people to claim and utilize our northern lands. We need their enterprise and imagination. We need new technologies and high-speed, green transportation.

We have the resources. We have the will. We can no longer hold our position in the world as a land half-full.

If we are going to keep our claim to those islands of the Arctic Circle, we need to use them. We need land access to the mineral wealth of our north. It could be a case of use it or lose it.

We hardly need military might to prove our claims, we need our people to be there. We need their loyalties.

Thinking back to a hearing on Canada’s constitution by MPs and senators in the early 1990s, I remember hearing from a person who had obviously been a citizen for just a short while. The gentleman was telling the parliamentarians of what Canada had done for him. He was an emotional person and he spoke from the heart. There were tears rolling down the man’s face as he told them what being Canadian meant to him. It was not easy for this man and his family. For in learning about their new country, there was much to unlearn from the old. It was not an easy experience for them.

But he saw the future for his children and their children. Maybe in those future generations, some would be taking this wonderful country for granted. Others might be looking south for the warmer climate. Yet, it is those who recognize the challenges, who will build Canada’s future greatness.

-30-

Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me