Archive for the ‘Federal Politics’ Category

What comes ‘AFTA’ NAFTA?

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

Back in the first round of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiations, it was Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who caved in to the American negotiators. In this upcoming go-around, our Canadian negotiators have to show a great deal more backbone. We also have to have a game plan in place just in case Donald Trump’s negotiators take their ball and bat and go home.

Mind you, Donald Trump facing the combined fury of North American automobile manufactures would probably allow a grandfathering of that sector. We can assume that the older Auto Pact would survive.

But from there the future is less clear. Replacing as much as $400 billion in non-automotive, two-way trade with the United States would be a gut wrenching experience. A tariff war would be for losers and more serious than the Mexican wall.

The beneficiaries of no NAFTA would be China and Europe. China has already surpassed Canada to become the American’s number one trading partner. The only problem is that to channel U.S.-bound goods from Canada through China adds heavy shipping costs and serious price increases.

Just maybe, before things get too far off the rails, someone has to convince Donald Trump that he will be beggaring his own base if he loses NAFTA. There would have to be a transitional period to soften the economic blow but there seems no way Trump could win a second term at the White House in the face of such a stupid move.

His ‘show and tell’ for his base the other day when he was showing off a fire truck for the kids in all of us, missed making the point. This seems to be a foolish negotiation in which he has given away his objectives while the Canadians and Mexicans have been sitting back saying little. The opposition parties in Ottawa have been demanding that Trudeau and Company say what their objectives are—which would be stupid given the circumstances,

Of course, Canada will stand its ground on Trump’s demands on softwood lumber. We have already won that case more than once. And we are not about to give up an adjudication process that seems to work.

The Harper government was willing to turn on Quebec and weaken our supply management for the Europeans but we would be crazy to do it for the Americans. What would be the point of beggaring our dairy industry the same way the Americans are destroying theirs?

If it all ends up as the status quo, is that a win?


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Our Prime Minister grunts.

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Despite teaching public speaking, I occasionally took someone else’s course on public speaking just to make sure I was not slipping into bad speaking habits. We are all guilty of that. And teachers can be the harshest critics. You can include a former school teacher in that: The Prime Minister of Canada.

The first time I saw the newly elected Justin Trudeau MP in action with an audience, it was obvious he would go to the top job with ease. He was relaxed and enjoyed the interaction with his audience. He had a well memorized speech for them and I cannot remember a single word in it. It was personable, socially acceptable, politically somewhat neutral, feminist friendly and not overly critical of other politicians. The person thanking him was more political but for some reason the microphone started to act up for her and the thanks became meaningless and garbled.

But what impressed me the most is that he wanted to be sure that every person in that room had an opportunity to have a picture with him. He did not give much importance to the words being spoken. He was counting on his presence to do the job.

And here I thought only royalty were allowed to think that way.

But today, people are listening to him.

And that is not good because Justin Trudeau grunts. In this case the grunt comes out of his mouth as an “Ah.” This is a quirk of people who are thinking about what they intend to say next and are afraid of dead air. The “Ah” is drawn out to accommodate the thinking time needed. It becomes irritating.

You would have to get him to listen to a recording of his speech for him to realize what he is doing.

Luckily, when he is using a teleprompter, he does not have to grunt. There is no “Ah’ for him to read and he has little need to think ahead.

Where the grunts are most evident is in the House of Commons when he is answering the opposition and when answering media questions. He starts to talk before he has decided how to answer the question. He needs some remedial public speaking training.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The art of changing minds.

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Author and columnist Susan Delacourt asked her readers last week in a Toronto Star column to help her understand how views can be shifted in politics. Having observed this phenomenon in politics for many years, I can only assume that Susan is contemplating another book.

Back when I was teaching executive classes in public speaking, I would spend at least a couple of hours of class time in discussion of a classic speech. It is the funeral oration for Julius Caesar by Marc Antony as written by William Shakespeare. What we had the class discussing was the art of changing minds. Somewhere in my files is a carefully annotated copy of Shakespeare’s speech with analysis of how every sentence contributes to the process.

It starts with getting attention and identifying with your audience. If you cannot get them to listen, you have little hope of convincing anyone.

Once the attention is gained, you have to take your audience on a journey. In this journey, you always have one foot firmly planted in the past while the other proceeds into the future. Bearing that in mind, you never step too far. Changing minds is not a short journey.

In trying to think of a recent speech that changed my mind, I would suggest that reporters such as Delacourt could take another look at Chrystia Freeland’s recent speech to the House of Commons. It was certainly different enough in intent and content that it deserved far better treatment than the scathing outrage of Sun Media.

I feel now that I might have been careless in writing off Freeland in the foreign affairs portfolio. What the Sun called a gutless attack on Trump was, in effect, necessary diplomacy. I was also struck by the fact such a major speech was made in the House. Neither the prime minister nor our national defence minister could have been as effective. And when you consider the constant embarrassment inflicted on Canadians in foreign affairs under the previous government, Freeland deserved a standing ovation.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Who’s congratulating Trudeau?

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Stephen Harper’s PMO had a revolving door for communications people, so it is not too surprising if we do not remember one of them. This is in reference to an op-ed in the Toronto Star last week by someone named ‘MacDougall.’ What was noticeable about the article was that he claims to be a Tory and was congratulating the Liberal prime minister. How rare is that?

This Conservative communications expert was congratulating Justin Trudeau for the smart way he is handling Donald Trump. What else can our prime minister do? Donald Trump is a 70-year old dirty old man who has landed in the White House. He acts like an uncontrollable 12-year old. And since he is president, you are not allowed to spank him.

Of course, Trudeau is trying to do a work-around. He had appointed David MacNaughton as ambassador to Washington before Trump rose to a level of concern on the horizon. The job was MacNaughton’s pay-off for the slip-shod effort he did in running Ontario for the Liberals in the last election. Trudeau might still have to replace him with someone with more diplomatic skills and knowledge of American politics and politicians.

Canadian diplomacy has come a long way since the quintessential diplomat Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was dressed down by President Lyndon Johnson for “pissing on his rug.”

And only a conservative would think it was a win for Trump to approve the Keystone XL pipeline for Justin Trudeau. Pipelines for bitumen are the noose that will eventually hang our ’ecology-minded’ Trudeau.

And the writer might have thought we handled the milk production charges with derision but anyone knowledgeable knew that the NAFTA milk concerns sit entirely on the U.S. side of the border. Overproduction is a U.S. problem when you consider that Wisconsin has more dairy cows than all of Canada.

Usually in politics when someone pats you on the back as effusively as Mr. MacDougall, you expect he is checking for the best place to thrust the (rhetorical) knife. We better keep an eye on him.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The history of image politics.

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

It must be your age that determines when history began. Reading an op-ed in the paper last week, there was a public relations guy who thought that image politics only went back to the time of American President Ronald Regan. He must have missed the lecture on the image of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Teddy, as he was known, was a hero of the Spanish-American War. He was the first ‘progressive’ to ever achieve the presidency of the United States. His ‘Bull Moose’ Party almost established third-party politics in America. He was the first president to stand up to big business. And where did you think his distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt got the idea for the ‘New Deal.’

And speaking of FDR, his use of the medium radio for his regular fireside chats created a lasting image of a caring and concerned national leader. It was a surprisingly few American voters who knew he was mostly confined to a wheelchair while serving them in the White House.

The image of John F. Kennedy through the medium of television was all it took to beat a stiff-necked Richard Nixon as early as 1960.

And what was the 1968 election federal election in Canada with its Trudeaumania? Pierre Trudeau was elected for his image, not for what he was saying. He almost lost the subsequent election in 1972 because he believed his own image.

Image control is a tightly woven tapestry with which people can be shielded from the confusion caused by exposure. Designing an image is as simple as drawing a line down the middle of a blank page. On one side, you headline ‘Do’s and on the other side, you headline ‘Don’ts.’ We will bet that public relation’s pioneer Ivy Lee drew up something like that for John D. Rockefeller in the early 1900s.

If any of his communications people had tried that with Pierre Trudeau, he would have perversely tried all the ‘Don’ts.’

We also had Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media available to us at that time and we have mistrusted the media ever since.

And what the late Professor McLuhan would make of the Internet-based social media of today would just be conjecture.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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‘Chuckles’ leads from the rear.

Friday, July 14th, 2017

It is embarrassing. ‘Chuckles’ Scheer showed up on television last week from the Calgary Stampede to blast the federal government for its generosity to Omar Kadr. It was a classic illustration of a political brain fart. It was bigoted, it was inaccurate, it was mean-spirited and it was knee-jerk Conservatism from the newly chosen Conservative leader.

But what was really wrong was that he was feeding the growing sentiment of anti-Muslim bigotry in Canada. It is getting out of hand.

We have to understand that Omar Kadr was born in Canada and is a Canadian citizen. He has the same rights as any Canadian under the protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

When the Canadian government refused to intervene in his illegal confinement, torture and kangaroo court justice under the Americans, it denied him his rights as a Canadian citizen. We should all worry about that. The Canadian courts ruled in favour of Kadr when his lawyers sued the government. The Supreme Court ruled on it three times. He deserved an apology. He had to be paid. It was a modest amount for 15 years of injustice.

And yet, the narrow-minded bigots among us resent the size of the settlement. They resent it because he is a Muslim. They resent that it is being paid to him (and his lawyers). It is hoped that it will finally buy Omar Kadr some peace and anonymity.

But when the Official Opposition uses the settlement as a stick to flail at the government (and Muslims), they are failing us as Canadians. They are promoting bigotry. Their attacks on Kadr are creating further attacks on the Muslim religion and the Canadians who follow that religion. They are promoting hatred.

‘Chuckles’ Scheer should not be proud of his performance to-date as Conservative leader. So far, he has been taking his lead from the red necks.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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The Prince of the Past.

Monday, July 10th, 2017

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales will be a pathetic pallbearer likely to be tasked to shut down the House of Windsor. As a family business, the House of Windsor inherited a somewhat convoluted history going back to Alfred the Great in 871. Charles will have more than a few royal ghosts with whom to make peace.

It is not that an overwhelming number of Canadians want to dispense with the monarchy but the more serious situation in the United Kingdom that will cause the downfall. Canadians are more inclined to be apathetic about the monarchy. It is just that it causes them no bother. Other than preferring Charles’ son William take over the crown, it makes no difference to them.

But if the current kerfuffle over Brexit does not get resolved a lot faster than it has been progressing, other more serious problems will ensue:

You can hardly expect the Scots to stick around while England cuts its own throat with former allies on the continent. Independence from England and the end of an ancient Act of Union could not come fast enough for the Scots.

And Northern Ireland might be close behind once those loyalists realize the economic disaster awaiting them outside the EU. That could leave a greatly weakened England and Wales making up the United Kingdom.

And while the royals can provide some tourism advantages, parliament would hardly be likely to continue the generous grants that the royals enjoy.

It was interesting thinking about this on July 1 as Prince Charles droned on in his obligatory speech to Her Majesty’s Canadian subjects at the Ottawa celebrations of Canada’s 150 years. It was hardly the most inspiring act to appear on that stage on the day.

It is our own fault. By the time our politicians are through vetting royal speeches, they are lucky they get to say ‘Hello.’ No royal is allowed to make an interesting speech.

Mind you, tuning out Charles as he bored that polite crowd of Canadians, it was clear that nobody in Canada is going to miss the House of Windsor.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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NDP searching for succour

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

Every once in while, we look in on the New Democratic Party’s sputtering national leadership discussion. It is really more of a crawl than a race. And when you look at the four remaining candidates in the selection process for this fall, you wonder why they are bothering.

The basic problem is that none of these four leadership candidates has defined what their party needs to do to join the 21st century? The NDP was created in Saskatchewan in the 1930s and has never outgrown its socialist origins. It carries some of Canada’s unions like a noose around its neck. It is a party in search of a future.

Canadians saw the problem in the last federal election when the Trudeau Liberals were tracking on the political left offering deficits and change. This was when Thomas Mulcair was giving fashion advice to Muslim women. He was so far off topic that it cost the NDP half its seats in parliament.

At a time when there were Canadians willing to listen to where the NDP was going, Thomas Mulcair blew it.

But we now have the four remaining contenders who want the NDP votes in September and October. As something of an expert in voting systems, I must admit this proposed NDP voting is the most loosey-goosey system seen to-date. You can actually change your vote anytime up until the polls close on each ballot. It is a series of preferential ballots and it can hardly take until mid October to be decided.

Babel-on-the-Bay will wait until the beginning of September to publish our morning line. Bear in mind that a morning line is not a forecast of who will win. It is just a reasonable determination of the opening odds for the race.

And you only have the following candidates at this time:

Niki Ashton MP is the only female and her gamin approach is as refreshing as she is knowledgeable. The Manitoban is only 34 but still seems stuck in a socialist past.

Charlie Angus MP from Northern Ontario is the guy you would want backing you in any rough and tumble. He could be the union choice.

Guy Caron MP is an interesting addition to the race from Quebec. He might have more depth than we have seen so far.

Jagmeet Singh MPP from Ontario could be the wild card. With his base in both B.C. and Ontario, he could be instrumental in choosing the next leader.

There is no free pass for anyone in this contest.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Rule of law beats bigotry.

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

We should all get down on our knees and thank whatever God we worship that we live in a land ruled by law. This argument over a multi-million-dollar settlement and an apology for Omar Kadr is a disgrace. It is not a political decision. It is a legal settlement for years of torture and mistreatment for a child soldier who grew old in confinement.

Those Conservative hacks who are getting face time on television or their name in the paper as decrying the amount of the settlement are coming across as ignorant and bigoted.

You also need to recognize that Kadr’s lawyer deserves to be compensated for his many years of work for which he had little hope of ever seeing payment. He was breaking legal ground with a client who was the only child soldier to be charged for supposedly committing murder on a battlefield.

The very existence of the American prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was a direct avoidance of law by the American government. And all Americans bear the guilt for its excesses of cruelty.

It was at Guantanamo Bay that Kadr was taken before a kangaroo court and charged with the unusual crime of “murder in violation of the laws of war.” Just where such a strange law came from and who was responsible for it was never made clear.

On the basis that he could serve his sentence in Canada under international agreement, Kadr pleaded guilty.

The law suit that we hear has been settled in favour of Kadr, charges that under the Harper government, Canadian intelligence agents denied the young man his rights as a Canadian citizen. The Harper government also spent millions fighting the case in Canada’s Supreme Court. For there to be any more comment from former members of that government is just making them look stupider than they might be.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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Are these the summer doldrums?

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

Why do the talking heads of television shut down for the summer? While we know that it is just our hardcore readers who drop by during these months, we are not going to let them down. There is lots to discuss.

That takeover by Jason Kenney in Alberta has yet to be resolved. The attempt to join the Conservatives and Wildrose parties is causing new splinter groups to emerge. Maybe the idea of uniting the right needed some one other than Jason Kenney to lead it. Judging by his attacks on the Alberta Party, he seems to be more concerned about a united centre.

Frankly, we are intrigued with the on-going drama in British Columbia. It looks as though it is the left there that needs to unite to get the majority needed to keep Clark’s corrupt, right-wing Liberals where they belong. And with the battle over Kinder Morgan’s planned increase in pumping diluted bitumen over the Rockies—the issue will boomerang back to Ottawa.

And it should embarrass and splatter all over our hypocritical Prime Minister. Being the poster boy for the environment and approving pipelines for bitumen are not compatible positions. Bitumen from the oil sands pollutes in the extraction process, is a serious threat of environmental disaster when fed through pipelines, spews carbon into the environment being converted to synthetic oil, leaving tons of bitumen slag to further pollute and then is used in carbon producing internal combustion engines. Bitumen is no-win stuff.

But that cannot be the “Jonny one-note” excuse for Canada’s New Democratic Party. The lackadaisical contest to replace Thomas Mulcair as national leader does not speak well for the party, the contestants or our country.

We are about to go into negotiations to change the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and that is as vital to our economy as it is to the Americans and the Mexicans. There is no excuse for sleeping though any one of those sessions. We have to show up front that we are not going to be bullied. All three countries have to bargain in good faith.

And there is lots more to discuss. We will be coming back to the subjects mentioned and many others. We will wait for September to come up with a morning line for the NDP leadership contest.

For the rest of the summer, you can be assured that politics is never a boring subject.


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

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